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Category: This Day in History
September 28, 1980: Jimmy's World
On this day in 1980, the Washington Post ran a story on its front page by reporter Janet Cooke about "Jimmy," an 8-year-old heroin addict. The story eventually won her a Pulitzer Prize. But as pressure on Cooke mounted to reveal where Jimmy lived, so that he could be helped, she finally admitted that she had never met Jimmy and that much of her story was fictitious. Cooke resigned, and the Post, humiliated by the incident, returned the Pulitzer Prize. More…

Posted: Sun Sep 28, 2014.   Comments (0)

September 26, 1995: Transatlantic Paper Airplane
On this day in 1995, the Weekly World News reported that a paper airplane thrown by a school girl in North Carolina had been lifted up by "turbulent winds" and landed in Portugal. The article promptly made its way onto the Internet, where many people mistook it for real news, including the producers of The Family Channel TV special Unbelievable, who admitted that they made dozens of calls trying to track down the girl named in the story. [Weekly World News]

Posted: Fri Sep 26, 2014.   Comments (1)

September 25, 1973: The Knocking Ghost of Boise
Police in Boise, Idaho were initially stumped by the case of an apparent ghost in the house of Peggy Zimmerman. The ghost made knocking sounds on the floor and could rap out correct answers to questions. The mystery was solved on this day in 1973 by a TV newsman who realized that the source of the rapping was Mrs. Zimmerman's young daughter, Shelley, who was always present when the ghost was rapping. Shelley had the ability to surreptitiously crack her ankle by flexing it, thereby making a loud knocking sound. More…

Posted: Thu Sep 25, 2014.   Comments (0)

September 23, 1936: Fake Lie Detector
The disclosure that a grammar school in Newark, New Jersey had been using a fake lie detector to make boys "confess their errors" caused a storm of controversy. The operator of the machine (usually the school principal) would activate a hidden switch whenever he thought a boy was lying, causing a red bulb to start flashing. In response to criticism that the fake lie detector created a "jail atmosphere," the principal ordered the machine burned in the furnace.

Posted: Tue Sep 23, 2014.   Comments (0)


September 19, 1984: Houston Zoo's Fake Snake
On this day, the Houston Zoo admitted that the coral snake on display for the past two years was not actually alive. It was a rubber snake. Zoo curator John Donaho explained, "We have had live snakes in the exhibit, but they don't do well. They tend to die. Rather than kill snakes, we put out a rubber one for people to be able to see what they look like." The zoo's confession came after a concerned caller reported he hadn't seen the snake move in months. The zoo subsequently received a box from an East Coast zoo containing another rubber coral snake as well as "breeding loan" documentation.

Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014.   Comments (1)

September 18, 1962: Fake Sputnik Fragment
In Sept. 1962, the Soviet Union's Sputnik IV satellite fell out of orbit, descending to earth over Wisconsin. A fragment was found in the lawn of a Big Falls, Wisconsin couple. But when NASA examined the fragment, the agency concluded it was a fake. At which point, 22-year old machinist Lyle Bailey admitted he had created it out of red-hot metal chips from a grinder. He had planted the fake fragment in the ground, then had doused it with fuel and lit it on fire, to give it a charred look. He explained it was simply a prank that had gotten out of hand. A real fragment from the satellite was found in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

Posted: Thu Sep 18, 2014.   Comments (0)

September 17, 1859: Emperor Norton I Declared
On this day in 1859, San Francisco resident Joshua Norton declared himself Emperor of the United States. He reigned for 21 years, walking the streets of the city dressed in a military uniform, completed by a plumed hat, gold epaulets, and a sword. Among his proclamations was the abolishment of the U.S. Congress, as well as the Democratic and Republican parties. At his funeral, over 30,000 people lined the streets of San Francisco. [wikipedia]

Posted: Wed Sep 17, 2014.   Comments (0)

September 16, 1560: Martin Guerre Imposter Hanged
On this day in 1560, the French peasant Arnaud du Tilh, who had been posing as another man, Martin Guerre, was hanged outside the home of the real Martin Guerre. The real Guerre had mysteriously disappeared in 1548, abandoning his wife. Eight years later, du Tilh showed up, claimed to be Guerre, and moved in with Guerre's wife. But 4 years later, Guerre returned, exposing du Tilh's imposture. More…

Posted: Tue Sep 16, 2014.   Comments (0)

September 10, 2009: Seeking Child's Father
On this day in 2009, a video appeared on YouTube purportedly created by a Danish woman named Karen who explained that she was trying to locate the father of her child, since she couldn't remember his name. The child, she said, had been conceived in a drunken one-night stand. The video promptly went viral, but then was exposed as a hoax created by the Danish government's tourism agency in order to promote tourism to Denmark. [youtube]

Posted: Wed Sep 10, 2014.   Comments (0)

September 9, 1991: Doug and Dave, Crop Circle Hoaxers
On this day, the British tabloid Today announced that two men from Hampshire, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, had originated the crop circle phenomenon back in 1978 as a prank. Over the years, Today said, the two had continued creating hundreds of circles using nothing more than two wooden boards, a piece of string, and a baseball cap fitted with a loop of wire to help guide them. To prove their claim, the pair created a crop circle in the presence of a Today journalist. [menwhoconnedtheworld]

Posted: Tue Sep 09, 2014.   Comments (0)

September 8, 1961: Cassius Clay Trains Underwater
The Sep 8, 1961 issue of Life magazine contained a photo feature showing 19-year-old boxer Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) training underwater. Clay had told photographer Flip Schulke that he often trained underwater because the water resistance acted like a weight. He said it was an old trick taught to him by a Louisville trainer. In fact, Clay had never trained underwater before. He couldn't even swim. It was a tall tale he had told to fool the photographer. [Ali Underwater]

Posted: Mon Sep 08, 2014.   Comments (0)

September 7, 1993: The Diary of Jack the Ripper
On this Day in 1993, Warner Books cancelled its planned publication of The Diary of Jack the Ripper, having concluded the diary was a hoax. The diary implicated Liverpool cotton merchant James Maybrick as Jack the Ripper. However, the handwriting of the diary did not match known samples of Maybrick's handwriting. The provenance of the diary (where it came from) was also extremely murky. It's possible it was a forgery from the 1920s or 30s that was only found in the 1990s. However, debate about the diary still continues. [wikipedia]

Posted: Sun Sep 07, 2014.   Comments (0)

September 6, 1994: The End of the World?
In his book 1994? (published in 1992), preacher Harold Camping predicted that there was a strong likelihood that the Second Coming of Christ would occur on September 6, 1994. When that didn't happen, Camping conceded he may have made a mathematical error in his calculations. Over the following years, he revised his prophecy multiple times until he finally arrived at the date of May 21, 2011, which turned out to be wrong also. [rationalwiki]

Posted: Sat Sep 06, 2014.   Comments (0)

September 5, 1896: Sympsychography
The September 1896 issue of The Popular Science Monthly contained an article by David Starr Jordan, president of Stanford University, about the invention of a form of mental photography called Sympsychography. The process allowed people to create an image on a photographic plate merely by concentrating their minds on what they would like to appear. Jordan intended it as a joke, and it was identified as such the next day in the Chicago Tribune. Nevertheless, many other papers took it seriously. More…

Posted: Fri Sep 05, 2014.   Comments (0)

September 4, 1967: The Great British UFO Invasion
The discovery of six saucer-shaped objects giving off "bleep-bleep" signals caused panic in southern England. There was real fear of a UFO invasion, although the Ministry of Defense also suspected the mysterious saucers might be some kind of Soviet weapon. But at the end of the day, two trainee aircraft engineers confessed the saucers were their creation. They explained, "We believe that flying saucers could land one day, so we landed our own to give the authorities some practice." [Daily Mail]

Posted: Thu Sep 04, 2014.   Comments (0)

September 3, 1934: Paul Klenovsky Exposed
For five years, British conductor Sir Henry Wood had attributed an orchestration of Bach's Organ Toccata and Fugue in D minor to an otherwise unknown young Russian man named Paul Klenovsky. The orchestration was highly praised. But finally, on this day, Wood admitted he himself was Klenovsky. He perpetrated the ruse, he said, to demonstrate the lavish praise bestowed by critics on anyone with a high-sounding foreign name. "Klen" was the Russian word for a maple tree (i.e. a type of wood).

Posted: Wed Sep 03, 2014.   Comments (1)

September 2, 2002: Simonya Popova
Sports Illustrated ran an article about Simonya Popova, a 17-year-old rising tennis star from Uzbekistan. The magazine said that the Women's Tennis Association was eagerly anticipating her rise to stardom because she was "strikingly attractive" and could bring some ratings-boosting sex appeal into the league. However, Simonya Popova didn't exist. She was the fictional creation of writer Jon Wertheim. The WTA denounced the article, saying it was shocked by the suggestion that the physical attractiveness of female players had anything to do with the popularity of women's tennis. [BBC Sport]

Posted: Tue Sep 02, 2014.   Comments (1)

September 1, 1972: Frank Searle's Nessie Photo
On this day in 1972, the Daily Mail ran a photo of the Loch Ness Monster taken by Frank Searle, thereby giving him instant fame as a monster hunter. But ultimately he became known as the most prolific producer of Nessie hoaxes. He initially took photos of floating logs, which he claimed to be Nessie, but progressed to cutting-and-pasting drawings of dinosaurs into Loch Ness scenes, at which point even the most die-hard Nessie believers stopped taking him seriously. Searle was the inspiration for the monster-hunter character in the 1995 film Loch Ness starring Ted Danson. [Cryptomundo]

Posted: Mon Sep 01, 2014.   Comments (0)

August 31, 1987: The Great Potato Play
During a game between the double-A Williamsport Bills and the Reading Phillies, on this day in 1987, everyone thought they saw catcher Dave Bresnahan throw the ball wild past third base. So how was it that when the man on third came running toward home, Bresnahan still had the ball and tagged him out? It was because Bresnahan had actually thrown a peeled potato into left field, and not a ball. The stunt cost Bresnahan his job with the Bills, but it also earned him an immortal place in baseball history, becoming forever known as the Great Potato Play. A year after the event, fans paid one dollar and one potato as admission to celebrate Dave Bresnahan Day. More…

Posted: Sun Aug 31, 2014.   Comments (0)

August 30, 2000: Prison Escape Prank
On this day in 2000, residents of Millbrae, CA were terrified when two handcuffed men in orange jail jumpsuits went around the neighborhood, pounding on doors, asking for help in removing their shackles. The police soon arrived and arrested "Big Joe" Lopez and Graham Herbert who, it turned out, were merely posing as prisoners as part of an on-air prank for San Francisco station KYLD-FM. Lopez was sentenced to 45 days in county jail. Herbert (who was a 19-year-old intern) got a year's probation. [sfgate.com]

Posted: Sat Aug 30, 2014.   Comments (0)

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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.