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Category: This Day in History
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)

August 29, 1923: Grover Bergdoll's Gold
The claim that a road worker had discovered Grover Bergdoll's buried pot of gold prompted a two-day investigation by federal agents. But on this day in 1923, the story was revealed to be a practical joke among the workers that spun out of control. The pot of gold in question was believed to have been buried by the wealthy draft dodger Bergdoll in 1917. He escaped prison in 1920 by convincing his guards of its existence and then slipping free of them when they accompanied him to find it. Treasure hunters continued to look for it. But in 1939, after finally surrendering to authorities, Bergdoll admitted there was no buried pot of gold. [Pennsylvania Historical Society]

Posted: Fri Aug 29, 2014.   Comments (0)

August 28, 1972: Clifford Irving Goes to Prison
On this day in 1972, Clifford Irving began serving a 2½-year sentence for conspiracy and fraud on account of selling publisher McGraw-Hill a fake autobiography of billionaire Howard Hughes, for which he was paid $750,000. By the time he went to prison, he had returned $500,000 of that money. He was released early after serving 16 months. More…

Posted: Thu Aug 28, 2014.   Comments (0)

August 27, 2003: Mars as big as the Moon
The news that on this day in 2003 the Earth and Mars would be closer than they had been in 60,000 years (only 56 million km apart) inspired a viral email claiming that on the night of the 27th Mars would "look as large as the full moon" in the sky, and that "No one alive today will ever see this again." Since 2003, this viral email has resurfaced every year as August 27 approaches, despite attempts by NASA (and many others) to debunk it. [NASA]

Posted: Wed Aug 27, 2014.   Comments (0)

August 26, 1966: Trained the Wrong Side
The press described it as "one of the war's most confused episodes" when Sgt. Bernd M. Huber confessed that while stationed in Vietnam he had mistakenly given an entire battalion of enemy soldiers specialized training in weapons and demolition, for two months. A day before their graduation, the enemy soldiers disappeared, leaving behind a note, "Thank you for the training. We're Ho Chi Minh's boys." But several days later, on this day in 1966, Huber confessed that the incident never happened. It was a war story he had heard from another soldier. In other words, it was an urban legend.

Posted: Tue Aug 26, 2014.   Comments (0)

August 25, 1835: The Great Moon Hoax
The New York Sun announced that the British astronomer Sir John Herschel had discovered life on the moon by means of a new telescope "of vast dimensions and an entirely new principle." Later updates revealed the existence of creatures such as lunar bison, fire-wielding biped beavers, and winged "man-bats." The report caused an enormous sensation. To this day it's remembered as one of the most significant media hoaxes of all time. In fact, it's sometimes credited with being the hoax that launched modern journalism because it helped to establish sensationalism as the model for commercial success. More…

Posted: Mon Aug 25, 2014.   Comments (0)

August 23, 1895: The Winsted Wild Man
On this day in 1895, several New York City newspapers reported that passengers on a stagecoach near Winsted, Connecticut had seen a naked "wild man" jumping out from behind some bushes. More wild man sightings followed, until soon the residents of Winsted were gripped by panic. A posse of over 100 armed men set out to hunt down the creature, but had no success. Eventually the truth emerged. The original report had been the invention of a young local reporter, Lou Stone. After that, group psychology had done the rest. More…

Posted: Sat Aug 23, 2014.   Comments (0)

August 19, 1961: $20,000 Award a Hoax
For years, Inez Miller of Pasadena, CA had worked behind a desk as a receptionist. But her receipt of the French Academy of Arts Victor Hugo Award, valued at $20,000, revealed she had a secret life as a celebrated painter and had been using all the money from the sale of her work to aid orphans and young artists, while supporting herself only on her income as a receptionist. She received the prize in honor of her philanthropic work, and news of her award made national headlines. But two days later, on this day in 1961, Miller admitted it was all a lie. There was no Victor Hugo Award, nor was she a painter. She was just a receptionist. [Spokesman-Review]

Posted: Tue Aug 19, 2014.   Comments (0)

August 18, 1999: Criswell Predicts the End of the World
In his book Criswell Predicts From Now to the Year 2000 (published 1968), the American psychic Criswell predicted that the end of the world would occur on August 18, 1999. The end would come by means of a "black rainbow" that would remove the oxygen from the earth's atmosphere "through some mysterious force beyond our comprehension." The only survivors would be the handful of colonists living in space stations. Criswell was known for his "wildly inaccurate predictions" (as wikipedia puts it).

Posted: Mon Aug 18, 2014.   Comments (2)

August 17, 1921: S.O.S. Pigeon Note Hoax
A carrier pigeon dropped at the feet of a policeman in Columbus Circle, NYC. Attached to it was a distress note, dated Aug 13, from the naturalist Edmund Heller, saying he was lost in Yellowstone Park and needed help. "Notify Dan Singer, Belleclaire Hotel," the note said. News of this pigeon that had traveled 2000 miles in four days made front-page headlines. But skeptics questioned how a pigeon could have flown so far, so fast, and the story soon was exposed as a hoax. Heller wasn't lost, nor had he sent any note. The stunt was explained by Singer as a "hotel publicity scheme."

Posted: Sun Aug 17, 2014.   Comments (0)

August 16, 1926: Lord Kitchener's Coffin Opened
British war hero Lord Kitchener was killed at sea in 1916, his body never recovered. But in 1926, press agent Frank Power (pictured) claimed he had found Kitchener's body in Norway and was transporting it back to England. British authorities seized the coffin upon arrival, but when they opened it on this day in 1926, they found it was empty. It turned out Power (whose real name was Arthur Vectis Freeman) had staged the stunt to publicize a forthcoming movie about Kitchener.

Posted: Sat Aug 16, 2014.   Comments (0)

August 15, 2008: Bigfoot in a Freezer Hoax
Rick Dyer and Matthew Whitton held a press conference in Palo Alto where they answered questions about their claim that they had found the body of a Bigfoot while hiking in the Georgia woods. They said the creature was 7 feet 7 inches tall, weighed more than 500 pounds, and that they were storing the body in a freezer. Despite widespread skepticism, they indignantly stood by their story. However, when the body in the freezer was finally examined, it turned out to be a halloween costume with roadkill remains dumped on top of it. [Bigfoot Encounters]

Posted: Fri Aug 15, 2014.   Comments (0)

August 14, 1927: The Disumbrationist Hoax Revealed Novelist Paul Jordan Smith, upset that his wife's art was panned by critics as being too "old school," devised an elaborate spoof of modern art. He submitted crude works of his own creation to exhibitions, claiming they were the work of a Russian artist Pavel Jerdanowitch (a name he had invented), the founder of the Disumbrationist School of Art (another invention of his). As anticipated, the works were praised by critics. Smith revealed the hoax in the LA Times on this day in 1927, arguing that it showed that the art currently in fashion was "poppycock" promoted by critics who knew very little about art. More…

Posted: Thu Aug 14, 2014.   Comments (0)

August 13, 1940: The Nazi Parachute Landing Hoax
On this day, numerous German parachutes landed throughout the north of England, but no parachutists could be found. Even after soldiers, special police and Home Guards had conducted a widespread search, no parachutists were located. Eventually the British authorities concluded that the empty parachutes were a Nazi "invasion hoax" designed to create panic.

Posted: Wed Aug 13, 2014.   Comments (0)

August 12, 1965: The Great Yak Fat Hoax
On this day, the Great Yak Fat hoax made headlines throughout the United States. Trucker Leroy Hilt had submitted plans to the Interstate Commerce commission (ICC) detailing his intention to start shipping 80,000 pound lots of yak fat from Omaha to Chicago at 45 cents per 100 pounds. This soon triggered a complaint from railroad companies that his rates were too low. The ICC concurred and informed Hilt it was illegal to transport yak fat at that price. In reality, Hilt did not intend to ship yak fat. He had submitted the plan as a protest to show that "the railroads will jump on anything the small truckers propose." [Pittsburgh Press]

Posted: Tue Aug 12, 2014.   Comments (0)

August 11, 1966: Fastest submarine crosses the Atlantic
Josef Papp was found floating in a life raft near Brest, France. He claimed he had just crossed the Atlantic from Montreal in 13 hours, traveling at 300 mph, in a small, homemade submarine, which had sunk off the coast. French authorities were skeptical, noting that they found a one-way Paris-Brest train ticket in his pocket, dated the day before. They took him to a psychiatric ward and later flew him back to Montreal. Papp later documented his supposed transatlantic journey in a book titled The Fastest Submarine.

Posted: Mon Aug 11, 2014.   Comments (0)

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