This Day in the History of Hoaxes

This Day in the History of Hoaxes: August 29

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 ()

This Day in the History of Hoaxes: August 28

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 ()

This Day in the History of Hoaxes: August 27

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 ()

This Day in the History of Hoaxes: August 26

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 ()


This Day in the History of Hoaxes: August 25

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 ()

This Day in the History of Hoaxes: August 23

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 ()

This Day in the History of Hoaxes: August 19

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 ()

This Day in the History of Hoaxes: August 18

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)

This Day in the History of Hoaxes: August 17

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 ()

This Day in the History of Hoaxes: August 16

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 ()

This Day in the History of Hoaxes: August 15

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 ()

This Day in the History of Hoaxes: August 14

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 ()

This Day in the History of Hoaxes: August 13

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 ()

This Day in the History of Hoaxes: August 12

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 ()

This Day in the History of Hoaxes: August 11

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 ()

This Day in the History of Hoaxes: August 10

August 10, 1840: The Fortsas Bibliohoax
Numerous book collectors arrived in Binche, Belgium, hoping to attend the sale of the library of the Comte de Fortsas, advertised as taking place on this day (Aug 10) in 1840. The Fortsas library only included 52 books, but each book was absolutely unique — the only copy of the title known to exist. But soon after their arrival, the collectors discovered there was no Comte de Fortsas, nor any of his books. The entire auction had been arranged by a local antiquarian, Renier Hubert Ghislain Chalon, as an elaborate practical joke. More…
Posted: Sun Aug 10, 2014.   Comments ()

This Day in the History of Hoaxes: August 9

August 9, 1962: The Hastings Rarities Fraud
Taxidermist George Bristow had a reputation for being able to find rare birds, which he stuffed and sold at high prices to collectors. But on this day (Aug. 9) in 1962 (15 years after Bristow's death) the journal British Birds published a study arguing that it was statistically impossible for anyone to have found that many rare birds in one small area, Hastings, of southern England. It's suspected that Bristow had imported frozen birds from abroad, then he had claimed to have found them in England, where their presence was unexpected, which allowed him to sell them at high prices. [Hastings Museum]
Posted: Sat Aug 09, 2014.   Comments (1)

This Day in the History of Hoaxes: August 8

August 8, 1903: Trial of Thérèse Humbert Begins
Thérèse Humbert declared herself to be the sole heir of an American millionaire whom she had saved from food poisoning, and on the basis of this was able to obtain loans from leading French bankers for millions of francs. She kept the scam going for a quarter-century before being exposed. Both the inheritance, and the American millionaire, were fictitious. Given the magnitude of her fraud (she was referred to as the "swindler of the century" at the time) it was remarkable that she received only a 5-year sentence. [wikipedia]
Posted: Fri Aug 08, 2014.   Comments ()

This Day in the History of Hoaxes: August 7

August 7, 1926: The Midwife Toad Fraud Exposed
Biologist Paul Kammerer had observed that when he forced "midwife toads" to mate in water (they usually mate on land) their offspring, several generations later, had developed black traction pads on their forelimbs, which made water-mating easier for them. He offered this as proof of Lamarckian inheritance. But on this day in 1926, Dr. G.K. Noble reported in the journal Nature his discovery that the black traction pads were merely injected ink. The revelation destroyed Kammerer's reputation. He committed suicide less than two months later. More…
Posted: Thu Aug 07, 2014.   Comments ()

This Day in the History of Hoaxes: August 6

August 6, 1969: Naked Came the Stranger Revealed
The novel Naked Came the Stranger, credited to Penelope Ashe, had sold a respectable 20,000 copies. But it sold many more copies after 25 reporters from Newsday revealed, on this day in 1969, that they were all the true authors, having written it as a team in a deliberate attempt to produce a terrible novel. The satirical purpose of the hoax was to demonstrate that sex, rather than literary standards, sells books. Although, of course, the book's generous marketing budget, which included ads that ran in the New York Times for several weeks before its publication, didn't hurt either. More…
Posted: Wed Aug 06, 2014.   Comments ()

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