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Hoaxes of Joseph Mulhattan

The Futility Closet blog recently posted a podcast about the 1910 Dreadnought hoax, in which upper-class British pranksters, disguised as Abyssinian princes, managed to fool the British navy into giving them a tour of the HMS Dreadnought. Even if you're familiar with the story, it's worth a listen, because it's a good account of it.

Posted: Wed May 28, 2014.   Comments (0)

May 28, 1952: The Cornell War Broadcast Hoax
On the night of May 28, 1952, a group of Cornell students disguised by halloween masks raided the campus radio station, WVBR, and began broadcasting news flashes claiming that Russian planes had bombed Paris, Marseilles, and London. The reports initially caused hysteria in the dorms, although most people soon realized they were fake. The Dean of the University later described it as a "lunatic stunt." The students involved were suspended for a year. [Cornell Archives]

Posted: Wed May 28, 2014.   Comments (0)

May 27, 1959: SINA makes Today Show debut
Actor Buck Henry, in character as G. Clifford Prout, president of the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, appeared on NBC's Today Show. As Prout, he urged Americans to promote decency by putting clothes on naked animals. SINA continued its unusual campaign for four years until it was revealed to be a hoax masterminded by Alan Abel. More…

Posted: Tue May 27, 2014.   Comments (0)

Norwegian conceptual artist Alexander Wengshoel claims that following a hip replacement operation four years ago, he was allowed to keep his removed hip. So he went home, boiled the bone to remove the meat, and then ate the meat accompanied by some wine and potato gratin. He said it tasted like "wild sheep, if you take a sheep that goes in the mountains and eats mushrooms. It was goaty." Sensing that Wengshoel's story might be complete baloney, the reporter from The Local asked him if it was a hoax — apparently on the theory that, if asked, a hoaxer will readily admit he's lying.…

Posted: Mon May 26, 2014.   Comments (3)


Several students at Chartiers Valley High School in Pennsylvania are facing disciplinary action following a senior prank that involved the release of "several thousand" crickets in the school. Apparently insect release pranks have been popular lately. KDKA News in Pittsburgh notes, "Last year, seven Kentucky students were involved in a similar prank." But these recent examples of the prank don't have quite the same wit that was exhibited in a 1911 instance of it reported at the time by the Washington Post: Locusts Invade a Church New York, May 28 — For the text of his sermon…

Posted: Mon May 26, 2014.   Comments (0)

May 26, 1930: Hugo N. Frye Sesquicentennial
U.S. politicians, including the Vice President, received letters inviting them to a May 26 party at Cornell University in honor of the sesquicentennial birthday anniversary of "Hugo N. Frye," who was said to have been the founder of the Republican party in New York State. None could attend, but most replied with letters expressing their sincere admiration for Hugo N. Frye. Unfortunately for them, Frye did not exist. The invitation was a student prank, and Frye's name was just a gag ("You Go and Fry!"). More…

Posted: Mon May 26, 2014.   Comments (0)

May 25, 1933: Norman Jefferies, author of the Jersey Devil hoax, dies
Norman Jefferies was a Philadelphia publicist and theatrical booking agent, who was best known for the stunt he engineered in January 1909 while working at the Ninth and Arch Street Museum. He announced that the legendary "Jersey Devil" (aka "Leeds Devil") had been captured and would be exhibited at the museum. Thousands came to see it. Although what they actually viewed was a kangaroo painted with green stripes and outfitted with fake wings.


Posted: Sun May 25, 2014.   Comments (0)

French artist Rémy Dautin has put together a book that he's titled La Réalité. In it, he's collected about 60 pictures of cryptids in which he's "erased the paranormal element (loch ness monster, alien, yeti, etc.) in order for them to become pictures of the reality." Unfortunately, I don't think the book is available for purchase. It's a project he did while pursuing a degree in graphic design, and he sent me an email to let me know about it. However, you can check out some of the pictures from La Réalité on his tumblr blog.

Posted: Sat May 24, 2014.   Comments (0)

According to Dartmouth professor Brendan Nyhan (as reported by Maria Konnikova in the New Yorker), "persistently false beliefs stem from issues closely tied to our conception of self." So in order to change deeply held misperceptions, it's useless to present people with facts and information. Instead, you need to "target people‚Äôs beliefs about themselves." This recalls what's long been known by hoaxers, that it's easy to fool people if you just tell them what they want to believe. That is, people readily accept ideas that complement their pre-existing view of the world and of…

Posted: Sat May 24, 2014.   Comments (1)

May 24, 1976: Abducted by Bigfoot
After going missing while searching for Bigfoot in Humboldt County, 23-year-old Sherie Darvell showed up screaming outside a Bluff Creek resort on May 24, 1976, claiming she had been abducted by a Bigfoot. She said the creature had scooped her up and carried her off, but that it had abandoned her unharmed during the night, after which she had wandered through the woods for several days. Sheriff Gene Cox dismissed her claim as a hoax, noting that she didn't appear to have spent any time in the wilderness. Her clothes were clean and she smelled of perfume. [Wildman of the Woods, Eugene Register-Guard]


Posted: Sat May 24, 2014.   Comments (2)

May 23, 1926: Mencken confesses to bathtub hoax
On May 23, 1926, eight years after publishing an article in which he had detailed the curious history of the bathtub in America, the journalist H.L. Mencken confessed that his history was entirely false. His history had claimed that Americans had been slow to accept bathtubs, believing them to be a health risk, until President Millard Fillmore popularized them by installing one in the White House in 1850. But in 1926, Mencken admitted this was all "a piece of spoofing to relieve the strain of war days." His confession had little effect. His faux history of the bathtub continued to circulate widely and to be accepted as fact. [More…]


Posted: Fri May 23, 2014.   Comments (0)

May 22, 1981: Cockroach Pills
Dr. Josef Gregor held a press conference in New York to announce he had developed a pill that could cure colds, acne, anemia, and menstrual cramps. And it could even make people immune to nuclear radiation. The key ingredient in the pill, he said, was a hormone extracted from cockroaches. Over 175 newspapers published articles about the discovery. However, Dr. Josef Gregor was really long-time media hoaxer Joey Skaggs. Upon revealing the hoax, Skaggs commented, "I guess no one reads Kafka anymore." [joeyskaggs.com]


Posted: Thu May 22, 2014.   Comments (0)

May 21, 1977: The Loch Ness Muppet
Anthony 'Doc' Shiels claimed that he took this picture of the Loch Ness Monster on May 21, 1977 while camping beside Urquhart Castle. The creature in the photo soon came to be known as the "Loch Nes Muppet" because it looked like a puppet. Shiels was a showman, "wizard," and psychic entertainer who was developing a side business as a professional monster hunter. [See Loch Ness Monster Hoaxes]

May 21, 2011: End Times Prediction
Evangelist preacher Harold Camping predicted that the Rapture would occur on May 21, 2011. This was supposed to involve massive earthquakes and the ascension of some 200 million chosen people up to heaven. Camping said the world itself would end five months later. When none of this happened, Camping first claimed that a "spiritual" day of judgement had indeed occurred, but eventually admitted he had been mistaken. [wikipedia]


Posted: Wed May 21, 2014.   Comments (0)

May 20, 1775: The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence
On May 20, 1775, so it is said, Mecklenburg County in North Carolina declared independence from Great Britain, more than a year before the Continental Congress in Philadelphia did so. This would have been the earliest American declaration of independence, if it actually happened. But no original copy of this Declaration survives. Nor do any credible contemporary references to it, leading most historians to conclude that the Mecklenburg Declaration was invented years later. [wikipedia, New River Notes]


Posted: Tue May 20, 2014.   Comments (0)

May 19, 1951: Young Ladies Seeking Adventure
Police had to be sent to downtown London to control an unruly crowd of over 500 women who had gathered in response to a newspaper ad that read, "Well set-up young gentleman with honorable intentions invites young ladies seeking adventure to meet him on the steps of the Criterion restaurant, Lower Regent St., 7:15 p.m., May 19. Identified by red carnation and blue and white spotted scarf. Code word: 'How's your uncle?'" The ad turned out to be a hoax run by BBC DJ Brian Johnson who had been hoping to find a few young women to interview on his Saturday night program. He said, "I never expected more than a few girls." [Spokane Daily Chronicle]

May 19, 2000: Charles de Jaeger Dies
Charles Theophile de Jaeger died on May 19, 2000. He had worked as a cameraman for the BBC, but he was most famous as the creator of the 1957 Swiss Spaghetti Harvest April Fool's Day hoax, which involved the news show Panorama reporting that Swiss farmers were experiencing a bumper spaghetti crop. The segment included footage of Swiss peasants pulling spaghetti from trees. The idea for the hoax grew out of a remark one of De Jaeger's school teachers had once said to his class: "Boys, you're so stupid, you'd believe me if I told you that spaghetti grows on trees." More…


Posted: Mon May 19, 2014.   Comments (0)

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