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The Hoax Museum Blog
Hoaxes, mischief, and misinformation throughout history
True or False: the "mile 420" highway marker was stolen so often that the Colorado Dept. of Transportation decided to replace it with a marker that read "Mile 419.99."
Posted: Tue Sep 23, 2014 Comments (1)

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)

Today Scotland votes on whether or not to remain part of the United Kingdom. And as Scotland's most famous resident, Nessie's views on this matter have become a contentious issue. People on both sides of the debate are claiming that Nessie supports their position. For instance, on September 12, camera-maker Autographer, tweeted that one of their cameras, set up to take automatic, time-lapse photos on the shore of England's Lake Windermere, had captured an image of something that "looks like the Loch Ness Monster." The company speculated that perhaps Nessie had "gone in search of…
Posted: Thu Sep 18, 2014 Comments (0)


The Futility Closet podcast discusses the Berners Street Hoax of 1810, in which a prankster created an enormous traffic jam in London by sending hundreds of tradesmen to make deliveries at a single, random address, 54 Berners Street. The last time I was in London I actually went to Berners Street to see if the house where this hoax happened was still there, but it wasn't. Seems that it was torn down long ago, leaving nothing to mark where the event occurred. As far as I could tell, the Sanderson Hotel now stands where no. 54 Berners Street used to be.
Posted: Thu Sep 18, 2014 Comments (0)

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)

On September 9, Apple gave away U2's new album, Songs of Innocence, as a free download for all 500 million iTunes users. However, the giveaway met with some backlash after iPhone users complained about the album downloading automatically, and many people who didn't want the album discovered it was difficult to delete, prompting Apple to set up a website providing instructions on how to delete the album. But was this the first time U2 had given away their music? An image posted to Twitter by user JamieDMJ showed an old technology catalog from the 1980s offering a "Free U2 tape with every cassette player." JamieDMJ added the comment: "Exactly how long have…
Posted: Wed Sep 17, 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)

North Country Public Radio blogger Brian Mann asks, "Is fight for Scottish independence based on a literary hoax?" He concedes that if Scotland does decide for independence, there will be "many causes, many inspirations." But he notes that Scottish cultural nationalism first got a big push back in the 18th Century when James Macpherson published his Ossian poems, claiming they were a translation of epic poems written by an ancient Scottish bard. The poems gave Scots a sense of pride in having a great cultural heritage. But the truth was that Macpherson had mostly written the poems himself. (Which, in itself, was an impressive achievement, although much of the appeal of the poems lay in the idea that they were ancient).
Posted: Mon Sep 15, 2014 Comments (1)

Back on April 1st, Hamburger Helper (which now prefers to be known simply as 'Helper') ran an April Fool joke about the opening of a Hamburger Helper restaurant, Helper Hut, serving only Hamburger Helper food. On Sep 12 in Minneapolis that vision briefly became a reality when a "pop-up restaurant" opened for one night, serving only Hamburger Helper. Apparently the company had received such positive feedback about the April Fool joke that they decided to do it for real. However, there are no plans yet for a permanent Hamburger Helper restaurant. [youtube]
Posted: Mon Sep 15, 2014 Comments (0)

Brooklyn artist Tina Trachtenburg has created over 100 hand-sewn fake pigeons. She places these pigeons around town, creating "flashflocks". Apparently the real feral pigeons are dumbfounded by the fake ones. [boweyboogie.com]
Posted: Mon Sep 15, 2014 Comments (0)

Robert Hellar was making tacos at the St. Andre Bessette church festival in Michigan when someone came up to him and said, "Jesus love polish food more than Mexican food." Hellar asked why, and the person showed him a pierogi that had just been cooked at another food stand. It appeared to bear the face of Jesus. The Jesus Pierogi has now been frozen until they can figure out what to do with it. [upi.com]
Posted: Mon Sep 15, 2014 Comments (2)

True or False? Decapitated snakes can still inflict lethal bites. Unfortunately it's true. [Huffington Post]
Posted: Wed Sep 10, 2014 Comments (1)

In 1976, a leaflet began to circulate throughout Europe warning of a number of alleged carcinogens. Highest on the list was citric acid. Millions of people saw and may have believed the leaflet. The false rumor persisted well into the 1980s. The leaflet came to be known as the Villejuif leaflet, because one version of it claimed the information came from Villejuif Hospital. [wikipedia]
Posted: Wed Sep 10, 2014 Comments (0)

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