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Museum of Hoaxes

The Gallery of Birth Hoaxes

Reproduction and birth have always been subjects that quickly get people's attention, especially when you're talking about the extreme limits of the phenomena: multiple-births, clones, or the birth of creatures that seem to defy what some believe to be the natural order. Because of society's fascination with birth, it's been a magnet for hoaxers. Gathered here are examples of birth hoaxes throughout the ages, from the very recent claims about human cloning (which seem more and more likely to be a hoax) to the ancient. But I've also mixed in examples of memorable births that are true (and some milestones from the history of reproductive technology) to give a taste of how examples from real-life have expanded the limits of what people think might be possible when it comes to birth. Also thrown in are a few famous fictional births from TV and film. The gallery is arranged in reverse chronological order.

January 3, 2003: Second Clone Born? (Unlikely)
Clonaid announced that a second clone was born, this time to a lesbian couple in the Netherlands. Again, it offered no proof to back up this claim. In fact, it seems likely that Clonaid will never offer any proof, citing concerns about the privacy of the parents and the children. On January 6, Michael Guillen, the former ABC science reporter charged with overseeing the DNA testing to determine that a clone really has been born, suggested that the whole thing might indeed be a hoax. We here at the Museum of Hoaxes would be shocked (shocked!) if that were to be the case.

December 27, 2002: First Human Clone Born? (Probably Not)
Dr. Brigitte Boisselier
Dr. Brigitte Boisselier
Dr. Brigitte Boisselier, chief executive of Clonaid, convened a press conference to announce the recent birth of 'Eve', a baby girl cloned from the skin cell of her 31-year-old mother. Dr. Boisselier, in addition to her duties at Clonaid, is also a member of the Raelian sect, a group that believes humanity was created in the recent past from the DNA of extraterrestrials. The Raelians believe that the successful cloning of a human being will be the first step on the path towards immortality. Dr. Boisselier's claim was met with widespread skepticism, due to the complete lack of evidence she offered in support of it.

November 27, 2002: Imminent Birth of Human Clone? (Maybe)
Dr. Severino Antinori
Dr. Severino Antinori
Dr. Severino Antinori, an Italian physician, announced that a woman who had participated in a scientific project that he assisted with would give birth to a human clone in January. His claim met with skepticism from the scientific community, but compared to the performance put on later by the Raelians, Dr. Antinori is beginning to look positively like a beacon of scientific credibility. It seems possible that Dr. Antinori's announcement might have prompted the Raelians to quickly get in on the act and establish their priority in the race to be the first to clone a human.

February 2002: Birth of First Cloned Cat (True)
CC the cloned cat
CC the cloned cat
Texas A&M researchers announced that they had cloned a cat from the cumulus cell of an adult female cat. They dubbed the young kitten CC, which stood for "CopyCat." Although a clone, the kitten actually had different fur markings than its mother.

January 2001: Birth of Genetically Modified Monkey (True)
Researchers at the Oregon Regional Primate Center announced the birth of ANDi, the world's first genetically modified primate. ANDI (whose name was created by spelling the capital letters of 'inserted DNA' backwards) had a gene for a jellyfish protein inserted in his DNA.

January 2000: Birth of Cloned Monkey (True)
Tetra, the cloned monkey
Tetra, the cloned monkey
Oregon researchers announced the birth of Tetra, a rhesus macaque cloned by a process known as embryo splitting. In this process, the cloned cell does not come from an adult. Instead, a young embryo cell is articially made to divide. The process involves creating numerous identical twins, rather than creating an exact genetic match of either the mother or father.

1999: (Web Hoax)
male pregnancy
Lee Mingwei, the first pregnant man
This website documented the case of Mr. Lee Mingwei, supposedly the first man to bear child. A variety of documentary evidence was provided to allow visitors to track the progress of Mr. Mingwei's pregnancy, but in fact all of the evidence was false. The site was really created as an art project by the conceptual artist Virgil Wong. In fact, it would be theoretically possible for a man to bear a child by means of an ectopic pregnancy (and taking female hormones), but due to the high risks involved, no one has ever attempted such a procedure (though in 2002 Doctor Chen Huanran in Beijing announced he was seeking volunteers).

1998: Birth of Cloned Mice and Calves (True)
Researchers at the University of Hawaii announce that mice have been successfully cloned from adult cells. Japanese researchers also announce the successful cloning of eight identical calves.

April 1997: 63-year-old Woman Gives Birth (True)
A 63-year-old woman gave birth to a 6-pound, 4-ounce baby at the University of Southern California's clinic. The woman had undergone in-vitro fertilization in order to become pregnant. In other words, the egg had come from a donor, though it had been fertilized with sperm provided by her 60-year-old husband. The physicians at USC had not been aware of the woman's true age when they agreed to allow her into their fertility therapy program. She became the oldest woman ever to have become pregnant (ignoring Joanna Southcott's claims from 1814).

1997: Clones-R-Us (Web Hoax)
clones r us
Created soon after the announcement of the birth of Dolly the cloned sheep, this satirical website purported to be the homepage of a company offering professional cloning services. Clients could clone themselves or, if they were dissatisfied with their own genetic potential, give birth to the clone of a proven genetic winner such as Miss India or Miss Japan.

1997: Birth of Dolly, World's First Cloned Mammal (True)

Dolly the Sheep
Dolly the Sheep became the first mammal cloned from an adult cell. Dolly was cloned by researchers at Edinburgh's Roslin Institute. At first a number of journalists wondered if the news about Dolly could be a hoax, given the example of earlier cloning hoaxes (i.e. David Rorvik's effort in 1978), but the Scottish researchers were quick to provide compelling evidence to back up their claim. The news about Dolly electrified the world community, and almost immediately people began talking about when the first human clone would be born. The Raelians, at the time an obscure religious sect, were one of the first groups to announce that they would actively be attempting to create a human clone.

1993: X-Files Airs Psychotic Clones Episode (TV)

Psychotic Clones Named Eve
The popular tv show, The X-Files, aired an episode involving psychotic young female clones named Eve. The cloning technology supposedly was developed as part of a top-secret government project called the "Litchfield Experiment." When the Raelians claim to create a cloned girl in 2002, they also nickname it Eve.

1993: Jurassic Park (Movie)

A Jurassic Park dinosaur
Steven Spielberg's movie Jurassic Park, based on a book written by Michael Crichton, became the top-grosser at the box office. The story involved an amusement park populated by dinosaurs resurrected from extinction due to cloning technology.

1991: Rogue Fertility Doctor Impregnates 75 Women (Criminal Hoax)
Dr. Cecil Jacobson
Dr. Cecil Jacobson
Dr. Cecil Jacobson, who operated a Virginia fertility clinic, was arrested for having impregnated 75 of his female patients with his own sperm. The women had been told that they would be impregnated via in-vitro fertilization with the sperm of an anonymous donor who matched their husband's characteristics. Instead, the good doctor secretly substituted his own sperm. Jacobson was sentenced to five years in jail. He was the same doctor who in the 1960s claimed to have successfully engineered the impregnation of a male baboon (see below).

1979: Alien (Movie)

An Alien Baby
In Ridley Scott's second directorial effort, a crew member on a commercial spacecraft gave birth to something very nasty after being "impregnated" by an alien life form. Actually, gave birth is a nice way of saying that the creature violently burst out of his stomach. The film won an Academy Award for visual effects.

1978: In His Image: The Cloning of a Man (Cloning Hoax)

David Rorvik
Well-respected science reporter David Rorvik published a book titled In His Image: The Cloning of a Man in which he claimed to have participated in a research project that had succeeded in creating a clone of an eccentric American millionaire. Three years later Rorvik's claims were deemed to be a hoax by a Philadelphia court since he never provided any evidence to back them up. But Rorvik himself never admitted to any deception. He did say that the clone had subsequently died of a defect. (-More-)

1978: The Boys From Brazil (Movie)
The film The Boys From Brazil, based on a book of the same name by Ira Levin, struck a chord with filmgoers. The film posited a plot hatched by fugitive Nazis living in South America to breed a new Hitler using cloning technology. When news of the cloning of Dolly the Sheep was announced in 1997, the bioethicist Arthur Caplan commented that "This takes us a step closer to The Boys From Brazil."

July 25, 1978: First "Test-Tube" Baby Born (True)

Baby Louise
Louise Joy Brown, the first child successfully conceived through in-vitro fertilization (in which the mother's egg and father's sperm are mixed in the lab outside the womb), was born in Great Britain. Drs. Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards developed the process used to impregnate the mother. The birth was met with world-wide astonishment at the time, but today in-vitro fertilization has become relatively commonplace.

1968: Rosemary's Baby (Movie)
Rosemary's Baby
Mia Farrow in a scene from Rosemary's Baby
This film by Roman Polanski told the story of a young woman, Rosemary, who becomes the focus of a demonic cult. Unbeknownst to her, the cult includes her husband who has betrayed her to the Devil in order to advance his own career. Rosemary eventually ends up giving birth to the child of Satan.

mid-1960s: Male Baboon Supposedly Made Pregnant (Status Unknown)
Dr. Cecil Jacobson, a researcher at George Washington University Medical School, claimed that he successfully caused a male baboon to bear child by transplanting a fertilized egg from a female baboon into the male's abdominal cavity. Supposedly the male carried the child for four months before Dr. Jacobson terminated the pregnancy. Dr. Jacobson never published his results. He only spread his claim by word of mouth. Therefore, it is impossible to determine the accuracy of his claim. In the 1990s Jacobson was arrested for secretly impregnating 75 of the patients at his fertility clinic with his own sperm.

1962: Frogs Cloned From Adult Cells (True)
John Gurdon, a researcher at Oxford University, announced that he had successfully cloned frogs from differentiated, adult cells. This electrified the scientific community, which had believed such an accomplishment to be impossible. Gurdon's work was later criticized, and some argued that he had not in fact achieved what he had claimed since other researchers were unable to duplicate his work (though no one ever implied fraud in this case, just misinterpretation of results). Nevertheless, his work did focus public attention on cloning as a looming possibility.

November 28, 1952: Chilean Septuplets Hoax
Newspapers in Santiago, Chile ran huge headlines announcing that a local woman had just given birth to septuplets—seven children at once! Soon international papers also picked up on the remarkable story. But eventually the news was traced back to a group of students who had dreamed it up as a way of advertising their upcoming spring festival.

1952: Herald-American Multiple-Birth Hoax
The Chicago Herald-American ran a headline announcing "Mother Here Expects 5 or 6 Babies." For six months it continued to promise that this local mother would give birth soon. Its source for this remarkable news was a single reporter, Hugh S. Stewart, who staunchly refused to disclose who this very pregnant woman was. As the expected delivery date neared and then passed by Stewart began to offer various reasons for why she hadn't given birth yet. For instance, he explained that medication had complicated her pregnancy. Finally, Stewart's editors grew impatient, and under pressure he confessed that he had made up the entire story. The Herald-American was forced to apologize to its readers.

April 1938: Sextuplets Hoax
American newspapers excitedly announced that a woman in San Salvador was giving birth to sextuplets, thereby one-upping the famous Dionne quintuplets. The next day the papers realized they had been taken in by an unknown hoaxer.

April 1936: Sextuplets April Fools
A French newspaper claimed that a woman in the South of France had given birth to sextuplets, and it ran a picture of the proud parents posing with their six new children. London newspapers picked up on the story and ran it as fact. What they hadn't noticed was the date on which the French story ran: April 1st. In other words, they had fallen for a April Fool's Day hoax.

May 1934: Birth of Dionne Quintuplets (True)

The world-famous Dionne quintuplets
The Dionne quintuplets, born in Ontario, became the first set of quintuplets known to have survived infancy. The birth of the five girls astounded the world. The Canadian government removed them from their parents, ostensibly to better monitor their health, and housed them in a building which became known as Quintland. Here they quickly became Canada's largest tourist attraction, visited by over three-million people in the first ten years of their lives. Following the advent of fertility drugs in the 1970s, multiple births became much more common. But during the 1930s the quintuplets were viewed as something approaching a miracle. Their popularity inevitably inspired a number of multiple-birth hoaxes in the decades that followed.

1874: Woman Impregnated by Stray Bullet (Hoax)

The Battle of Raymond, scene of the bizarre impregnation
The American Medical Weekly reported the curious "Case of the Miraculous Bullet." This involved a woman who had been impregnated during the Civil War by a bullet that first passed through the testicle of a soldier before lodging in her abdomen. The incident supposedly occurred at the Battle of Raymond in Mississippi, and it was reported that the woman subsequently gave birth to a healthy baby boy. The story passed into the medical literature and was quoted as true as late as 1959. But in actuality the entire tale had been invented by a Southern doctor as a joke. (-More-)

late 1860s: Tom Thumb's Baby (Hoax)
tom thumb's baby
Lavinia Warren posing with baby
The most famous performer managed by the showman P.T. Barnum was certainly the diminutive Charles Sherwood Stratton, aka General Tom Thumb. 19th-century audiences couldn't get enough of marvelling at Tom Thumb's small stature as he paraded around dressed as Napoleon. On February 10, 1863 Tom married Lavinia Warren, a woman equally small in size. The two then toured together through Europe as husband and wife. To complete the scene of domestic bliss, Barnum often had Lavinia pose holding a baby. It was claimed that this was the child of Lavinia and Tom, but in fact it was simply an orphaned baby that Barnum had provided them with. Because of her size, Lavinia was incapable of having a baby of her own. Unfortunately, as the baby grew it soon began to overshadow Lavinia. Therefore Barnum switched the infant with a smaller one. He repeated this practice whenever each successive baby grew too large for its 'parents.'
(My thanks to Ken Blinn of the Barnum Museum for alerting me of this hoax)

1814: Elderly Woman Pregnant With Messiah (Hoax)
Joanna Southcott
Joanna Southcott
Joanna Southcott, an illiterate farmer's daughter from Devonshire, made a startling prediction: that on October 19, 1814 she would give birth to the new messiah. What made the prediction even more startling was that in 1814 she was sixty-five years old. As the date when she would give birth approached, she grew sicker and sicker. A physician from the Royal College of Surgeons confirmed that she was indeed pregnant, although she insisted on remaining fully clothed during his examination of her (after all, it wouldn't have been proper for the future mother of the messiah to be seen naked by a man). October 19 passed without event, but on December 27 Southcott died. Per her request, physicians performed an autopsy on her body and found that she had not been pregnant. But this hardly deterred her true believers. They faithfully clung onto an old box that she called her "box of treasures." The box was supposed to contain a collection of miraculous objects, and was to be opened only in a time of great crisis. When it was finally opened in 1939 it was found to contain a bunch of miscellaneous junk.

1779: Graham's Celestial Bed (Quackery)
graham's celestial bed
Graham's Celestial Bed
James Graham, a notorious quack, opened a so-called "Temple of Health" in a wealthy section of London. The centerpiece of the Temple was the 'Celestial Bed,' which was reserved for those able to afford the fee of £50 a night. Graham advertised that anyone who rented the bed for the night would be "blessed with progeny." Sterility or impotence would also be cured. As lovers lay in the bed, electricity crackled across its headboard, supposedly filling the air with a magnetic fluid "calculated to give the necessary degree of strength and exertion to the nerves." Due to his profligate ways, Graham eventually went bankrupt and closed the Temple of Health. But he reemerged a few years later in Scotland. This time he touted mud baths as a way to live forever without eating. (-More-)

1752: Lucina Sine Concubita (Hoax)
Lucina Sine Concubita
Engraving accompanying Hill's text showing a 'floating animalcula' approaching a sleeping woman
The British Royal Society received a curious report from an anonymous correspondent describing himself as "a physick and male midwife." The letter was titled Lucina Sine Concubita which translates as Pregnancy without Intercourse. In it, the writer put forward the argument that women could become pregnant without having engaged in any sexual activity, due to the presence of microscopic "floating animalcula" present in the air which could impregnate them. The author claimed to have isolated some of these animalcula using "a wonderful, cylindrical, catoptrical, rotundo-concavo-convex machine." When he examined these animalcula under a microscope he found them to be shaped like miniature men and women. This discovery, he suggested, would go a long way towards restoring the honor of women who could not otherwise explain their pregnancies. The letter proved very popular and was printed and distributed widely throughout Europe. But its underlying intent was almost definitely satirical. Its authorship has been traced to Sir John Hill, a man who had been denied membership to the Royal Society. Spurned by the exclusive society, he got his own back by poking fun at its pretensions.

September 1726: The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits (Hoax)
Mary Toft
18th-century depiction of Mary Toft
Mary Toft, a young woman in the town of Godalming located in the south of England, began to give birth to rabbits. Her condition soon attracted the attention of medical doctors who watched, to their amazement, as she produced one rabbit after another. The King sent his personal physicians to witness the phenomenon, and they reported back that it was not a fraud. Mary was transported to London, but under constant supervision she failed to produce any more rabbits. Sir Richard Manningham declared that he should surgically examine her to determine where the rabbits were coming from, and at that point she confessed that she had been putting them there herself when no one was looking. Remarkably, a year later she reportedly gave birth to a healthy human baby, despite the damage that she must have done to herself in the course of the rabbit deception.

1723: The Danger of Sooterkins (Strange Belief)
In 1723 Dr. John Maubray, a British surgeon, wrote a work on midwifery in which he described the danger of women giving birth to "sooterkins" if they remained close to a hot stove for too long. Sooterkins were said to be small, rat-like creatures with short tails and gleaming eyes. Apparently Dutch women were especially prone to this hazard.

1655: The Woman Who Laid Eggs (Status Unknown)
Ole Worm (1588-1654) kept a museum in Copenhagen. When the catalog of his museum was published in 1655 it included an account of a Norwegian woman who had laid two hen's eggs. The eggs became highly prized collector's items. One of them came into the possession of the King of Denmark and was eventually sold at public auction in 1824.

circa 1570: The Man Who Vomited a Fetus (Status Unknown)
count charles de mansfield's vomit
What Count Charles de Mansfield threw up
In his book Des Monstres et Prodigies Ambroise Pare told the story of Count Charles de Mansfield who took ill while staying at the hotel de Guise and vomited up a creature that looked like the deformed fetus of an animal. It is not reported what the unfortunate count ate that caused such a reaction. Pare also reported that during the course of his studies he had come across many cases of women giving birth to frogs, toads, snakes, lizards, harpies, and horned worms.

December 1522: The Monk-Calf (Status Unknown)
The Monk-Calf
The Monk-Calf
A deformed calf was born in the town of Freiburg. The creature had a bony head, was missing an eye, and had a fold of skin on its back that looked rather like a cape, or a cowl. In the active imagination of local protestants, the calf resembled a monk, so they dubbed it the monk-calf. The next year Martin Luther described the creature in a pamphlet, claiming that its birth symbolized the sin of the Roman Catholic Church. The Catholic Church responded that its birth actually symbolized the sin of the Protestant Reformation.

March 1512: The Monster of Ravenna (Status Unknown)
Monster of Ravenna
The Monster of Ravenna
In March 1512 an Italian woman in the town of Ravenna gave birth to a severely deformed child, and in the popular imagination of the time the poor child instantly was transformed into a fearsome monster. The monster was said to have a large horn sticking out of its head, it was armless, on its chest were the letters XYV, and its scaly leg had an eye affixed to its knee. News of the child was quickly communicated to Rome, and soon all of Europe had heard of it. Of course, what was significant about the child was not its actual appearance, but what that appearance signified. Some said its birth foretold the defeat of the Italian army at the Battle of Ravenna. Others said its appearance signified the sin of the Italian people. According to legend it grew to adulthood and proceeded to terrorize peasants in the Italian countryside. More likely, the child died soon after birth.

11th Century: Maimo, Born of Ape and Woman (Status Unknown)
Gulielmus was an Italian count who owned a pet ape. As can happen, his wife fell in love with the ape and mated with it. The resulting child was a curious half-man half-ape creature which was given the name Maimo. Eventually the countess's ape lover grew jealous of the Count and killed him. Maimo thereby came to the attention of Pope Alexander II, who showed the creature to St. Peter Damian, who then wrote of it in his book De bono religiosi status et variorum animatium tropologia. Perhaps influenced by the example of Maimo, Pope Alexander II later decided to enforce the practice of clerical celibacy.

circa 65 A.D.: The Woman Who Gave Birth To An Elephant (Status Unknown)
In the seventh book of his Natural History (chapter three) Pliny the Elder refers to a Roman lady named Alcippe who apparently gave birth to an elephant. He also describes a number of other cases of extreme births, such as a woman named Eutiche who gave birth over 30 times, a Greek woman who gave birth to quintuplets four times (producing a total of 20 kids), and the birth of a creature that was half-man and half-horse called the Hippocentaur. The Hippocentaur died the day it was born, but Pliny tells us that its body preserved in honey, and that Pliny had the chance to personally witness this curiosity.

Ancient Greece: The Minotaur (Myth)

The Minotaur
Ancient Greek mythology describes the minotaur, a creature with the body of a man but the head of a bull, that lived in a vast labyrinth on the island of Crete. The creature was the child of Pasiphae, the wife of King Minos. She became pregnant with the minotaur after mating with a snow-white bull. After its birth the creature was locked up in the labyrinth at the command of King Minos, but every year the Athenians had to pay tribute to the King by sending a sacrifice of seven young men and women who were fed to the minotaur. Finally the creature was slain by a young Athenian named Theseus.