Hoax Museum Blog: Places

Vernon, Florida — Joe Littrell forwarded me a St. Petersburg Times article, Dismembered Again, about the town of Vernon, Florida. It was so weird that I first I thought it was one of those joke articles, the kind that magazines such as the Phoenix New Times sometimes run. But all the references in it check out, so now I'm pretty sure it's real.

Vernon used to be known as Nub City, because the main source of income for town residents was dismembering themselves in order to file insurance claims. People there would come up with all kinds of ingenious ways to lose limbs:
L.W. Burdeshaw, an insurance agent in Chipley, told the St. Petersburg Times in 1982 that his list of policyholders included the following: a man who sawed off his left hand at work, a man who shot off his foot while protecting chickens, a man who lost his hand while trying to shoot a hawk, a man who somehow lost two limbs in an accident involving a rifle and a tractor, and a man who bought a policy and then, less than 12 hours later, shot off his foot while aiming at a squirrel.

Eventually insurance companies refused to insure anyone in the area, but Vernon went on to achieve some fame as the subject of a film (titled Vernon, Florida) by Errol Morris:
What Morris produced instead was 56 minutes of surreal monologues from an idle police officer, an obsessive turkey hunter, a pastor fixated on the word "therefore," a couple convinced that the sand they keep in a jar is growing, and, among others, an old man who claims he can write with both hands at once.

It sounds like a fun place to visit.
Posted: Mon Sep 03, 2007.   Comments (6)

New From Elliot: Brooklyn Bridge Scams — Elliot's latest addition to the Hoaxipedia details scams involving the Brooklyn Bridge. I like this one in particular:
In 1886, not long after the Brooklyn Bridge opened, another famous scam was perpetrated by a Brooklyn bookie named Steve Brodie. According to the story, Brodie’s scam originated in a bet with a Brooklyn bartender named Chuck Connors. The bookie wagered Connors that he could jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and survive the fall.
Steve Brodie ultimately won the bet and wound up becoming a major New York City celebrity and legend.
It was discovered years later that Brodie had actually pushed a dummy off the Bridge and hid under a pier.

Posted: Thu Aug 30, 2007.   Comments (5)

Algeria’s River of Ink — The Proceedings of the Athanasius Kircher Society has posted an interesting geographical puzzle. An article, "The Story of Ink," in the 1930 issue of the American Journal of Pharmacy included the following statement:
Iron tannin inks are sometimes formed naturally; such a phenomenon has been observed in Algeria, a country in northern Africa, where there exists a "river of ink." Chemical examinations of the waters of the streams combining to form this river revealed that one of the streams is impregnated with iron from the soil through which it flows while the other stream carries tannin from a peat swamp. When the two streams joined, the chemical action between the tannic acid, the iron and the oxygen of the water caused the information of the black ferric tannate, making a natural river of ink.
Does this river of ink actually exist? And if so, where is it on a map?

The earliest reference to this mysterious river I could find occurred in The Athens Messenger on May 25, 1876. The short blurb read:
"A river of ink has been discovered in Algeria. Let them find a mountain of paper, and then send for William Allen."
For the next seven decades, similar passages -- almost verbatim to what ran in the Am. Jour. of Pharmacy -- appeared regularly in newspapers. They were typically thrown in as an odd bit of trivia to fill up column space. However, the name and location of the river itself (except for the fact that it was in Algeria) was never identified.

More recently, Bruce Felton and Mark Fowler included a passage about this river in their 1994 book The Best, Worst, & Most Unusual: Noteworthy Achievements, Events, Feats & Blunders of Every Conceivable Kind:
Most Unusual River: The comingling of two tributary streams in Algeria forms a river of ink: One brook contains iron; the other, which drains from a peat swamp, contains gallic acid. Swirled together, the chemicals unite to form a true black ink. (Black Brook in upstate New York is formed by a similar chemical blend.)
Though the chemical composition of this "river of ink" sounds plausible, the other details about it are so vague that it sounds a bit like a geographical urban legend.
Posted: Fri Aug 17, 2007.   Comments (9)

The Bermuda Triangle of Cats — Cats are disappearing from the town of Stourbridge in the West Midlands. Up to 40 lost cats have been reported so far, all from the same small neighborhood. Metro.co.uk reports:
The pets disappeared from just a few streets and no signs of any of them have ever been found. Some families lost as many as three cats, one after the other.
But there is one resident who, like others in the town of Stourbridge, refuses to believe it's just a coincidence.
'It really is a bit of a Bermuda Triangle for cats,' said Julie Wottoon. She has started a campaign to try to solve the mystery after her cat, 15-year-old Norman, went missing in May.
She has drawn up a list of the vanished felines in the hope of finding some clues.
It reminds me of that bridge in Scotland I posted about two years ago, which dogs keep leaping off of, apparently to commit suicide. Perhaps the cats of Stourbridge have gotten tired of life in the town and are wandering off to find new homes. Unlikely. Or perhaps there's a cat-napper in the area. Or perhaps it's just a statistical fluke.
Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2007.   Comments (12)

Moving Rocks of Death Valley — image On Flickr someone with the screenname "melastmohican" has uploaded a picture of a "moving rock" located in the Racetrack Playa region of Death Valley, California. The caption reads:
Deep in the heart of the California desert lies one of the natural world's most puzzling mysteries: the moving rocks of Death Valley. These are not ordinary moving rocks that tumble down mountainsides in avalanches, are carried along riverbeds by flowing water, or are tossed aside by animals. These rocks, some as heavy as 700 pounds, are inexplicably transported across a virtually flat desert plain, leaving erratic trails in the hard mud behind them, some hundreds of yards long. They move by some mysterious force, and in the nine decades since we have known about them, no one has ever seen them move.
I should have known about the moving rocks of Death Valley (after all, I live only a few hours drive from there), but I have to admit that, before seeing the picture, I hadn't known about them, and so immediately I thought the picture was a hoax

It reminded me of Dan De Quille's "Traveling Stones of Pahranagat Valley" hoax from 1867. De Quille, a newspaper columnist (and roommate of Mark Twain) invented a story about some stones which "when scattered about on the floor, on a table, or other level surface, within two or three feet of each other, they immediately began traveling toward a common center, and then huddled up in a bunch like a lot of eggs in a nest."

But unlike Pahranagat Valley's traveling stones, Death Valley's moving rocks are a real phenomenon. The mysterious force that moves the stones, scientists speculate, is most likely the wind. When the floor of the racetrack playa gets wet, the ground becomes extremely slippery, allowing strong winds to cause the stones to skid across the ground. Either that, or giants go bowling there.
Posted: Tue Aug 14, 2007.   Comments (27)

The Great Cornish Shark Hoax — image Kevin Keeble stirred up a lot of excitement when he sent pictures to the Newquay Guardian showing a great white shark that he claimed to have spotted about a mile off the coast of Cornwall. At the time he said, "We were out about one mile off Towan Head and I saw this fin in the distance. We were reeling in the mackerel but I picked up my camera and caught a picture with my telephoto lens. The shark was about 100ft away. It was only there for a few seconds before it disappeared."

A shark mania ensued. Others sharks were spotted, but they turned out to be harmless basking sharks.

Now Keeble has changed his tune, confessing that it was all a hoax. He's told a rival paper that he actually took the photo of the shark, "whilst I was on a fishing trip in Cape Town and just sent it in as a joke. I didn't expect anyone to be daft enough to take it seriously."

So it's once again safe to go swimming in Cornwall.

Posted: Thu Aug 09, 2007.   Comments (1)

Cerne Abbas Homer — image A 180ft image of a donut-waving Homer Simpson recently appeared on a hillside in Dorchester, beside the famous Cerne Abbas Giant. The image is part of the publicity for the new Simpsons movie. However, the stunt has not pleased local pagans, who believe it to be disrespectful. Catherine Hosen, Wiltshire representative for The Pagan Federation, says, "I find it quite shocking and very disrespectful. It's just a publicity stunt for a film and we are talking about a monument which is definitely of great historical significance and a lot of people feel has important spiritual significance as well."

However, the pagans should keep in mind that the Cerne Abbas Giant may not be as old as they think. As I note in the article about the Giant in the Hoaxipedia:
the first written reference to the giant only occurred in 1694. This was not because early descriptions of the Cerne Abbas landscape were scarce. Quite the opposite. Many pre-seventeenth-century surveys of that region have survived, but none of them mention a giant. By contrast, the presence of the Uffington Horse was noted as early as the eleventh century... [Joseph Betty has] argued that a local landowner called Denzil Holles created the giant in the seventeenth century during the English Civil War. Holles harbored a passionate hatred of the puritan commander Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell’s followers often represented their leader as a modern-day, club-wielding Hercules. Therefore, what better way for Holles to satirize the commander, Betty suggested, than to plaster a 180-foot rude caricature of Hercules on a hilltop in the middle of England? But Betty noted that given the dangerous political situation during the Civil War, Holles would have been careful not to make his authorship of the figure too obvious or too widely known.

Posted: Wed Jul 25, 2007.   Comments (8)

Ghetto Bus Tour — Next time you visit Chicago, consider skipping the normal city tours and instead take the "Ghetto Bus Tour." It takes tourists on a guided tour in a yellow school bus "through vacant lots and past demolished buildings on a tour of what was once one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country." You get to see the former housing projects. The tour guide is Beauty Turner. The Chi-Town Daily News reports:
Turner leads her captivated audience from site to site in a beat-up yellow school [bus]. Sitting in the back, listening to her point out the sites, the We The People Media Bus Tour feels like an eccentric elementary school field trip. Turner's mostly white charges are reporters and employees of non-profit organizations. Elinor Krepler is there as part of her rabbinic training program in Philadelphia. There is a group from the Field Mueum’s Cultural Understanding and Change program. There are reporters from National Public radio and a history professor from Roosevelt University, Brad Hunt, who is writing a book about the history of public housing. Many on the tour snap pictures of public housing projects as if they were tourist attractions. They turn their microphones toward CHA residents who are not used to being listened to.
This reminded me of something, but I couldn't immediately put my finger on it. And then I remembered -- Joey Skaggs's Hippie Bus Tour. Back in 1968 Skaggs rented a greyhound bus, filled it with long-haired hippies, and then took them all on a guided tour of a middle-class Queens community, allowing them to snap photos of guys mowing their lawn, washing their cars, etc.

So the Skaggs version of the ghetto bus tour would, presumably, be to take residents of the housing projects on a tour of Chicago's wealthy suburbs. That might be pretty interesting.
Posted: Mon Jul 23, 2007.   Comments (11)

Quick Links: Jesus on Google Maps, etc. — image
Jesus on Google Maps
Brian Martin claims that he saw the shape of Jesus in the clouds above Mount Sinai.
(Thanks, Madmouse.)

Cat Gives Birth to 'Puppy'
Following on from the Japanese poodle scam hoax, this made me laugh.
A cat in Zhengzhou, China has supposedly given birth to a litter of four, one of which looks like a poodle. There are no pictures to accompany the article, however.
(Thanks, Robert.)

Sexism in Tetris
It seems a lot of people didn't realise the April 1st post on this computer site was a joke.
(Thanks, ponygirl.)
Posted: Wed May 02, 2007.   Comments (6)

The Great Belgian Breakup Hoax — If I were going to draw up a list of the top ten hoaxes of 2006 (which I'm not because I don't have enough time), the Great Belgian Breakup Hoax would definitely have to be included in the list, sneaking in right before the end of the year. As has been widely reported, on Wednesday many people were briefly led to believe that Belgium had ceased to exist. An AP story summarized what happened:
Suddenly and shockingly, Belgium came to an end. State television broke into regular programming late Wednesday with an urgent bulletin: The Dutch-speaking half of the country had declared independence and the king and queen had fled. Grainy pictures from the military airport showed dark silhouettes of a royal entourage boarding a plane. Only after a half hour did the station flash the message: "This is fiction."
The Belgian TV station apparently perpetrated the hoax in order to stir up debate about the future of the country. Since the news was being reported straight-faced by a reputable news source, many viewers believed it.

Oddly, this is not the first time we've seen a hoax like this. Back in 1992 the London Times reported essentially the same news, as a joke, on April Fool's Day. It made #90 on my list of the Top 100 April Fools Hoaxes of all time:
The London Times reported in 1992 that formal negotiations were underway to divide Belgium in half. The Dutch-speaking north would join the Netherlands and the French-speaking south would join France. An editorial in the paper then lamented that, "The fun will go from that favorite parlor game: Name five famous Belgians." The report apparently fooled the British foreign office minister Tristan Garel-Jones who almost went on a TV interview prepared to discuss this "important" story. The Belgian embassy also received numerous calls from journalists and expatriate Belgians seeking to confirm the news. A rival paper later criticized the prank, declaring that, "The Times's effort could only be defined as funny if you find the very notion of Belgium hilarious."
Actually, when put that way, there does seem to be something amusing about the notion of Belgium. Though I don't know exactly why this is.

Nevertheless, amusing as Belgium might be, it seems safe to say that it still does exist. So I won't be needing to add it to my list of nonexistent places.
Posted: Sat Dec 16, 2006.   Comments (29)

Bruce Lee Theme Park Patrolled by Mannequin Robots — There's word of a Bruce Lee theme park being built in China. Nothing particularly weird about that, and no reason not to believe it's true. Here's the weird part:
According to local reports, the park will be patrolled by Bruce Lee “mannequin robots”, radio-controlled from within a giant statue of the late star.
Also, there's going to be a rollercoaster "that emits the martial arts actor’s signature grunts and screams on high-speed bends." Sounds kind of cool. I'm guessing that the part about the mannequin robots somehow got lost in translation. In reality, they'll probably have people dressed up as Bruce Lee receiving orders via radio headsets. (Thanks MadCarlotta)
Posted: Tue Nov 28, 2006.   Comments (9)

Nuclear Explosion Over Netherlands — Gerrit forwarded links to radar maps showing some extremely unusual cloud activity over the Netherlands. I managed to visit the radar sites myself in time to see the unusual clouds. However, the maps have since updated and are no longer showing the same activity. But I can vouch that, for a while, they really were displaying the sudden appearance of a mysterious ring of clouds around the Netherlands. Screenshots of the radar image have been posted here and here. Has anyone checked that the Netherlands are still around?

Posted: Tue Sep 26, 2006.   Comments (28)

Quick Links: Man Bites Panda, etc. — Man Bites Panda
A drunken tourist climbed in with Gu Gu the panda at Beijing zoo. When the startled panda bit him, he bit it back.
"I bit the panda on its back but its fur was too thick," Mr Zhang recalled.
He went on: "No one ever said they would bite people. I just wanted to touch it."

Jerusalem - There's No Such City!
According to a mistranslated sightseeing brochure, at least. The pamphlet, translated from Hebrew, should have read "Jerusalem - there's no city like it!".

Dog With Knicker Obsession Gets Surgery
Deefer, a Bull Mastiff has eaten at least ten pairs of knickers over the last year. Embarrassing surgery was required recently when the last two pairs became lodged in Deefer's intestine, costing his owners more than £1,000.

Sudanese Man is Forced to 'Marry' Goat
When Mr Tombe was caught having sex with his neighbour's goat, he was taken to a council of elders, who ordered him to pay a dowry of 15,000 Sudanese dinars, and gave him the goat. The neighbour is quoted as saying "They said I should not take him to the police, but rather let him pay a dowry for my goat because he used it as his wife."

(Thanks, Accipiter.)
Posted: Fri Sep 22, 2006.   Comments (17)

New York Puppet Library — image When I came across this page descriping puppet lending libraries—one in Boston and another one in New York— I thought it had to be a joke. Especially given the New York puppet library's location: inside a memorial arch. But apparently these are real. A google search brings up quite a few articles about the New York puppet library, including this one from Time Out New York Kids:
A different kind of lending library makes its home in Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza Arch. A small flock of birds occupies the fourth-floor landing inside the Grand Army Plaza Arch. One flight below, a grinning cat keeps watch over the spiral staircase. Walk down, and you'll see a swarm of insects and four sweet-faced ponies. There are usually eight ponies, but four are out on loan. Welcome to the New York Puppet Library.
It's nice to know there's a place to go if you ever need to borrow a puppet.
Posted: Thu Aug 24, 2006.   Comments (5)

Top Thrill Dragster — The following pictures of an extreme roller-coaster have been circulating around via email. Yes, the roller-coaster is real. It's the Top Thrill Dragster at the Cedar Point Amusement Park in Ohio. On their website they've got some cool point-of-view videos of the ride in action.

image image image
image image image

Appended to the pictures of the rollercoaster is this next one, with the caption: "And this last picture says it all..."


I'd be willing to bet that isn't really a picture of someone who just rode the Top Thrill Dragster. It's probably just a random picture that someone tacked on.
Posted: Sun Aug 20, 2006.   Comments (16)

Teddy Tourism — Teddy Tour Berlin, run by Karsten Morschett and Thomas Vetsch, cater for those who can't themselves afford to tour the German capital, but want the next best thing.

Expatica.com reports that customers send their teddies and the payment details to the company, who then take the bears around sites such as Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Olympic Stadium, and remnants of the Berlin Wall.

At each site, the visiting teddy is photographed in a snappy pose.

"They aren't photo-montages either," Morschett stresses. "We actually take the teddies to these places and pose them as stylishly as possible, just as their owners would want us to do."

If you want to send your ursine friend to Berlin, it will set you back between $25 and $150 for the deluxe tour.

Morschett and Vetsch say they both admire teddies as "a kind of soft art form" and that they take pains to ensure that their travelogue photos are stylish and not simply vacation snapshots.

Posted: Wed Aug 16, 2006.   Comments (10)

Quick Links, KFCruelty.com, etc. —
Mr. KentuckyFriedCruelty.com Changes Name
Last year Christopher Garnett officially changed his name to "Kentucky fried cruelty.com". (It was a PETA publicity stunt.) Now he's had enough and is changing it back. Anyone feel like changing their name to "Museum of Hoaxes.com"? I'll give you a free book if you do. (Thanks, Beverley)

Thames Town, China
image The cobbled streets, Georgian houses, and Tudor-style pub might make you think you're in England. But you're really in Thames Town, a faux British village being constructed in China. I've heard of faux English towns in Korea also, but the Korean ones are used for English-language instruction.

Imitation French Fries
In response to a ban on fried food in school cafeterias, some Arizona schools are now serving "imitation fries." Or so claims the headline of the article. In reality, they're just fries that have been baked rather than fried. I don't think that really makes them imitation fries. Baked fries can taste pretty good, especially the curly ones seasoned with chili powder.

Religion-Related Fraud Worsens
Scams targeting churchgoers are on the rise. One passage from this article caught my eye: "Leaders of Greater Ministries International, based in Tampa, Fla., defrauded thousands of people of half a billion dollars by promising to double money on investments that ministry officials said were blessed by God." Instead of Sunday school, maybe churches should offer classes in critical thinking. Just an idea.
Posted: Tue Aug 15, 2006.   Comments (19)

The Road of Non-Starting Cars — If you park your car on Percy Road in Gosport, don't expect to be able to start it again. Residents of this road claim that "unknown forces" are preventing their cars from starting. They have to push their cars a few yards up the road before they'll start:
Wayne Dobson, 38, first discovered the problem when he came home from work, parked up as usual and tried to use his remote immobiliser to lock his V-registered Land Rover Freelander, but got no response.
When he later tried to start the car, he found it was completely dead. However, when he pushed his car a few yards up the road, it started again without complaint. After talking to his neighbours, he discovered they had experienced exactly the same problem. Mr Dobson said: 'It's all a bit Mulder and Scully. It's just these few car lengths outside our houses, and it started only at the end of last week. None of us can think of anything that would cause it.'
To me the problem is so obvious. Inner earth dwellers must be directing an electromagnetic pulse beam at exactly that spot, thereby causing any electrical system, such as a car starter, to become inoperative. What else could it be? Well, maybe it's just coincidence that their cars haven't been starting. But that theory isn't nearly as interesting. (via Fortean Times)
Posted: Tue Aug 15, 2006.   Comments (13)

Self-Watering Miracle Tree — image Lucille Pope's oak tree has sprung a leak. Water is pouring out of it at the rate of a tenth of a gallon every minute, and no one knows where the water is coming from.

It all started back in April when a little sap started oozing out of the tree. The sap progressed to a dark stain, that eventually turned into a steady trickle of water. Lucille Pope thinks it's some kind of miracle tree, and that the water has special healing properties. However, her son Lloyd says "I ain't with that superstitious stuff ... There's no crying Mary here." (Good for him.) However, the specialists from the local water board are baffled. It doesn't seem to be a leaking pipe since Mrs. Pope's water bill isn't going up. Hydrologist George Rice said:
"I've never seen anything like this before. If you wanted to dream something up I'd say that somehow water pressure underneath is forced through some kind of channel in the tree. But that's still very unlikely."
I can't imagine how this phenomenon could easily be faked, so I doubt it's a hoax. I'm going with the underground spring that somehow forced its way up through the tree theory.
Posted: Fri Aug 11, 2006.   Comments (34)

Weird Scottish Myths — The Scotsman has published an article on a number of slightly bizarre (well, very bizarre) myths about Scotland, ranging from Jesus holidaying in the Hebrides to Jerusalem actually being Edinburgh. Mostly avoiding the Da Vinci Code furore, the newspaper has given each theory their own marks out of ten on the probability scale.

0/10 - This whole theory seems as thin as extra-thin, thin crust pizza, that has been cooked very thin. It is hard to believe that the ancient Scots were busy sailing around the world sharing religion and genes when back home everything seems so, well, primitive. Wouldn’t Scotland have been a very different place if we were indeed being subject to such a wealth of world culture?

(Thanks, Dave.)
Posted: Thu Aug 10, 2006.   Comments (6)

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