The Museum of Hoaxes
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The Hoax Archive — A collection of the most notorious deceptions throughout history
Time Period: 1977-1989
Eras: 0-1699 1700s 1800-1868 1869-1913 1914-1949 1950-1976 1977-1989 1990s 2000s
San Serriffe, 1977. On April 1, 1977, the British newspaper The Guardian published a special seven-page supplement devoted to San Serriffe, a small republic said to consist of several semi-colon-shaped islands located in the Indian Ocean. A series of articles affectionately described the geography and culture of this obscure nation. Its two main islands were named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. Its capital was Bodoni, and its leader was General Pica. The Guardian's... Continue…
The Loch Ness Muppet, 1977. May 21, 1977: Anthony 'Doc' Shiels claimed that he took this picture while camping beside Urquhart Castle. Its startling clarity (it's probably the clearest picture of Nessie ever taken) has made it popular with the public. But it's hard to find any expert willing to take it seriously, simply because the creature depicted in it looks so obviously fake. (And it's odd that there are no ripples in the water around the neck.) Skeptics refer to... Continue…
Vilcabamba: the town of very old people, 1978. In 1970, scientists researching the link between diet and heart disease visited the small town of Vilcabamba, located high in the Ecuadorian Andes. The scientists included Dr. Alexander Leaf of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Harold Elrick of the University of California at San Diego, and a group from the University of Quito. The scientists found that the residents of Vilcabamba, who were principally of European descent, had very low cholesterol... Continue…
The Death of Alan Abel, 1980. On January 2, 1980 the New York Times announced the death of Alan Abel on its obituary page. It provided a flattering account of his career. The obituary read, in part: Alan Abel, a writer, musician and film producer who specialized in satire and lampoons, died of a heart attack yesterday at Sundance, a ski resort near Orem, Utah, while investigating a location for a new film. He was 50 years old and lived in Manhattan and Westport, Conn. Mr.... Continue…
Rosie Ruiz Wins the Boston Marathon, 1980. Ruiz supported by police after she crosses the finish lineOn 21 April 1980, Rosie Ruiz, a 23-year-old New Yorker, was the first woman to cross the finish line in the Boston Marathon. She had achieved the third fastest time ever recorded for a female runner (two hours, thirty-one minutes, and fifty-six seconds), which was made all the more remarkable by the fact that she looked remarkably sweat-free and relaxed as she climbed the winner's podium... Continue…
Janet Cooke and Jimmy’s World, 1980. Janet Cooke during an appearance on the Phil Donahue Show (January 1982) An article that appeared in the Washington Post on September 29, 1980 told a heartwrenching tale. It detailed the life of 'Jimmy,' a young boy who had apparently become a victim of the thriving heroin trade that was devestating the low-income neighborhoods of Washington D.C. Caught in a cycle of addiction, violence, and despair, Jimmy had become a heroin addict after being... Continue…
Casablanca Rejected, 1982. Too much dialogue, not enough exposition, weak story line Casablanca is arguably the most famous movie in the history of film. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1943, and was voted as one of the top three American films ever made by the American Film Institute. It's a movie that everyone in the film industry should instantly be able to recognize. But in 1982 freelance writer Chuck Ross asked himself this question: Would contemporary... Continue…
The Hitler Diaries, 1983. Gerd Heidemann (right) and Wolf Hess (left), son of Nazi leader Rudolf Hess, pose with a volume of the Hitler diaries. April, 1983. On April 22, 1983 the glossy German news magazine Stern issued a press release announcing what it promised was "the most important historical event of the last ten years." It had discovered the personal diary of Adolf Hitler -- a massive, multi-volume work spanning the years 1932-1945. Stern's announcement... Continue…
Jane Somers (aka Doris Lessing), 1983. In 1983 the novel The Diary of a Good Neighbor was published in Great Britain and the United States. It told the story of a successful middle-aged magazine editor who befriends a lonely old woman. The cover identified the author as Jane Somers, a name that was said to be the pseudonym of a "well-known English woman journalist." The book received little critical attention, and had only modest sales. Approximately 1500 copies sold in the UK and... Continue…
The Neiman Marcus Cookie Recipe. During the 1980s a rumor began to circulate alleging that the luxury department store Neiman Marcus had once charged a customer $250 for a cookie recipe. The rumor was first reported in newspapers during the late 1980s. However, the tale was likely older than that. Pat Zajac, a Neiman Marcus spokeswoman in Dallas, when interviewed by the Chicago Sun-Times in 1992, said that the tale had been circulating since she came to work for the chain in... Continue…
FAINT, 1985. On January 21, 1985, the daily broadcast of the Donahue show was devoted to a typically unusual subject — gay senior citizens. But few people would later remember the topic of that day's show, because as the live broadcast progressed seven members of the audience proceeded to faint. Concerned by the bizarre outbreak of swooning, Donahue cancelled the rest of the show and sent everyone home. The producers theorized that the hot temperature... Continue…
Sidd Finch, 1985. Sidd Finch In its April 1985 edition, Sports Illustrated published an article by George Plimpton that described an incredible rookie baseball player who was training at the Mets camp in St. Petersburg, Florida. The player was named Sidd Finch (Sidd being short for Siddhartha, the Indian mystic in Hermann Hesse's book of the same name). He could reportedly pitch a baseball at 168 mph with pinpoint accuracy. The fastest previous recorded speed for... Continue…
The Attack of Captain Midnight, 1986. On 27 April 1986, late night HBO subscribers watching the movie "The Falcon and the Snowman" were surprised by a sudden interruption of service. A color bar test pattern appeared on the screen for 4 ½ minutes. It was accompanied by a text message: "Good Evening HBO from Captain Midnight. $12.95/month? No Way! (Showtime/Movie Channel Beware!)" Continue…
The Dayton Hudson Hoax, 1987. On 23 June 1987, P. David Herrlinger, a 46-year-old investment adviser working out of Cincinnati, called up the Dow Jones News Service and informed them that he represented a large private investment firm which was about to offer to buy the retailer Dayton Hudson for $6.8 billion. The news immediately triggered a $9 spike in the company's stock price. The news turned out to be completely bogus. Herrlinger had apparently made the call after... Continue…
The Great Potato Play, 1987. On August 31, 1987, the double-A Williamsport Bills were playing the Reading Phillies. Rick Lundblade of the Phillies was on third base, waiting to run for home. The pitcher threw the ball low, into the glove of the catcher, Dave Bresnahan, who immediately threw it towards third hoping to pick off Lundblade. But the throw went wild, over the head of the third baseman, and Lundblade triumphantly sprinted towards home. But when he reached home he... Continue…
The Tawana Brawley Case, 1987. On November 28, 1987, a 15-year-old black girl named Tawana Brawley was found lying inside a trash bag outside an apartment building located in Wappingers Falls, New York. She was covered in feces and racial insults had been scrawled on her body. When questioned by police she claimed that a group of white men, including police officers, had raped and beaten her. The black community rallied around her, and a prominent black leader, the Reverend Al... Continue…
Billy Tipton, 1989. Billy Tipton (1914-1989) got his start in the predominantly masculine world of jazz during the 1930s. He made a name for himself playing the saxophone and piano, and during the 1950s formed his own group, the Billy Tipton Trio. Throughout his life he had a number of wives and adopted three sons. Therefore, when he died at the age of 74 on January 21, 1989, it came as a surprise to almost everyone to discover that Billy Tipton was really a woman.... Continue…

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