The Museum of Hoaxes
hoax archive hoax archive hoax archive hoax archive hoax archive
 
Eras: 0-1699 1700s 1800-1868 1869-1913 1914-1949 1950-1976 1977-1989 1990s 2000s
The Hoax Archive — A collection of the most notorious deceptions throughout history
Advertising Hoaxes
The Hoaxes of P.T. Barnum. Barnum described himself as the "Prince of Humbug," an epithet he more than earned during his long career. He's best remembered today for the circus that still bears his name, but before the circus he ran a New York museum, and it was this museum that initially made him rich and famous. He attracted visitors to it by means of sensational publicity stunts, hoaxes, and plain-old false advertising. But he managed to convince audiences that he was selling them entertainment, not fraud. Continue…
The Free Grand Buffalo Hunt. Posters that appeared around New York City in the summer of 1843 advertised a "Grand Buffalo Hunt" that would take place across the river in Hoboken on August 31, 1843. For the entertainment of the crowd, which would be protected behind thick double-rail fencing, cowboys would pretend to hunt and lasso a herd of wild buffalo imported from New Mexico. Best of all, the event would take place free of charge. The organizer of this event was the... Continue…
The September Morn Hoax, 1913. The French painter Paul Chabas completed "September Morn" in early 1912. The painting shows a young woman demurely bathing nude by the edge of Lake Annecy in Haute-Savoie, France. When Chabas showed it that year at the Paris Salon, it won a gold medal of honor. Critics praised it. But when copies of the painting made their way to America, it provoked a bitter controversy there about nudity, art, and public morality. Thanks to this controversy,... Continue…
Stotham: The Town That Didn’t Exist, 1920. The quaint Massachusetts town of Stotham, described in an advertising monograph as an example of an unspoiled New England village, didn't actually exist. Continue…
The Brazilian Invisible Fish. Harry Reichenbach (1882-1931) was a publicist whose career spanned the early twentieth century. He was responsible for promoting many movies and show business personalities. In his autobiography, Phantom Fame (written with the help of David Freedman), Reichenbach described a publicity stunt he devised early in his career that has since become a classic example of inventive (though misleading) low-budget promotion. It involved a creature called... Continue…
Hoaxes & Stunts of Jim Moran. Jim Moran (1907-1999) was called, at various times, "super salesman number one," "America's No. 1 prankster," and "the last great bunco artist in the profession of publicity." He became famous during the 1930s and 40s for devising outrageous stunts on behalf of his clients. His favorite technique was to test the validity of popular sayings. For instance, he sold an icebox to an eskimo, found a needle in a haystack, and walked a bull through a... Continue…
The Kidnapping of Nicole Riche, 1950. At 3 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, April 1, 1950 the 22-year-old French actress Nicole Riche walked into a Paris police station dressed in a flimsy white negligee. She had been missing for over two days. When the police questioned her about where she had been, she spilled forth a bizarre tale about being kidnapped by "Puritans" who kept her in a room without food while they lectured her about the immorality of her life. Finally, she said, her... Continue…
Ghost Artists, 1952. On February 5, 1952, a small ad ran on the theatrical page of the Washington Post offering the services of a company of "ghost artists": "Too busy to paint? Call on the Ghost Artists? We paint it, you sign it." The idea of ghost artists caught the interest of the media, and a report about the company went out over the wire services and appeared in newspapers nationwide. The ghost artists were said to be earning lucrative fees from executives who... Continue…
The Sandpaper Test, 1959. In 1959, the Colgate-Palmolive company began airing three TV ads in America for its Palmolive Rapid-Shave shaving cream. All three commercials included a "sandpaper test" designed to demonstrate that Rapid-Shave's "moisturizing" action was so powerful it would not only soften up even the heaviest beard in seconds, but also make sandpaper shaveable. But what viewers were led to believe was a piece of sandpaper being shaved was actually plexiglass... Continue…
Subways Are For Sleeping, 1962. On January 4, 1962, an advertisement appeared in the New York Herald-Tribune for a Broadway play titled "Subways Are For Sleeping." Judging by the ad, it appeared the play was a critical success. The names of seven well-known theater critics appeared in the ad, and accompanying their names were the rave reviews they had given the play. But, in truth, the quotations came from ordinary people who happened to have the same names as the critics. Continue…
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 BMW Crop Circle, 1993. A crop circle appeared in a field of rye located outside of Johannesburg, South Africa during the first week of February 1993. The South African media speculated excitedly about whether it was the work of a UFO. Many newspapers and TV and radio shows discussed it, fanning interest in the incident. Popular curiosity grew until February 14, when a small detail was pointed out that had previously escaped almost everyone's notice: the circle formed... Continue…
The Sibuxiang Beast, 1994. On the evening of September 19, 1994 a stark warning was repeatedly broadcast to TV viewers in Taiyuan, a city in northern China. A message scrolled across an otherwise blank screen warning that the Sibuxiang beast, a mythical creature whose bite was said to be fatal, was not only real, but on the loose and heading towards the city. "It is said that the Sibuxiang is penetrating our area from Yanmenguan Pass and within days will enter thousands of... Continue…
The Taco Liberty Bell, 1996. On April 1, 1996, the Taco Bell Corporation announced it had bought the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Hundreds of outraged citizens called the National Historic Park in Philadelphia where the bell was housed to express their anger. Their nerves were only calmed when Taco Bell revealed, a few hours later, that it was all a practical joke. The best line of the day came when White House press secretary Mike McCurry was... Continue…
The Sneaker Pimps Crop Circle. In July 1997 a crop circle resembling the logo of a popular band, the Sneaker Pimps, appeared in Warwickshire, England. This band was playing in the nearby Phoenix music festival. No one ever took credit for the formation. Cerealogists Andy Thomas and Mike Leigh have suggested that "the thought patterns of those at the festival had somehow coalesced to create it in ways which experiments had shown possible." An alternative (more plausible)... Continue…
The Blair Witch Project, 1999. In 1999 The Blair Witch Project became a multimillion-dollar box-office sensation. Much of this success owed to a clever marketing scheme centering around a website, blairwitch.com. The premise of the site (and the movie) was that in 1994 three student filmmakers had disappeared in the woods near Burkitsville, Maryland while shooting a documentary about the local legend of the Blair Witch. Supposedly the Blair Witch was Elly Kedward, a woman... Continue…
Ron’s Angels, 1999. It is legal to sell donor eggs to infertile couples. However, Ron Harris, an erotic photographer, proposed taking this process one step further. He established a website, Ronsangels.com, at which nubile supermodels auctioned off their eggs to the highest bidders. The concept outraged other members of the infertility industry. Continue…
Dave Manning, 2001. No matter how bad the movies of Columbia Pictures were, there was always one reviewer sure to heap praise on them — David Manning of the Ridgefield Press. For instance, while other reviewers skewered Hollow Man, Manning declared it, "One helluva scary ride! The summer's best special effects." The sophomoric comedy The Animal impressed him as "another winner," and he singled out Heath Ledger of A Knight's Tale as "this year's hottest new... Continue…
The Microsoft iLoo, 2003. On 30 April 2003, MSN UK, a division of Microsoft, issued a press release announcing the imminent introduction of the iLoo, the world’s first internet-enabled port-a-potty. The introduction of this product was described as part of Microsoft's effort to allow people to log on "anytime, any place, and anywhere." The iLoo, the press release promised, would include a wireless keyboard, a height-adjustable flat plasma screen, a six-channel... Continue…
The Cesky Sen Hypermarket, 2003. In early 2003 advertisements began to appear throughout Prague promoting a new hypermarket called Cesky Sen (or "Czech Dream") opening soon in the Lethany Fairgrounds. The ads appeared on billboards, at bus stops, in newspapers, and on TV. The store promised ultra-low prices, such as TVs for $19 and mineral water for pennies, and a special surprise for anyone who came to the grand opening on May 31, 2003. On the day of the grand opening,... Continue…
Hunting for Bambi, 2003. In July 2003, Las Vegas TV station KLAS-TV reported that a local company was selling “Bambi Hunts.” These were games in which men with paintball guns hunted naked women in the Nevada desert. Anyone could sign up to join in a "hunt", although it could cost as much as $10,000 per game. An international media frenzy ensued. Numerous critics denounced the hunts, pointing out that a paintball hitting a naked woman could seriously hurt her.... Continue…
The Mini Cooper Autonomous Robot, 2004. The website of Colin Mayhew offered details on how this eccentric, but apparently brilliant, engineer had built an "autonomous crash-preventing robot" from the body of a BMW Mini Cooper r50. Video showed the humanoid robot in action, stopping a car from crashing into a wall. The Mini Cooper Autonomous Robot was eventually revealed to be an elaborate viral marketing campaign designed to promote the new Mini Cooper. Continue…
The Loch Ness Tooth. March 2005: Two American students visiting Scotland claimed to have found an enormous tooth (possibly belonging to Nessie) lodged in the carcass of a deer along the shore of the loch. However, (so they said) a game warden who happened to be passing by almost immediately confiscated the tooth from them, though not before they got a few pictures of it. The students subsequently created a website to publicize their find and lobby for the return of... Continue…
Wine Spectator Hoaxed, 2008. Since 1981 the magazine Wine Spectator has given "Awards of Excellence" to restaurants that it deems to have exceptional wine lists. To win an award a restaurant must submit their wine list to the magazine and pay a $250 application fee. Over two-thirds of the restaurants who submit an application win an award, and the contest earns Wine Spectator over $1 million a year in fees. In 2008 the magazine gave an award to Osteria L’Intrepido, a... Continue…

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