The Museum of Hoaxes
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Travel and Exploration Hoaxes
Robert Patterson’s Tour of China, 1971
In June 1971 Robert Patterson, a 66-year-old newsman, filed a series of five reports for the San Francisco Examiner detailing his odyssey through mainland China. His journey was inspired by the popular interest in Chinese culture following President Nixon's official visit to that country. The series ran on the Examiner's front page. Patterson discussed details such as his difficulty obtaining an entry visa, witnessing Chinese citizens doing calisthenics in the street every morning, and receiving acupuncture at a Chinese hospital for chronic hip pain. However, his reports caused Paul Avery, a reporter at the rival San Francisco Chronicle, to... More…
The Man-Eating Tree of Madagascar, 1874
On April 28, 1874, the New York World ran an article announcing the discovery in Madagascar of a remarkable new species of plant: a man-eating tree. The article included a gruesome description of a woman fed to the plant by members of the Mkodos tribe. Numerous newspapers and magazines reprinted the article, but 14 years later the journal Current Literature revealed the story to be a work of fiction written by NY World reporter Edmund Spencer. More…
The Great Balloon Hoax, 1844
The New York Sun announced that the European balloonist Monck Mason had completed the first-ever successful trans-Atlantic balloon crossing. He had taken off from England on a trip to Paris, but had been blown off course due to a propeller accident and ended up floating to South Carolina. The story was quickly revealed to be a hoax, authored by Edgar Allan Poe. More…
The Journal of Julius Rodman
Extracts from the Journal of a "Julius Rodman" appeared in a series of six installments in Burton's Gentlemen's Magazine between January and June 1840. The journal purported to detail a 1792 expedition led by Julius Rodman up the Missouri River toward the Far North. This 1792 expedition, if true, would have made Rodman the first European to cross the Rocky Mountains. Julius Rodman's expedition was subsequently noted by a member of the U.S. Senate, Robert Greenhow, who wrote in a Senate document, "It is proper to notice here an account of an expedition across the American continent, made between 1791 and 1794, by a party of citizens of the... More…
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym
As the Wilkes Expedition, organized by the U.S. Navy, prepared to depart for South America and Antarctica during the late 1830s, polar travel received a great deal of attention in America. This was the context in which a serialized tale authored by Edgar Allan Poe appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger in January and February, 1837. Titled "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym," it presented the story of an explorer, Arthur Gordon Pym, who traveled to the polar latitudes where he suffered a mysterious demise. The tale first appeared "under the garb of fiction," but when Poe republished it a year later as a novel, he added a preface... More…
The Journal of Charles Le Raye
In 1812 a Boston printer published a journal, said to have been written by the French trader Charles Le Raye, describing his capture in 1801 by a band of Teton Sioux and subsequent travels through the Upper Missouri and Yellowstone regions. If the account is true, Le Raye would have been the first European to travel through that region and write about it, preceding the Lewis and Clark expedition by three years. But scholars now believe the journal was a hoax. They cite its gross geographical inaccuracies, inaccurate portrayal of Indian life, and the lack of any other evidence suggesting that Le Raye existed. However, a few parts of the... More…

The Patagonian Giants, 1766
When the Dolphin returned to London after circumnavigating the globe, a rumor spread alleging the crew had discovered a race of nine-foot-tall giants living in Patagonia, South America. It was said the name Patagonia actually meant "land of the big feet". But in reality, there were no South American giants. The crew had indeed encountered a tribe of Patagonians, but the tallest among them had measured only 6 feet 6 inches. More…
Madagascar, or Robert Drury’s Journal, 1729
A book detailing an Englishman's shipwreck and enslavement on the island of Madagascar has proved controversial. It was accepted as true during the 18th century, and dismissed as a hoax during the 19th century. But in 1996, a British scholar argued that the tale may, in fact, be true since the description of early 18th century Madagascar was highly accurate. More…
The Native of Formosa, 1702
A white-skinned, blond-haired man showed up in northern Europe claiming to be from the island of Formosa (Taiwan). He regaled scholars and members of high society with tales of the bizarre practices of Formosa, such as the supposed annual sacrifice of 20,000 young boys to the gods. Luckily for him, no one in Europe knew what a Taiwanese person should look like, which allowed him to keep up his masquerade for four years before finally being exposed. More…
The Lost Island of Hi-Brazil
Stories about the island of Hi-Brazil circulated around Europe for centuries, telling that it was the Promised Land of the Saints, an earthly paradise where fairies and magicians lived. The island was said to be somewhere in the Atlantic, off the coast of Ireland. Based on this information, cartographers of the late-medieval period frequently placed the island on maps. And many explorers even attempted to find it. More…
The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, 1371
This popular book (a 'bestseller' for its time) purported to document the travels of an English knight throughout Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Persia, and Turkey. It described bizarre foreign lands and people, such as islanders who had the bodies of humans but the heads of dogs, and a race of one-eyed giants who ate only raw fish and raw meat. The book was widely regarded as factual, even though it was obviously fiction. More…
The Travels of Marco Polo, 1298
Marco Polo's Description of the World, written around 1298, described his travels in China. But did Marco Polo actually travel to China? Some historians have expressed doubts. These scholars point to curious omissions in his book, such as the fact that he never mentions the Great Wall of China nor the Chinese use of chopsticks. They suggest that Polo may have simply compiled information about the Far East from Persian and Arabic guidebooks. More…
The Letter of Prester John, c.1150
At a time when European rulers felt threatened by the growing power of Muslim nations on their borders, a letter suddenly appeared from Prester John, who described himself as a Christian king of vast wealth and power living in the far east. Hopes were raised that Prester John would come to the aid of Europe's Christian nations, and expeditions were sent to search for him. But Prester John was never found. The letter's true author remains unknown. More…
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  • All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.