The Museum of Hoaxes
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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
Hoaxes involving false or disguised identity
Phony 9/11 Deaths. As estimates of the death toll rose in the days following the 9/11 attacks, enormous amounts of sympathy and media attention flowed out towards those who had lost loved ones in the attack. Those who had participated in rescue efforts were hailed as national heroes. But simultaneously, many people (motivated, perhaps, by a desire for sympathy or attention) fabricated tales of phony heroics and lost loved ones in the weeks and months following... Continue…
Tom Thumb’s Baby. The most famous performer managed by P.T. Barnum was the diminutive Charles Sherwood Stratton, aka General Tom Thumb. 19th-century audiences were enthralled by the sight of him parading 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.... Continue…
The Dreadnought Hoax, 1910. "The Emperor of Abyssinia" and his suiteFrom left to right: Virginia Stephen (Virginia Woolf), Duncan Grant, Horace Cole, Anthony Buxton (seated), Adrian Stephen, Guy Ridley. On February 7, 1910 the Prince of Abyssinia and his entourage were received with full ceremonial pomp on the deck of the H.M.S. Dreadnought, the British Navy's most powerful battleship. Although the Commander-in-Chief of the Dreadnought had only received a last-minute... Continue…
Lafayette Mulligan, 1924. In 1924 a man calling himself Lafayette Mulligan presented the Prince of Wales with the key to the City of Boston, while the Prince was vacationing in Massachusetts. However, the Mayor of Boston had no idea who Lafayette Mulligan was. In fact, Lafayette Mulligan was not a real person at all. Continue…
Oscar Daubmann, Last German Prisoner of War, 1932. Alfred Hummel as Oscar DaubmannIn the early 1930s the French government informed the German reich that it had discharged all the prisoners of war taken during World War I. All soldiers still missing had to be presumed dead. But in May 1932 this statement appeared to be contradicted when a soldier, Oscar Daubmann, returned to Germany, claiming he had spent the last sixteen years in a French prisoner-of-war camp. Daubmann told a dramatic tale of... Continue…
Baby Adolf, 1933. In 1933 a picture supposedly showing Adolf Hitler as a baby began circulating throughout England and America. The child in the picture looked positively menacing. Its fat mouth was twisted into a sneer, and it scowled at the camera from dark, squinted eyes. A greasy mop of hair fell over its forehead. Continue…
Black Like Me. John Howard Griffin was a white native Texan novelist and journalist with a strange idea that he couldn't get out of his head. What if a white man became a black man for six weeks and traveled through Deep South states such as Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi? Continue…
The Steps Experiment, 1975. Artwork accompanying Ross's 1979 article describing the Steps Experiment. In 1975 Chuck Ross was selling cable TV door-to-door, and dreaming of becoming a writer. However, he felt the odds were stacked against him since the publishing industry seemed incapable of recognizing talent. To prove his theory, he typed up twenty-one pages of a highly acclaimed book and sent it unsolicited to four publishers (Random House, Houghton Mifflin, Doubleday,... 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 Buckwheat Imposter, 1990. Buckwheat, as seen on Our GangMany child stars achieve success and stability as adults, but some child stars go from stardom to the opposite extreme of anonymity and failure, as if dragged down by the weight of their early fame. According to a segment that aired on ABC News's 20/20 in October 1990, this appeared to be the fate of the actor who had played Buckwheat in the 'Our Gang' comedies of the 1930s and '40s. Buckwheat was the wide-eyed,... Continue…
Allegra Coleman, 1996. Esquire magazine's November 1996 cover featured Allegra Coleman, said to be a hot new star taking Hollywood by storm. "Forget Gwyneth, Forget Mira," the cover declared. "Here's Hollywood's next Dream Girl." The feature article inside described the buzz building around her. David Schwimmer, star of Friends, was said to be her on-again, off-again boyfriend, although he was getting some competition from Quentin Tarantino who had apparently dumped... Continue…
Gorgeous Guy, 2001. 'Gorgeous Guy' Dan Baca, a 29-year-old network engineer, was going about his life, minding his own business, when suddenly people began staring at him. He noticed it first while he was standing at the busstop in the morning. Crowds of people were gathering, looking at him, whispering to each other. It happened a few days in a row. Finally he confronted them. Why, he demanded to know, was everyone staring at him? The reason, they told him, was... Continue…
The Yes Men’s Bhopal Hoax, 2004. On December 3, 2004 the BBC broadcast an interview with Jude Finisterra, who claimed to be a representative of Dow Chemical. The date was the 20th anniversary of the chemical disaster in Bhopal, and the BBC had sought out a representative from Dow to speak about the tragedy since Dow had inherited responsibility for the disaster via a corporate acquisition. During the interview, Mr. Finisterra shocked the BBC's audience when he said that not only... Continue…
Samukeliso Sithole. Samukeliso Sithole Samukeliso Sithole was a rising female star in the world of Zimbabwe athletics. The 17-year-old track-and-field athlete had won awards at various regional athletic events, including five gold medals at the Southern Region Youth Championship in 2004. But in 2005 her career came to an abrupt halt when it was revealed that she was actually a he. Continue…
JT LeRoy, 2005. In 1994 a teenage boy called JT (or Jeremy "Terminator") LeRoy began to attract attention in the literary community. He published a few short stories, but he also aggressively reached out to other, older writers, communicating with them by phone, email, and fax. He was a sympathetic character — a transgendered, homosexual, drug-addicted, pathologically shy teenager who had been living on the streets, forced into a life of truck-stop... Continue…

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