The Museum of Hoaxes
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Fictitious Persons
Dave Manning, 2001
No matter how bad the movies of Columbia Pictures were, there was always one reviewer sure to heap praise on them, Dave Manning of the Ridgefield Press. For instance, while other reviewers skewered the sophomoric comedy The Animal, it impressed Manning as "another winner." His rave reviews might have gone forever unnoticed, except that Newsweek reporter John Horn uncovered the curious truth about him, which was that Manning didn't exist at all. He was the fictional creation of a young marketing executive at Sony, the parent company of Columbia Pictures, used to generate fake praise for otherwise unpraiseworthy movies. More…
Kaycee Nicole Swenson, 2001
Kaycee Nicole was a 19-year-old girl from Kansas dying of cancer. Or so believed the thousands of people who visited her website on which she kept a diary of her fight against leukemia. When a final post reported that she had died of a brain aneurysm, her online friends were distraught and inquired where they could attend her funeral. But Kaycee's mother refused to provide any information. This prompted some people to investigate, and the more they researched, the more they began to wonder if Kaycee actually existed. Their fears were confirmed when a 50-year-old woman confessed she had invented Kaycee and written all the diary entries herself. More…
Professor Trevor L. Montgomery and his Theoretical Beaver
The 2001 Spring line-up at Cornell University's prestigious series of psychology lectures included a talk by Professor Trevor L Montgomery. The CV Montgomery sent Cornell in anticipation of the talk advertised that he had "developed a neo-Husserlian critique of the conceptual failings of contemporary consciousness theory." It went on: In order to gnaw through this Husserlian 'logjam' in the flow of (un)consciousness science, Dr Montgomery has recently unleashed his theoretical beaver: the concept of 'deconsciousness'. The CV also noted that Montgomery had studied "comparative brain homology in Oxpeckers, Great Tits and London cab drivers." More…
Allegra Coleman, 1996
Esquire magazine's November 1996 cover featured Allegra Coleman, said to be a hot new star taking Hollywood by storm. The feature article inside described the buzz building around her. Hollywood was intrigued. After Esquire ran the article, the magazine received calls from talent scouts, eager to get in touch with the new star. But as it turned out, Allegra didn't exist. Esquire had invented her as a spoof of the fawning puffery that many magazines shower on movie stars. The woman shown on the cover and in the photos inside was a (then) little-known actress called Ali Larter, who subsequently starred in the NBC series Heroes. More…
Sidd Finch, 1985
Sports Illustrated revealed that the New York Mets’s were hiring a new rookie pitcher, Sidd Finch (short for Siddhartha Finch), who could throw a ball with startling, pinpoint accuracy at 168 mph. Sidd Finch had never played baseball before but had mastered the “art of the pitch” in a Tibetan monastery under the guidance of the “great poet-saint Lama Milaraspa.“ Mets fans celebrated their teams good luck and flooded Sports Illustrated with requests for more information. They were crestfallen to learn that Sidd Finch was nothing but an April Fool's Day hoax who sprang from the imagination of author George Plimpton. More…
The Diary of a Good Neighbor, 1983
The Diary of a Good Neighbor by Jane Somers received little attention, and only modest sales, when it was published in 1983. The novel told the story of a magazine editor who befriends a lonely old woman. But when a sequel appeared a year later, a surprise announcement accompanied its publication. The book's true author was the acclaimed writer Doris Lessing (who later won the Nobel Prize for Literature). Lessing explained that she had concealed her authorship in order to show how difficult it is for unknown authors to attract attention. Also, she wanted to play a prank on critics who insisted on pigeonholing her as one type of writer or another. More…

Emile Coudé, 1957
The French doctor Emile Coudé (1800-1870) was the inventor of the curved "Coudé catheter" used by urologists to relieve urinary obstruction. Except that he wasn't. The man and his biography were invented as a joke by Welsh medical students in the 1950s. However, some physicians didn't realize it was a joke and referred to the man in medical textbooks. A few sources still mistakenly claim that the coudé catheter was named after a French physician. In reality, the coudé catheter was invented by Louis Mercier (1811-1882). In French, coudé (the adjective) means bent; coude (the noun) means elbow. More…
Ern Malley, 1944
The Australian poets Harold Stewart and James McAuley disliked modernist poetry and hatched a plot to see if they could get its supporters to embrace "deliberately concocted nonsense." They sent some strange, surreal poems of their own creation to Max Harris, editor of the cutting-edge Angry Penguins literary magazine, claiming they were the work of Ern Malley, an unknown poet who had recently died. Harris liked the poems so much that he devoted a special issue to them. At which point, Stewart and McAuley revealed that Malley didn't exist. Ern Malley is considered to be Australia's most famous literary hoax. More…
Hugo N. Frye, 1930
In 1930 Republican leaders throughout the United States received letters inviting them to a May 26 party at Cornell University in honor of the sesquicentennial birthday anniversary of Hugo Norris Frye, aka Hugo N. Frye. The letter explained that Hugo N. Frye had been one of the first organizers of the Republican party in New York State. None of the politicians could make it to the event, but almost all of them replied, expressing sincere admiration for Frye and their regret at not being able to attend. Unfortunately for the Republican leaders who responded, Hugo N. Frye did not exist. He was the satirical creation of two student editors at... More…
Lafayette Mulligan, 1924
In 1924 a man calling himself Lafayette Mulligan, claiming to be the social secretary of the Mayor of Boston, presented the Prince of Wales with the key to the City of Boston and invited him to visit the city, while the Prince was vacationing in Massachusetts. However, the Boston Mayor had no idea who Lafayette Mulligan was. In fact, Lafayette Mulligan was the invention of pranksters trying to embarrass the Irish Mayor, whose anti-British sentiment was well known. 'Lafayette Mulligan' subsequently became a running gag, and for some years lent its name to the prank of sending spurious invitations to non-existent events. More…
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Eras: 0-1699 1700s 1800-1849 1850-1899 1900-1949 1950-1979 1980s 1990s 2000s
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  • All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.