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
Imposters
Pope Joan, 853 AD. According to legend, Pope Joan was a woman who concealed her gender and ruled as pope for two years. Her identity was exposed when, riding one day from St. Peter's to the Lateran, she stopped by the side of the road and, to the astonishment of everyone, gave birth to a child. The legend is unconfirmed. Skeptics note that the first references to Pope Joan only appear hundreds of years after her supposed reign. Continue…
Return of Martin Guerre, 1556. Martin Guerre, a French peasant, married Bertrande de Rols in 1538. But in 1548, he disappeared. Eight years passed, and then Martin suddenly returned. Or did he? Bertrande accepted him as her husband, but the uncle became suspicious and accused him of being an imposter. The case went to trial. The court was about to declare him genuine, when suddenly the actual Martin Guerre showed up. He had been serving in the army, where he had lost a leg. Continue…
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. Continue…
Silence Dogood. Between April and October 1722 a series of letters appeared in the New England Courant written by a middle-aged widow who called herself Silence Dogood. In her correspondence she poked fun at various aspects of life in colonial America, such as the drunkenness of locals, religious hypocrisy, the persecution of women, the fashion for hoop petticoats, and particularly the pretensions of Harvard College. Silence Dogood's letters became quite... Continue…
Princess Caraboo, 1817. On Thursday April 3, 1817, a strange woman appeared in Almondsbury, a small town outside of Bristol, England. She wore a black shawl twisted turban-style around her head and had to communicate via hand gestures because she spoke no known language. She was initially sent to the Overseer of the Poor, but was subsequently taken in by a wealthy couple, Mr. and Mrs. Worrall, who found her fascinating. Slowly her story was pieced together, with the... Continue…
Joice Heth, 1835. Joice Heth was an elderly black woman whom a young P.T. Barnum put on display in 1835, advertising that she was the 161-year-old former nurse of George Washington. Heth entertained audiences with tales about the young George Washington, and her exhibition drew substantial attention. When the public's interest in her waned, Barnum rekindled its curiosity by spreading a rumor that Joice Heth was actually not a person at all, but instead a... Continue…
The Tichborne Claimant, 1866. The young aristocrat Roger Tichborne had been missing, presumed dead, for 12 years, when an Australian man showed up, claiming to be him. There were dramatic differences between the two men. Roger had weighed 125 pounds and spoke French and English. The Australian weighed over 300 pounds and spoke no French. But their facial features were similar. A long, protracted legal case followed to determine if the man really was Roger returned — a controversy that lingers to this day. Continue…
Lord Gordon-Gordon, 1871. Lord Gordon-Gordon was the most famous alias of a nineteenth-century imposter whose specialty was posing as a wealthy Scottish landowner. He did this so well that he succeeded in convincing many people who really were wealthy to trust him with their money, which he then spent. His most famous victim was the railroad developer/robber baron Jay Gould, for which reason Gordon-Gordon is sometimes referred to as the "robber of the robber barons". The... Continue…
Cassie Chadwick, 1904. Between 1897 and 1904, Cassie Chadwick scammed millions of dollars from Ohio banks by claiming to be the illegitimate daughter of Andrew Carnegie. The banks, believing they could charge Carnegie high interest rates, happily loaned her the money without asking too many questions. Chadwick had used a simple ruse to lay the groundwork for her scam. She had asked a Cleveland lawyer to accompany her to Carnegie's house. He waited in the carriage... Continue…
The Captain of Köpenick, 1906. On October 16, 1906, an out-of-work German shoemaker named Wilhelm Voigt donned a second-hand military captain's uniform he had bought in a store, walked out into the street, and assumed control of a company of soldiers marching past. He led them to the town hall of Köpenick, a small suburb of Berlin, arrested the mayor and the treasurer on charges of embezzlement, and took possession of 4,000 marks from the town treasury. He then... 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…
The Third Eye of T. Lobsang Rampa, 1956. The Third EyeThe Third Eye, by Tuesday Lobsang Rampa, was first published in 1956. It purported to be his autobiographical account of growing up in Tibet and studying Tibetan Buddhism. Rampa claimed he had been born into a wealthy Tibetan family and had studied in Lhasa to become a lama. He had then undergone an operation to open up the "third eye" in the middle of his forehead. This operation had bestowed upon him amazing psychic powers. 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…
Kaycee Nicole Swenson, 2001. Kaycee Nicole was a nineteen-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. For over a year Kaycee Nicole had added updates to her diary, letting people know about the ups and downs of her struggle with the disease, about her hope as the cancer went into remission, and about her fear as it reappeared. Kaycee's mother, Debbie,... 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…

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