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
Hoaxes That Fooled Journalists
The Feejee Mermaid, 1842. The exhibition at P.T. Barnum's New York museum of the body of a mermaid supposedly caught near the Feejee Islands generated enormous excitement. Huge crowds waited to see it, lured by ads showing a beautiful, bare-breasted creature. What they found inside was a small, wizened, hideous creature, that was actually the head of an ape stitched onto the body of a fish. The mermaid is remembered as one of Barnum's most infamous humbugs. Continue…
Railways and Revolvers in Georgia, 1856. The London Times offered an example of the violence of American society. It printed a letter from an Englishman living in America who described bloody gunfights fought with "Monte Christo pistols" during a train ride through Georgia. American papers denied the story, but the Times stubbornly defended it, only relenting a year later after learning that "Monte Christo pistols" was slang for bottles of champagne. Continue…
The Civil War Gold Hoax, 1864. An attempt at stockmarket manipulation. Several New York papers were tricked into printing bad news about the Civil War. In response, investors dumped stocks and bought gold, perceived as a safer investment. But the bad news had been planted by a newspaper insider who had previously invested heavily in gold, hoping to profit from the anticipated rise in its price. He was tracked down and arrested within 3 days. Continue…
George Washington Petrified. In early 1877, an article appeared in many American newspapers alleging that the remains of General George Washington had been discovered to be petrified. The reporting was attributed to the Washington correspondent of the San Francisco Chronicle. It was only a matter of time before people realized that Washington's remains had not turned to stone. Nevertheless the news continued to circulate as a true story for many months. Continue…
Hoaxes of Joseph Mulhattan. During the 1870s and 1880s Joseph Mulhattan was perhaps the most famous hoaxer in America. He was a traveling salesman, not a reporter, but he was notorious for repeatedly succeeding in having his farfetched tales reported as news. If an outrageous or bizarre story appeared in the news, reporters would often assume it was the work of Mulhattan. The media showered him with epithets. They called him a "professional liar," "the author of more hoaxes... Continue…
The Worcester Aeroplane Hoax, 1909. Six years after the Wright brothers succeeded in making the first flight in a heavier-than-air craft, aviation technology was still fairly primitive. Planes could only fly a few miles. But in 1909, a Massachusetts inventor, Wallace Tillinghast, announced a breakthrough. He claimed to have built a plane capable of flying 300 miles, carrying three passengers, and maintaining a speed of 120 mph. But he refused to show the plane to anyone, saying he... Continue…
WWI Armistice Announced Early. By November 1918 it seemed that the four-year-long conflict between the Allied and Axis powers might finally be coming to an end. Word leaked to the president of the United Press, who was in Europe at the time, that an armistice had been signed on November 7. Excitedly he cabled the news to America, where it then appeared as front page news across the country and sparked nationwide celebrations. The only problem was that the armistice hadn’t... 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 Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, 1959. G. Clifford Prout was a man with a mission, and that mission was to put clothes on all the millions of naked animals throughout the world. To realize his dream, Prout founded an organization, the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (abbreviated as SINA). It was left unexplained why the society was 'for indecency' not 'against indecency'. Continue…
The Death of Alan Abel, 1980. On January 2, 1980 the New York Times announced the death of Alan Abel on its obituary page. It provided a flattering account of his career. The obituary read, in part: Alan Abel, a writer, musician and film producer who specialized in satire and lampoons, died of a heart attack yesterday at Sundance, a ski resort near Orem, Utah, while investigating a location for a new film. He was 50 years old and lived in Manhattan and Westport, Conn. Mr.... 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…
Grunge Speak, 1992. In the early 1990s, Grunge emerged as a popular new hard rock musical style. Its characteristic image was of greasy-haired, lumberjack-shirted garage bands playing punk-metal guitar rock. Groups such as Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Mudhoney epitomized this new Seattle-based sound. On November 15, 1992 the New York Times published an article analyzing the roots and evolution of the grunge movement. It theorized that Grungers had embraced greasy hair... Continue…
Arm the Homeless, 1993. A press release distributed to the media in Columbus, Ohio announced the formation of a new charity that would benefit the homeless by providing them with guns and ammunition. It was called the "Arm the Homeless Coalition." News of this charity was soon picked up by the national media and generated enormous controversy. But when an Ohio reporter tried to track down the Director of the Arm the Homeless Coalition, his investigation led him instead... Continue…
Final Curtain, 1999. The Final Curtain Website. In March 1999, an ad appeared in a variety of weekly magazines, such as the L.A. Weekly and the Village Voice. It read, "Death got you down? At last an alternative! www.finalcurtain.com" The website that it led to announced the imminent launch of a novel kind of cemetery. At the Final Curtain Cemetery artists would be allowed to design their own graves before they died. The result would be a cemetery that would be part... 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…
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Final Farewell. Gabriel Garcia MarquezDuring the summer of 1999 Gabriel Garcia Marquez, winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature and author of such classics as One Hundred Years of Solitude, was treated for lymphatic cancer. Following this, there were persistent rumors about his failing health. On May 29, 2000 these rumors appeared to be confirmed when a poem signed with his name appeared in the Peruvian daily La Republica. The poem, titled "La Marioneta"... Continue…
The Lovenstein Institute IQ Report, 2001. In July 2001 an e-mail began to circulate claiming that the Lovenstein Institute, a think-tank based in Scranton, Pennsylvania, had conducted research into the IQ of all the Presidents of the past 50 years and had concluded that George W. Bush ranked at the bottom, with an IQ of only 91. (Click here to read the text of the email.) The claim that G.W. Bush had the lowest IQ of any recent U.S. President attracted the attention of the international... 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…
Bush Voters have lower IQs, 2004. A chart that circulated online during the first months of 2004 purported to show that American states whose populations possess higher average incomes and higher average IQs voted for Gore in the 2000 Presidential elections. Their poorer, lower-IQ counterparts voted for Bush. The implication was that smart people vote Democratic, and stupid people vote Republican. Major newspapers and magazines, including the St. Petersburg Times and the... Continue…
The Daily Mirror’s Hoax Photos. On May 1, 2004 the British Daily Mirror published pictures of Iraqi prisoners allegedly being tortured by British soldiers. The photos generated immediate controversy, as critics pointed out many features of them that seemed suspicious. First of all, they looked posed. The 'prisoners' did not appear to be injured or even sweating. And the British soldiers were wearing incorrect uniforms and driving vehicles not deployed in Iraq. Two weeks later... Continue…
The CBS Bush Memos, aka Rathergate. On 8 September 2004, Dan Rather reported on 60 Minutes that CBS had obtained documents revealing that President Bush had disobeyed orders while serving in the National Guard and had then used his family's influence to cover up his poor service record. The documents allegedly came from the files of Col. Killian, Bush's commanding officer in the Guard. Rather's news report generated controversy almost immediately. Bloggers pointed out that the... 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…
The Morristown UFO Hoax. On January 5, 2009, mysterious red lights appeared in the night sky above Morris County, New Jersey. They were seen by numerous people, who reported them to the police. The lights were seen again on several nights throughout January and February. The police speculated that the lights were probably the work of a prankster. Nevertheless, the media gave extensive coverage to the theory that the lights were actually UFOs. In February the lights were... Continue…
The Maurice Jarre Wikipedia Hoax. When composer Maurice Jarre died on March 28, 2009, many of the journalists given the job of writing an obituary for him turned to Wikipedia for information about his life. There they found the following quotation attributed to him: "One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz... Continue…

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