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
Military Hoaxes
The Supplement to the Boston Independent Chronicle. In 1782 a shocking letter was printed in the Supplement to the Boston Independent Chronicle. It alleged that Indian warriors were sending hundreds of American scalps as war trophies to British royalty and Members of Parliament. The scalps included those of women, as well as young girls and boys. Soon the letter had crossed the Atlantic and began to circulate throughout Europe, where it shocked European public opinion. But in fact, the British... Continue…
John Howe, British Spy. In 1827 a Massachusetts printer named Luther Roby published The Journal Kept by Mr. John Howe while He Was Employed as a British Spy. It told the story of John Howe, a man said to have been a British spy during the Revolutionary war before switching sides to become an American soldier, then a settler, a frontier trader, an Indian preacher, and finally a smuggler. Howe was long accepted as an actual historical figure. As late as 1976, the... Continue…
The Case of the Miraculous Bullet, 1874. In November 1874 an unusual article appeared in the introductory volume of The American Medical Weekly, a Louisville medical journal. It was written by Dr. LeGrand G. Capers and was titled, "Attention Gynaecologists!—Notes from the Diary of a Field and Hospital Surgeon, C.S.A." In the article Dr. Capers recounted an unusual case of artificial insemination he had witnessed on a Civil War battlefield in Mississippi, in which a bullet had... Continue…
Hearst’s War, 1897. William Randolph Hearst, owner of the New York Journal, had a reputation for never letting truth get in the way of a good story. According to one famous tale, when hostilities broke out between the Spanish and the Cubans, Hearst sent the illustrator Frederic Remington to Cuba to draw pictures of the conflict. Finding that not much was happening, Remington cabled Hearst in January 1897: "Everything is quiet. There is no trouble here. There will be... 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…
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…
The Angel of Mons. On August 22 and 23, 1914 the British Expeditionary Force near Mons was struggling to retreat from the German Army. They were almost surrounded and badly outnumbered. But just when all hope seemed to have been lost, a shimmering angelic apparation appeared in the fog and smoke that hung over the battle field. The British troops staggered towards the figure and discovered that it had shown them an escape route. This remarkable story quickly spread... 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…
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…
Death in the Air, 1933. A book called Death in the Air: The War Diary and Photographs of a Flying Corps Pilot was published in 1933. It contained numerous pages of spectacular aerial photographs of World War One dogfights supposedly taken by a pilot in the Royal Air Force. Since very few photos of aerial fighting had been taken by the military, the photographs caused a great sensation. Interest in them grew even greater when they were exhibited at galleries in New York... Continue…
The Veterans of Future Wars, 1936. Future veterans march to demand their bonuses In 1935 veterans of World War One lobbied Congress to pay them their war bonuses ten years early in order to ease the economic hardship they were experiencing during the Great Depression. Congress readily acquiesced and passed the Harrison Bonus Bill in January 1936. This pre-payment was a source of inspiration for Lewis Gorin, a senior at Princeton University. It seemed logical to him that if... Continue…
The Nazi Air Marker Hoax, 1942. On August 10, 1942 the U.S. Army's public-relations office issued a press release warning the public of "secret markers" that had been found on farm fields throughout the eastern United States. These markers were patterns formed by the arrangement of fertilizer sacks or the way a field had been tilled. From the ground they looked like nothing, but from the air they formed the shape of arrows, apparently created by Nazi sympathizers in order to... Continue…
Operation Mincemeat, 1943. In 1943 the body of a British officer, Major William Martin, was discovered off the coast of Spain, near Huelva. British diplomats strongly requested that all documents found with the body be returned to them, and the Spanish government eventually complied. But upon examination, it was obvious the documents had been opened and read before their return. This was exactly what the British had hoped would happen, because Major Martin did not exist.... Continue…
The Flypaper Report, 1943. During World War II, the illustrator Hugh Troy was given a desk job stateside. He found it excruciatingly boring. So to amuse himself he began preparing Daily Flypaper Reports in the style of standard army regulations. These were counts, printed on official-looking paper, of all the flies trapped on flypaper in the mess hall during the last twenty-four hours. He analyzed the results according to wind direction, nearness to windows, nearness to... Continue…
Report From Iron Mountain, 1967. Front cover of Report From Iron Mountain. In 1967 the war in Vietnam was escalating and race riots were breaking out in many major U.S. cities. Popular distrust of the federal government was growing. It was in this context that on October 16 a book appeared titled Report From Iron Mountain on the Possibility and Desirability of Peace. It was published by Dial Press, a division of Simon & Schuster. Leonard C. Lewin, a New York freelance writer,... Continue…
Lcpl. Boudreaux’s Sign. In March 2004, a photo circulated online showing an American soldier posing with two Iraqi boys. One of the boys was holding a sign that read, "Lcpl Boudreaux killed my Dad, then he knocked up my sister!" The Council on American-Islamic Relations saw the picture and complained to the Pentagon about it. The photo also received coverage in publications such as Islam Online. But it turned out that there were multiple versions of the photo in... 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 Filipino Monkey, 2008. In January 2008 five Iranian speedboats approached three U.S. Warships in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. warships attempted to contact the Iranians: "This is coalition warship. I am engaged in transit passage in accordance with international law. I maintain no harm. Over!" A radio operator on one of the U.S. warships then heard a voice reply, "I am coming to you... You will explode in... minutes." At first the U.S. warships believed this message to... Continue…

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