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 in Newspapers and Magazines
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…
The Death of Titan Leeds. Benjamin Franklin published a highly successful, yearly almanac from 1732 to 1758. He called it Poor Richard’s Almanac, adopting the literary persona of "Poor" Richard Saunders, who was supposedly a hen-pecked, poverty-stricken scholar. In the first year of its publication, Franklin included a prediction stating that rival almanac-writer Titan Leeds would die on "Oct. 17, 1733, 3:29 P.M., at the very instant of the conjunction of the Sun... Continue…
Enigmatical Prophecies. Poor Richard's Almanac was a yearly almanac that Benjamin Franklin began publishing in 1732. In 1737, five years into the life of the almanac, Franklin included three "enigmatical prophecies" in the almanac. He predicted that: A great storm would cause all the major cities of North America to be under water; A "great number of vessels fully laden will be taken out of the ports… by a Power with which we are not now at war;" and that an... Continue…
The Trial of Polly Baker. In 1747 the London General Advertiser printed the text of a speech said to have been given by a woman, Polly Baker, at her trial. She had just given birth to her fifth child, was unmarried, and had been charged with having sexual intercourse out of wedlock. Polly Baker readily admitted her guilt but argued that the law itself was unreasonable. Why was she being punished, she asked, while the men who committed the crime with her were let off scot... Continue…
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…
The Dutch Mail, 1792. According to legend, the editor of the Leicester Herald was pressed for time one day and couldn't complete a column. So he threw together a scramble of meaningless letters and headlined it as the latest "Dutch Mail." The editor later reported meeting a man who had kept the "Dutch Mail" edition of the Herald for thirty-four years, hoping to one day get it translated. Continue…
The Unparalled Adventures of One Hans Pfall. An article titled "The Unparalled Adventures of One Hans Pfall" appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger in late June of 1835. It claimed to be the text of a note dropped from a hot-air balloon that had appeared recently above Rotterdam. The note described Hans Pfall's journey to the moon in order to escape his earth-bound creditors. Pfaall had spent five years living among the inhabitants of the moon before sending one of the lunar... Continue…
The Great Moon Hoax of 1835. The New York Sun announced that the British astronomer Sir John Herschel had discovered life on the moon by means of a new telescope "of vast dimensions and an entirely new principle." Creatures supposedly seen by Herschel included lunar bison, fire-wielding biped beavers, and winged "man-bats." The public was fascinated. It took several weeks before they realized it was all a hoax. Continue…
The Great Balloon Hoax, 1844. The New York Sun announced that the European balloonist Monck Mason had completed the first-ever successful trans-Atlantic balloon crossing. He had taken off from England on a trip to Paris, but had been blown off course due to a propeller accident and ended up floating to South Carolina. The story was quickly revealed to be a hoax, authored by Edgar Allan Poe. Continue…
The Global Warming Hoax of 1874. in early February 1874, the Kansas City Times ran a story claiming that scientists had discovered that the transatlantic telegraph cables were acting like enormous electromagnets, pulling the earth into the sun. Calculations indicated that if the earth's current trajectory continued unchecked, Europe would become tropical in 12 years, and the entire earth would be uninhabitable soon after. Finally the planet would plunge into the sun. Continue…
The Central Park Zoo Escape, 1874. On November 9, 1874 the New York Herald published a front-page article claiming that the animals had escaped from their cages in the Central Park Zoo and were rampaging through the city. A lion had been seen inside a church. A rhinoceros had fallen into a sewer. The police and national guard were heroically battling the beasts, but already forty-nine people were dead and two hundred injured. It was "a bloody and fearful carnival," the article... Continue…
Leonainie, 1877. Under the heading "Posthumous Poetry," Indiana's Kokomo Dispatch published a poem titled "Leonainie" on August 3, 1877. It was an unremarkable poem except in one way. The editor of the Dispatch, John Henderson, claimed it was a previously unpublished poem by Edgar Allan Poe. (Click here to read the poem.) The publication of this poem generated excitement among fans and scholars of Poe, and within a few weeks it had been reprinted in major papers... Continue…
The Winsted Wild Man, 1895. In August 1895 New York City papers received a wire story about a naked, hairy man that was terrorizing townspeople in Winsted, Connecticut. Intrigued, the papers sent reporters up to Winsted to find out what was happening. At first the reporters did not find much happening up in Winsted. But as they began asking local residents if they had seen an unusual creature lurking around, memories and tongues began to loosen. Soon reports of a "wild... Continue…
Lou Stone, the Winsted Liar. Louis Timothy Stone (1875-1933), more popularly known as Lou Stone, or the Winsted Liar, was a journalist famous for the hundreds of fanciful articles he wrote about the strange flora and fauna surrounding his hometown of Winsted, Connecticut. It was said he had a "faculty for seeing the unusual in stories." 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 Great Wall of China Hoax, 1899. On June 25, 1899 four Denver newspapers reported that the Chinese government was going to tear down portions of the Great Wall of China, pulverize the rock, and use it to build roads. American companies were said to be bidding on the enormous demolition project. Newspapers throughout the country picked up the story, but it eventually became apparent the news was not true. The Chinese were not planning to tear down the Great Wall. Four Denver... Continue…
The Great Mammoth Hoax, 1899. Woolly mammoths became extinct thousands of years ago. But in October, 1899 a story appeared in McClure's Magazine titled "The Killing of the Mammoth" in which a narrator named H. Tukeman described how he had recently hunted down and killed a mammoth in the Alaskan wilderness. Continue…
Mencken’s History of the Bathtub, 1917. On December 28, 1917, H.L. Mencken published an article in the New York Evening Mail titled "A Neglected Anniversary." It described the history of the bathtub in America, noting that people were slow to accept tubs, believing they were dangerous to health. This attitude, Mencken said, changed when President Millard Fillmore became the first president to install a tub in the White House. Mencken's history of the bathtub was not true. He intended... Continue…
The Killer Hawk of Chicago, 1927. The story of the Killer Hawk of Chicago is a classic tale of early 20th century American journalism. It involves a hawk that may or may not have terrorized the pigeon population of downtown Chicago. Continue…
Hugh Stewart’s Sextuplet Hoax, 1951. In August 1951, 59-year-old science reporter Hugh Stewart approached his editors at the Chicago Herald-American with a hot tip. He had learned that a Chicago mother was about to give birth to sextuplets. It would be the first time a confirmed birth of sextuplets had occurred in America. Stewart offered no verifiable sources for the news. He insisted that "if I break my informants' confidence it will ruin me." Nor could he disclose the mother's... Continue…
The Virginia City Camel Race. In 1959 Bob Richards, editor of the Nevada-based Territorial Enterprise, announced that a camel race would be held that year down the main street of Virginia City. He challenged other local papers to race their camels in the event. Continue…
Robert Patterson’s Tour of China, 1971. In June 1971 Robert Patterson, a 66-year-old newsman, filed a series of five reports for the San Francisco Examiner detailing his odyssey through mainland China. His journey was inspired by the popular interest in Chinese culture following President Nixon's official visit to that country. The series ran on the Examiner's front page. Patterson discussed details such as his difficulty obtaining an entry visa, witnessing Chinese citizens doing... Continue…
Dan Rattiner, the Hoaxer of the Hamptons. In 1960, twenty-year-old Dan Rattiner started a small paper during his summer vacation in the Hamptons. He gave copies of it away for free, making money from the advertisements. It was the first free paper in the United States. Gradually Dan started more papers, each of them serving a different community in the Hamptons. He called all of them collectively Dan's Papers, and they soon became the most widely read papers in the Hamptons. Dan wrote... Continue…
San Serriffe, 1977. On April 1, 1977, the British newspaper The Guardian published a special seven-page supplement devoted to San Serriffe, a small republic said to consist of several semi-colon-shaped islands located in the Indian Ocean. A series of articles affectionately described the geography and culture of this obscure nation. Its two main islands were named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. Its capital was Bodoni, and its leader was General Pica. The Guardian's... Continue…
Janet Cooke and Jimmy’s World, 1980. Janet Cooke during an appearance on the Phil Donahue Show (January 1982) An article that appeared in the Washington Post on September 29, 1980 told a heartwrenching tale. It detailed the life of 'Jimmy,' a young boy who had apparently become a victim of the thriving heroin trade that was devestating the low-income neighborhoods of Washington D.C. Caught in a cycle of addiction, violence, and despair, Jimmy had become a heroin addict after being... Continue…
The Hitler Diaries, 1983. On April 22, 1983 the German news magazine Stern announced it had discovered the personal diary of Adolf Hitler -- a multi-volume work spanning the years 1932-1945. Stern's announcement generated a media frenzy. Magazines and news agencies bid for the right to serialize the diary. Skeptics, however, insisted it had to be a fake, and the skeptics turned out to be right. Less than two weeks later, forensics experts at the Bundesarchiv denounced the diaries as a "crude forgery." Continue…
Aliens Invade Rockford. In December 1989, the Sunday edition of the Rockford Register Star ran a brief article on its front page under the headline, “Aliens Spotted Near Rockford.” The article warned that “These aliens claim to be human children offering further proof that alien beings do indeed live in our planet and may be among local residents.” The story was a prank inserted by a mischievous production worker. The man was fired the next day.... Continue…
Russia Sells Lenin’s Body, 1991. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the Russian government struggled to mend its ailing economy, but the nation's financial situation remained dire. In November 1991, Forbes FYI, an American business magazine, revealed just how hopeless the Russian economic situation had become. It reported that the Russian government, desperate for foreign currency, had decided to sell the embalmed body of Vladimir Lenin to the highest bidder.... 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…
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…
Jayson Blair. When Jayson Blair got a job writing for The New York Times, he was a young man, straight out of college. He advanced quickly, despite frequent complaints about the quality of his work, and became a full-time staff reporter in 2001. He was promoted to the national desk in 2002. But in April 2003, a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News notified the Times about suspicious similarities between a story Blair had just written and one she had... 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…
Wine Spectator Hoaxed, 2008. Since 1981 the magazine Wine Spectator has given "Awards of Excellence" to restaurants that it deems to have exceptional wine lists. To win an award a restaurant must submit their wine list to the magazine and pay a $250 application fee. Over two-thirds of the restaurants who submit an application win an award, and the contest earns Wine Spectator over $1 million a year in fees. In 2008 the magazine gave an award to Osteria L’Intrepido, a... Continue…

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