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
Pranks
The Cerne Abbas Giant. The Cerne Abbas Giant is a chalk figure of an enormous naked man wielding a club carved into the side of a hill in Dorchester, England. The giant is widely believed to have been carved thousands of years ago. But in recent years historians have suggested that the Giant may date only to the seventeenth-century, since the first written reference to it only dates to 1694. Furthermore, its creation may have been intended as a prank. Continue…
Athanasius Kircher, Victim of Pranks. Athanasius Kircher was one of the central figures of Baroque scientific culture, but he was also reported to be the target of many pranks and was often portrayed as being a bit of an Intellectual Fool. According to one story, some young boys buried stones carved with meaningless symbols at a construction site. When dug up, Kircher was asked to interpret them, and he pompously proceeded to give an elaborate interpretation of the nonsense signs. Continue…
The Great Bottle Hoax of 1749. Believing the public to be ever credulous, the Duke of Portland bet the Earl of Chesterfield that if he advertised an impossible feat would be performed, they would still "find fools enough in London to fill a playhouse and pay handsomely for the privilege of being there." The Earl accepted the bet. So the Duke posted flyers promising the chance to see "a man jumping into a quart bottle." Every seat in the theater sold. But when the entertainment wasn't provided, a riot ensued. Continue…
The Berners Street Hoax, 1810. In 1810 London was the largest, wealthiest city in the world, linked by trade with every continent, and fed by the manufacturing might of northern British cities such as Liverpool and Manchester. Almost anything could be obtained in its shops, and on Monday, November 26 of that year, all of this mercantile abundance focused for one day upon a single residential address: 54 Berners Street, the home of Mrs. Tottenham (in some sources spelled... 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 Damp Spot That Hoaxed D.C., 1912. F. Rodman LawFrederick Rodman Law (1885-1919) was a well-known daredevil active in the early 20th century. His stunts included parachuting from the top of the Statue of Liberty and jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. In late April 1912, he requested permission to parachute from the top of the Washington Monument, but he was turned down. However, on May 7, 1912, a pedestrian standing on the corner of Fourteenth and F streets exclaimed that Law... Continue…
Lafayette Mulligan, 1924. In 1924 a man calling himself Lafayette Mulligan presented the Prince of Wales with the key to the City of Boston, while the Prince was vacationing in Massachusetts. However, the Mayor of Boston had no idea who Lafayette Mulligan was. In fact, Lafayette Mulligan was not a real person at all. Continue…
The Cornell Rhinoceros, circa 1925. After a heavy snowfall, the footprints of a large animal were found on the campus of Cornell University, leading up to the shore of the frozen Beebe Lake. A hole in the ice indicated that the animal must have fallen in and drowned. A zoologist examined the tracks and identified them as those of a rhinoceros. Word of the rogue rhinoceros spread around town, and since the University got its water supply from the lake, many students declared they... Continue…
Hoaxes of Hugh Troy. By trade Hugh Troy (1906-1964) was an artist. He illustrated many children's books, including "Maude for a Day," "The Chippendale Dam," and "Five Golden Wrens." But by nature he was a practical joker, with numerous pranks to his credit. When asked once what advice he would give to aspiring practical jokers, he replied that one should never sit down and try to deliberately think up a practical joke. This was a sure way to arrive at uninspired... Continue…
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... Continue…
Van Gogh’s Ear Exhibited, 1935. The illustrator Hugh Troy was frustrated by the crowds at New York's Van Gogh exhibit, which made it hard for art lovers such as himself to view the works. He was also convinced that most of the people were there out of lurid interest in the man who had cut off his ear, not out of a true appreciation for the art. To prove his point, he fashioned a fake ear out of a piece of dried beef and mounted it in a velvet-lined shadow box. He snuck this... Continue…
Hoaxes & Stunts of Jim Moran. Jim Moran (1907-1999) was called, at various times, "super salesman number one," "America's No. 1 prankster," and "the last great bunco artist in the profession of publicity." He became famous during the 1930s and 40s for devising outrageous stunts on behalf of his clients. His favorite technique was to test the validity of popular sayings. For instance, he sold an icebox to an eskimo, found a needle in a haystack, and walked a bull through a... Continue…
A Homemade UFO, 1947. July 11, 1947: Ten days after residents of Twin Falls, Idaho reported seeing flying saucers in the sky, a woman reported finding a flying saucer embedded in the lawn of her neighbor's home. Police came out to investigate, followed by the FBI and three army officers who flew out from Fort Douglas, Utah. What they found was a small, gold-and-silver-colored saucer about the size of a bicycle wheel. It had gouged long strips in the lawn as it landed.... Continue…
The Olympic Underwear Relay, 1956. Route of the 1956 Olympic torch relay, from Cairns to Melbourne. In 1956 runners bore the Olympic flame across Australia, on a path from Cairns to Melbourne, where the summer games were to be held. But before the flame even got as far as Sydney, it had to endure a series of setbacks. Torrential rains soaked it. Burning heat almost overwhelmed the runners. The flame even went out a few times. Then in Sydney itself it encountered a situation unique... Continue…
The Little Blue Man Hoax, 1958. In early 1958 Michigan motorists began to report sightings of a "little blue man". The glowing figure, who looked like a spaceman from a science-fiction movie, would appear out of nowhere on rural roads, and then just as suddenly disappear. When startled motorists stopped to investigate, they could find no trace of him. As time progressed, the sightings grew more fantastic. Some said the man appeared to be ten-feet high. Others thought he was... Continue…
Kick A Puppy Today, 1963. Hollis and friends model his "protest-dappled" sweatshirts. May, 1963. In 1963 an entrepreneur conceived of a way to promote antisocial tendencies and profit from it. Charlie Hollis, a 37-year-old copywriter and Brooklyn College sophomore, printed up stickers that bore messages such as LOATHE THY NEIGHBOR and KICK A PUPPY TODAY. He then placed an ad for his misanthropic product in the Village Voice: Continue…
The Caltech Sweepstakes Caper, 1975. Caltech student Becky Hartsfield shows off the prizes she won. Caltech is known for producing world-class scientists and engineers. But a few of its students have also demonstrated a flair for the law, as a highly controversial 1975 prank that turned on the legalistic reading of a sweepstakes entry form proved. The sweepstakes in question was held by McDonald's. It ran from March 3rd to March 23rd, 1975, at 187 participating McDonald's... Continue…
The Attack of Captain Midnight, 1986. On 27 April 1986, late night HBO subscribers watching the movie "The Falcon and the Snowman" were surprised by a sudden interruption of service. A color bar test pattern appeared on the screen for 4 ½ minutes. It was accompanied by a text message: "Good Evening HBO from Captain Midnight. $12.95/month? No Way! (Showtime/Movie Channel Beware!)" Continue…
The Cross-Dressing Ken Doll, 1990. In July 1990 Carina Guillot and her 12-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, were visiting relatives in Florida when they wandered into a Toys 'R' Us store and spotted something very unusual. Standing inside a sealed cardboard package among the ranks of Ken dolls dressed in their standard-issue outfits was a Ken decked out in a purple tank top and sporting a lace apron on top of a polka-dotted skirt. Mrs. Guillot immediately thought, "Oh my God, now we... 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…
The Donside Lying Contest. The Donside Paper Company sponsored a contest for students. The challenge was to tell a lie convincingly. The competition was going well until participating colleges received a letter on Donside stationery saying the contest had been cancelled. So the schools began to turn away new entries. In a panic, Donside asked what they were doing. Turned out, the cancellation letter was an entry from a contestant who had taken to heart the challenge to "tell a lie convincingly." 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.