The Museum of Hoaxes
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The Filipino Monkey, 2008
In January 2008 five Iranian speedboats approached three U.S. Warships in the Persian Gulf. When the U.S. ships attempted to contact the Iranians by radio, they heard a voice reply, "I am coming to you... You will explode in... minutes." At first the warships assumed this message came from the Iranian speedboats, but it's since been determined that it probably came from a "Filipino Monkey", which is the name given to rogue radio operators who interject lewd jokes, threats, and obscenities into ship-to-ship radio communications conducted on VHF marine channels. Filipino Monkey radio pranksters have been active in the Persian Gulf since at least 1984. More…
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." More…
Arm the Homeless, 1993
A press release distributed to the media in Columbus, Ohio announced the formation of a new charity for the homeless. But instead of giving food or shelter, this charity planned to provide guns and ammunition. It called itself the "Arm the Homeless Coalition." News of this charity soon spread nationwide and generated enormous controversy. But when an Ohio reporter tried to track down the director of the Coalition, his investigation led him instead to a group of university students who admitted the entire thing was a hoax, designed, they said, "to draw attention to the issues of guns and violence, homelessness and media manipulation in our society." More…
The Cross-Dressing Ken Doll, 1990
Carina Guillot and her daughter made national headlines when they found a Ken doll for sale at a Florida Toys 'R' Us that was dressed in a purple tank top, lace apron, and polka-dotted skirt. The doll was still inside its factory packaging, so it appeared to be a valid, untampered product. Mattel was at a loss to explain how Ken had come to be wearing a dress. The Guillots turned down thousand-dollar offers for the doll. The mystery was solved when a Toys 'R' Us night clerk admitted he had dressed up Ken as a prank and carefully resealed the package with glue. More…
The Attack of Captain Midnight, 1986
On 27 April 1986, late night HBO subscribers 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!)" The FCC launched an investigation to track down "Captain Midnight." It eventually identified him as John MacDougall, a 25-year-old engineer at a satellite transmission facility in Ocala, Florida. MacDougall explained that his hacker attack was motivated by frustration at HBO, whom he felt was overcharging satellite customers and hurting his business. More…
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 restaurants in Southern California. The prizes included a year of groceries, a Datsun Z, McDonald's gift certificates, and cash. But one part of the contest rules caught the attention of three Caltech students... More…

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: More…
The Little Blue Man Hoax, 1958
In early 1958, Michigan motorists began to report sightings of a glowing "little blue man," like a spaceman from a science-fiction movie, who would appear out of nowhere on rural roads, and then just as suddenly disappear. Eventually three young men confessed that the blue man was their work. They had created a costume consisting of long underwear, gloves, combat boots, a sheet, and a football helmet with blinking lights. One of them, wearing this costume, would hide in a ditch and leap out when a motorist approached, run along the road, and then make a quick getaway by jumping into the trunk of the car driven by his two accomplices. More…
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 in Olympic history. Cross-country champion Harry Dillon was scheduled to bear the flame into Sydney, where he would present it to the mayor, Pat Hills. After making a short speech, Hills would pass... More…
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. The army officers removed the saucer and took it to Salt Lake City for closer investigation. But the police, working on a tip, then identified the saucer as the creation of four teenage boys, who had... More…
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. Typically his stunts were in the spirit of tongue-in-cheek performances, such as actually trying to find a needle in a haystack, but occasionally he perpetrated outright hoaxes, such as when he submitted one of his own works to the Los Angeles Art Association, telling them it was a painting by an obscure artist named Naromji. More…
Van Gogh’s Ear Exhibited, 1935
The illustrator Hugh Troy was convinced that most of the people at New York's Van Gogh exhibit 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 into the museum and stood it on a table in the Van Gogh exhibit. Beside the box he placed a sign: "This is the ear which Vincent Van Gogh cut off and sent to his mistress, a French prostitute, Dec. 24, 1888." Sure enough, it drew a large crowd. More…
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 admiration for Frye and their regret at not being able to attend. Unfortunately for the Republican leaders who responded, Hugo N. Frye did not exist. He was the satirical creation of two student editors at... More…
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 were no longer going to drink the water. Many of those who did drink it swore they could taste rhinoceros. The tracks turned out to be the work of Cornell student Hugh Troy. He and a friend had... More…
Lafayette Mulligan, 1924
In 1924 a man calling himself Lafayette Mulligan, claiming to be the social secretary of the Mayor of Boston, presented the Prince of Wales with the key to the City of Boston and invited him to visit the city, while the Prince was vacationing in Massachusetts. However, the Boston Mayor had no idea who Lafayette Mulligan was. In fact, Lafayette Mulligan was the invention of pranksters trying to embarrass the Irish Mayor, whose anti-British sentiment was well known. 'Lafayette Mulligan' subsequently became a running gag, and for some years lent its name to the prank of sending spurious invitations to non-existent events. More…
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 appeared to be scaling the monument without permission — and was already a third of the way up. The pedestrian drew attention to a dark figure on the side of the monument. Soon a huge crowd,... More…
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 warning of the Prince's arrival, he had the sailors standing at attention when the Prince arrived. The Abyssinian party acknowledged the greeting with bows as they shuffled onto the ship, dressed in their... More…
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 Tottingham). More…
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. More…
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. More…
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. More…
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  • All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.