The Museum of Hoaxes
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Student Pranks
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…
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…
The Great Rose Bowl Hoax, 1961
Caltech students succeeded in altering the University of Washington's halftime flip-card routine during the 1961 Rose Bowl in order to read "CALTECH". More…
Cacareco the Rhinoceros, 1959
The 1959 city council election in Sao Paulo, Brazil had a surprise winner: Cacareco, a five-year-old female rhinoceros at the local zoo. Not only did she win, but she did so by a landslide, garnering 100,000 votes (15% of the total). This was one of the highest totals for a local candidate in Brazil's history to that date. 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…
USC Glamour Queen Hoax, 1944
In April 1944, the University of Southern California held its annual Campus Queens beauty contest. 20 contestants vied for the title. Six winners were to be selected. The prize was that their full-length portrait would appear in the yearbook. But that year an imposter appeared among the candidates. The odd-woman-out (or rather, odd-man-out) was Sylvia Jones. She was actually a he — a male USC student who had dressed up as a woman in order to enter the contest. More…

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 present-day veterans could get their war bonuses early, why shouldn't future veterans also receive their money up-front — before they had fought in a war. After all, given the global political... More…
The Theft of the Sacred Cod, 1933
Theft is one of the classic and most-often-used tools in the toolbox of college pranksters. All manner of prized items are regularly spirited away at campuses throughout the world: statues, bells, trophies, road signs, etc. But precisely because theft is such an obvious form of pranksterism, it has an extra hurdle to overcome in order to achieve originality. Nevertheless, originality can be achieved in two ways — either through the ingenuity of the method of theft, or, as in the case of the Sacred Cod of Massachusetts, through the novelty of the object stolen. 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…
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  • All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.