The Museum of Hoaxes
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Television Hoaxes
Balloon Boy, 2009
On October 15, 2009, millions of people sat glued to their TVs, watching a silver, saucer-shaped balloon float through the sky. The media was reporting that a six-year-old boy, Falcon Heene, was inside the balloon, in danger for his life as it drifted out of control. After several hours, the balloon landed a few miles from Denver International Airport, but the boy was nowhere to be found. There were fears he had fallen out. Thankfully he was alive. The entire time he had been safe at home, hiding in a room above his family's garage. The incident turned out to have been a bizarre hoax engineered by his parents, Richard and Mayumi Heene, in an... More…
Flemish Secession Hoax, 2006
In 2006, on a Belgian TV station news broadcast, it was announced that Flanders, the Dutch-speaking half of the country, had seceded from the country. Thirty minutes into the news bulletin,only after the station''s phonelines were swamped, it was revealed to be a "War of the Worlds"-style hoax. More…
Space Cadets, 2005
In 2005, the British television show "Space Cadets" pulled off the most expensive and elaborate hoax in English television history. More…
The Sibuxiang Beast, 1994
On the evening of September 19, 1994, a stark warning repeated for TV viewers in Taiyuan, in northern China. The Sibuxiang beast, the message said, was on the loose and heading towards the city. "Everyone close your windows and doors and be on alert," people were warned. Many residents panicked, barricading themselves inside their homes. Others called the local authorities to find out what was happening. As it turned out, the Sibuxiang Beast was not an animal, but a new brand of liquor. The message had been an advertisement. TV commercials were still something of a novelty in China, and thus the confusion. More…
Ghostwatch, 1992
On Halloween night, BBC TV aired a program called Ghostwatch, advertised as a live investigation into supernatural activity at a house in London. After a calm start, events quickly spun out of control when a malevolent spirit attacked the investigators, and then manifested back in the BBC studio. A terrified reporter warned that by airing the investigation on live TV they must have created a "massive seance," unleashing the spirit onto the whole of the UK. The program elicited a huge reaction. Many viewers phoned the police in panic. But there was no ghost on the loose. The program wasn't even live. It had been taped months before for Halloween. More…
The Buckwheat Imposter, 1990
Buckwheat was the wide-eyed, African-American character played by William Thomas in the 'Our Gang' comedies of the 1930s and '40s. After leaving the show, Thomas dropped from the public eye. But in 1990, the news show 20/20 claimed it had found him working as a grocery bagger. Unfortunately for 20/20, the man they interviewed was not William Thomas. He was an imposter named Bill English who had been claiming to be Buckwheat for 30 years. The real William Thomas had worked as a film lab technician before dying in 1980 at the age of 49. The week after it aired the segment, 20/20 admitted its mistake. More…

FAINT, 1985
During the taping of the Donahue talk show, on January 21, 1985, seven members of the audience fainted. The producers of the show theorized that the hot temperature inside the studio caused the people to collapse, but a few days later it was revealed that "professional hoaxer" Alan Abel had paid them to pretend to faint. He said that the stunt was a protest against the deteriorating quality of daytime talk shows and claimed that a group called FAINT (Fight Against Idiotic Neurotic TV) had spearheaded the protest. "We want to raise the consciousness of the public by going unconscious," he said. More…
Alternative 3, 1977
On June 20, 1977, a documentary titled Alternative 3 aired in England, on ITV. It revealed to viewers the existence of a secret plan by the governments of the world to create a Noah's Ark colony of humans on Mars in anticipation of a looming environmental catastrophe that would soon make the Earth uninhabitable. The earnestness of the show's delivery convinced many that it was real. However, it was intended as a mock documentary, originally intended to be aired on April Fool's Day. More…
Instant Color TV, 1962
In 1962 there was only one tv channel in Sweden, and it broadcast in black and white. On April 1st of that year, the station's technical expert, Kjell Stensson, appeared on the news to announce that, thanks to a new technology, viewers could convert their existing sets to display color reception. All they had to do was pull a nylon stocking over their tv screen. Stensson proceeded to demonstrate the process. Thousands of people were taken in. Regular color broadcasts only commenced in Sweden on April 1, 1970. More…
The Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, 1959
G. Clifford Prout was a man with a mission, and that mission was to put clothes on all the millions of naked animals throughout the world. To realize his dream, Prout founded an organization, the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (abbreviated as SINA). It was left unexplained why the society was 'for indecency' not 'against indecency'. More…
The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest, 1957
On April 1, 1957 the British news show Panorama broadcast a three-minute segment about a bumper spaghetti harvest in southern Switzerland. The success of the crop was attributed both to an unusually mild winter and to the "virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil." The audience heard Richard Dimbleby, the show's highly respected anchor, discussing the details of the spaghetti crop as they watched video footage of a Swiss family pulling pasta off spaghetti trees and placing it into baskets. The segment concluded with the assurance that, "For those who love this dish, there's nothing like real, home-grown spaghetti." The Swiss Spaghetti... More…
The Diaphote Hoax, 1880
On February 10, 1880 an article ran in the Daily Times (of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania) describing a remarkable invention recently demonstrated by a local inventor, Dr. H.E. Licks. The invention allowed images to be transmitted by telegraph. In other words, it resembled what people today would recognize as a television. However, Licks called his invention a "diaphote," from the Greek dia meaning "through" and photos meaning "light". More…
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Eras: 0-1699 1700s 1800-1849 1850-1899 1900-1949 1950-1979 1980s 1990s 2000s
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  • All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.