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
Television Hoaxes
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". Continue…
Twenty One. During the 1950s Twenty One was one of the most popular quiz shows on TV. Its ratings soared when Charles Van Doren, son of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mark Van Doren, appeared as a contestant on the show in late 1956. Van Doren seemed unbeatable. For week after week he answered every question correctly, winning a total of $129,000. But in 1957 a previous contestant, Herbert Stempel, revealed that the entire show was rigged. Van Doren, it turned... Continue…
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... Continue…
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'. Continue…
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.... Continue…
FAINT, 1985. On January 21, 1985, the daily broadcast of the Donahue show was devoted to a typically unusual subject — gay senior citizens. But few people would later remember the topic of that day's show, because as the live broadcast progressed seven members of the audience proceeded to faint. Concerned by the bizarre outbreak of swooning, Donahue cancelled the rest of the show and sent everyone home. The producers theorized that the hot temperature... 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 Buckwheat Imposter, 1990. Buckwheat, as seen on Our GangMany child stars achieve success and stability as adults, but some child stars go from stardom to the opposite extreme of anonymity and failure, as if dragged down by the weight of their early fame. According to a segment that aired on ABC News's 20/20 in October 1990, this appeared to be the fate of the actor who had played Buckwheat in the 'Our Gang' comedies of the 1930s and '40s. Buckwheat was the wide-eyed,... Continue…
Ghostwatch, 1992. On 31 October 1992, Britain's BBC TV aired a 90-minute documentary called Ghostwatch. The program was advertised as a live investigation into reports of supernatural activity at a council house in North London. The show was anchored by a group of well-known television reporters: Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, Mike Smith and Craig Charles. Michael Parkinson and Mike Smith both reported from a TV studio, where calls were being taken from the... Continue…
The Sibuxiang Beast, 1994. On the evening of September 19, 1994 a stark warning was repeatedly broadcast to TV viewers in Taiyuan, a city in northern China. A message scrolled across an otherwise blank screen warning that the Sibuxiang beast, a mythical creature whose bite was said to be fatal, was not only real, but on the loose and heading towards the city. "It is said that the Sibuxiang is penetrating our area from Yanmenguan Pass and within days will enter thousands of... Continue…
The CBS Bush Memos, aka Rathergate. On 8 September 2004, Dan Rather reported on 60 Minutes that CBS had obtained documents revealing that President Bush had disobeyed orders while serving in the National Guard and had then used his family's influence to cover up his poor service record. The documents allegedly came from the files of Col. Killian, Bush's commanding officer in the Guard. Rather's news report generated controversy almost immediately. Bloggers pointed out that the... Continue…
Space Cadets, 2005. In 2005, the British television show "Space Cadets" pulled off the most expensive and elaborate hoax in English television history. Continue…
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. Continue…
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... Continue…

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