Hoax Archive: Categories
In 1799 the naturalist George Shaw, Keeper of the Department of Natural History at the British Museum, received a specimen of an Australian animal that appeared to be a combination of a duck and a mole. Shaw described the specimen in a scientific journal, the Naturalist’s Miscellany, but admitted he suspected the specimen was a hoax. He wrote, "there might have been practised some arts of deception in its structure." Other British naturalists were also suspicious of the authenticity of the creature. It was only when more specimens of the strange Australian creature arrived in England that naturalists finally, grudgingly admitted it was real. Today we know the creature as the Duckbilled Platypus. It is one of the more famous instances of a hoax that proved not to be a hoax after all. More→
Charles Waterton was a famous English eccentric and naturalist. In 1821, he returned to England from an expedition to Guiana, bringing with him hundreds of specimens of South American wildlife, carefully stuffed and preserved. His boat docked in Liverpool, and a customs inspectors named Mr. Lushington boarded. Lushington took one look at the exotic specimens that Waterton had piled up in crates and ordered that a hefty fee should be paid for their importation. Waterton protested. After all, the specimens were of greater scientific value than they were of commercial value. Nevertheless, Lushington would not bend. He insisted that Waterton pay the highest import tax possible.
The Nondescript of Charles Waterton
The Nondescript of Charles Waterton
Three years later Waterton travelled again to Guiana. Upon his return to England he bore with him this time the head of a fabulous specimen which he described as the 'Nondescript.' It looked very much like the head of a person, though the exposed face was surrounded by a thick coat of fur. Waterton claimed he had encountered and killed this man-like creature in the jungles of Guiana. More→
The Feejee Mermaid, 1842 (July 1842)
In mid-July, 1842, An English gentleman named "Dr. J. Griffin", a member of the British Lyceum of Natural History, arrived in New York City bearing a remarkable curiosity a real mermaid supposedly caught near the Feejee Islands in the South Pacific. The press were expecting him, since throughout the Summer they had been receiving letters from Southern correspondents describing the doctor and his mermaid. So when he checked in to his hotel, reporters were waiting for him, demanding to see the mermaid. Grudgingly he obliged. What they saw totally convinced them of the creature's authenticity. More→
Monkeys Pick Cotton, 1899 (late nineteenth century)
In February 1899, numerous American newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, printed a story claiming that a farmer, W.W. Mangum, had successfully trained monkeys to pick cotton on his plantation in Smedes, Mississippi. The story was sourced to an article in the Cotton Planters' Journal by T.G. Lane. Reportedly Mangum was so pleased with the success of his monkey-labor experiment that he had ordered more monkeys from Africa, and he was urging other planters to join him in using simians as laborers. There is no evidence this story was true. In fact, the tale of monkeys being trained to pick cotton (or other crops) was one of the more persistent legends that circulated in the American South during the second half of the nineteenth century. Versions of it appeared in newspapers every few years. More→
The Great Mammoth Hoax, 1899 (October 1899)
Woolly mammoths became extinct thousands of years ago. But in October, 1899 a story appeared in McClure's Magazine titled "The Killing of the Mammoth" in which a narrator named H. Tukeman described how he had recently hunted down and killed a mammoth in the Alaskan wilderness. More→
The Loch Ness Monster (1933-Present)
Ancient Scottish legend told of a "beast" that lived in the waters of Loch Ness. St. Columba, for instance, was supposed to have encountered a large serpent in the River Ness over 1400 years ago. But the modern history of Nessie began in 1933 when a new road was completed along the northern shore of the Loch, providing easy access to unobstructed views of the water. Soon after this, a couple spotted an "enormous animal" in the Loch. The Inverness Courier wrote up their sighting, describing what they saw as a "monster;" intense media interest followed; and thus was born the modern Loch Ness Monster. More→
Nessiteras Rhombopteryx (1975)
Sir Peter Scott of the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau participated in the 1972 expedition that produced the flipper photo. Feeling that the photo provided proof that some kind of large creature existed in the loch, he decided to give the animal a scientific name: Nessiteras Rhombopteryx (which meant "the Ness wonder with a diamond fin"). But London newspapers soon pointed out that if you juggled around the letters in this name, you got the phrase "monster hoax by Sir Peter S." Was this evidence that the flipper photo had been a deliberate hoax? Scott denied it. Dr. Rines came to his rescue by pointing out that if you juggled the letters around a bit more, you could spell "Yes, both pix are monsters. R."