Hoax Archive: Time Periods
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Collective Delusions (1869-1913)
The Worcester Aeroplane Hoax, 1909 (December 1909)Six years after the Wright brothers succeeded in making the first flight in a heavier-than-air craft, aviation technology was still fairly primitive. Planes could only fly a few miles. But in 1909, a Massachusetts inventor, Wallace Tillinghast, announced a breakthrough. He claimed to have built a plane capable of flying 300 miles, carrying three passengers, and maintaining a speed of 120 mph. But he refused to show the plane to anyone, saying he was worried about other inventors stealing his ideas. But he did reveal that in a test flight (conducted at night) he had flown from Massachusetts down to New York City, circled the Statue of Liberty, and flown back.
Tillinghast's announcement generated enormous excitement. In the next few weeks thousands of people throughout New England reported seeing his plane flying in the sky at night. But as the months went by and Tillinghast failed to offer any tangible proof of his claims, the media came to realize he was lying to them. He had no airplane. One man confessed that the lights people had seen in the sky were actually small lanterns he had tied to the legs of owls as a practical joke. More→
The Damp Spot That Hoaxed D.C., 1912 (May 7, 1912)
Frederick 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.
F. Rodman Law
F. Rodman Law
The pedestrian drew attention to a dark figure on the side of the monument. Soon a huge crowd, numbering in the hundreds, had gathered to watch the feat. For well over an hour people stared and squinted at the figure. Many members of Congress came out of their offices to witness the event, as did officials from the State and Treasury departments and many newspaper reporters. But when the police arrived at the base of the monument to apprehend Law when he came down, they realized that what had resembled a human figure from a distance was actually a damp spot on the side of the monument caused by the previous night's rain. The pedestrian who had originally called attention to the spot had, by that time, disappeared. More→
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