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The Rise of Newspaper Hoaxes
The Dutch Mail, 1792 (circa 1792)Sir Richard Phillips (1767-1840) founded the Leicester Herald in 1792. One day, while preparing the paper for print, he is said to have perpetrated a hoax that became legendary among journalists. The story, told in Phillips' own words, was first reported almost one hundred years after the fact in the journal Notes and Queries:
A postscript adds that Sir Richard claimed he later met a man from Nottingham who had kept the "Dutch Mail" edition of the Leicester Herald for thirty-four years, hoping to one day get it translated.
The tale is probably an urban legend. There is no surviving copy of the "Dutch Mail" edition of the Leicester Herald. The Notes and Queries article also observes that similar tales were told of other newspapers.
The Great Moon Hoax of 1835 (August 1835)On August 25, 1835 the New York Sun announced the discovery of life on the moon. It explained that the discovery had been made by the famous British astronomer Sir John Herschel, who had invented a new telescope "of vast dimensions and an entirely new principle." Over the course of the next week the Sun printed details about the moon creatures Herschel had supposedly spied with his telescope. These creatures included lunar bison, fire-wielding biped beavers, and winged "man-bats." The public was fascinated by the reports. Papers throughout the nation reprinted the Sun's articles. But over time, as word from Europe failed to arrive corroborating what the Sun claimed, people realized they had been hoaxed. More→
The Great Balloon Hoax, 1844 (April 13, 1844)The New York Sun included a broadside, or extra page, in the midday issue of its April 13, 1844 edition, announcing that the famous European balloonist Monck Mason had succeeded in flying across the Atlantic Ocean in 75 hours. This was major news, being the first time the Atlantic had ever been crossed in a balloon.
The balloon, named the Victoria, had supposedly taken off from England on a trip to Paris, but had been blown off course due to a propeller accident and ended up floating across the Atlantic and landing on Sullivan's Island, near Charleston, South Carolina.
The story was quickly revealed to be a hoax, authored by Edgar Allan Poe. Monck Mason, however, was a real person who had ballooned from London to Weilburg, Germany in 1836, a journey which he had described in 1837 in a book, Account of the Late Aeronautical Expedition from London to Weilburg.
An illustration of the "Steering Balloon Victoria" accompanied Poe's article. Poe had obtained this image by redrawing it from the frontispiece of an anonymous 1843 pamphlet (the author of which was probably Monck Mason) titled Remarks on the Ellipsoidal Balloon, propelled by the Archimedean Screw, described as the New Aerial Machine.
On the day of the article's publication, Poe stood on the steps of the Sun's building in New York City telling crowds that his own story was a hoax. But apparently, amidst the general excitement, not many people paid attention to him. He later wrote an account in the Columbia Spy of the scene following the publication of the balloon news:
Railways and Revolvers in Georgia, 1856 (October 1856)A London newspaper provoked trans-Atlantic controversy when it reported that a series of brutal killings had occurred on a Georgia train. More→
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