The Museum of Hoaxes
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A black lion: real or fake?
Did Poe say 'The best things in life make you sweaty'?
The Lovely Feejee Mermaid, 1842
Stotham, Massachusetts: the town that didn't exist, 1920
The Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, 1959
Taco Bells buys the Liberty Bell, 1996
The Hitler Diary Hoax, 1983
Can a bar of soap between your sheets ease muscle cramps?
The Great Electric Sugar Swindle, 1884
Samsung invents the on/off switch
The Walam Olum of Constantine Rafinesque, 1836

Constantine Rafinesque
Constantine S. Rafinesque (1773-1840) was a naturalist who emigrated to America from Europe in 1815. He studied descriptive zoology, botany, and meteorology. In 1836 he produced a document he called the Walam Olum, claiming it was an ancient text written on birch bark by early Lenape (Delaware) indians that he had been able to translate into English.

The document, which described the peopling of North America, was long considered to be authentic and historically important. It was not until 1996 that the researcher David Oestreicher exposed it as a hoax. Based on an examination of Rafinesque's papers, Oestreicher concluded that Rafinesque had first translated the text from English into Lenape, rather than from Lenape into English, meaning that the Lenape document was a forgery.

The reason Rafinesque created this hoax, Oestreicher argued, was partly out of a desire for fame and recognition. Rafinesque may also have been inspired by Joseph Smith's then recent translation of the Mormon Bible from golden tablets inscribed with ancient Egyptian which he claimed to have found in upstate New York. Rafinesque had publicly denounced the Mormon Bible as a hoax, but viewing its success, he may either have decided to attempt something similar himself, or he may have been trying to cast doubt on the Mormon assertion that Native Americans had descended from Hebrew tribes.

Links and References
  • Walam Olum. Wikipedia.
  • David M. Oestreicher, "Unraveling the Walam Olum," Natural History, October 1996, 14-21.
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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.