Famous Hoaxes Throughout History
Before 1700 |
RABBIT BABIES AND LYING STONES
The Age of Enlightenment. Science and learning blossomed in Europe. People met in coffeehouses and salons to debate politics and philosophy. In this milieu, hoaxes paradoxically flourished. The Enlightenment even gave birth to a particular style of hoax: the satirical hoax, designed to expose credulity and ignorance. Many of the most famous figures of the era were passionate hoaxers (as well as hoax-exposers): Benjamin Franklin, Daniel DeFoe, and Jonathan Swift, to name a few.
The Hoaxes of Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin was born the son of a candle and soap maker, but by his own efforts and intellect he rose to become arguably the most admired man of the eighteenth century. Throughout his long and illustrious career he was many different things: a printer, a philosopher, a man of science, a man of letters, and a statesman. He was also a hoaxer.
Silence Dogood | The Witch Trial at Mount Holly | The Death of Titan Leeds | Poor Richard's Enigmatical Prophecies | The Polly Baker Case | A Supplement to the Boston Independent Chronicle
The Native of Formosa
He claimed to be from the faraway land of Taiwan. Never mind that his skin was white, his hair was blond, and he spoke with a Dutch accent. No one in Europe had ever met anyone from Taiwan before, so how were they to know the difference?
The Hoaxes of Jonathan Swift
The famous author of Gulliver's Travels
had a talent for laying traps for the ignorant, vain, and credulous.
Predictions of Isaac Bickerstaff
The Lying Stones of Dr. Beringer
Dr. Johann Beringer was genuinely puzzled by the stones local boys were finding on nearby Mount Eivelstadt. Were they ancient pieces of sculpture carved hundreds of years ago by pagans? Were they relics of the Great Flood? Were they the product of 'the marvelous force of petrifying moisture?' He wasn't quite sure, but he was sure that they were the greatest natural history discovery of the century.
Mary Toft and the Rabbit Babies
She was one of the greatest popular sensations of the 18th century: The woman who gave birth to over eighteen rabbits. While in the presence of doctors, no less.
(Translations: Dutch, Polish)
Eighteenth-Century Literary Hoaxes
People of the Enlightenment read more and wrote more than any other people ever had. They found all kinds of new ways to put words to work, inventing dictionaries, encyclopedias, newspapers, and journals. So it shouldn't be a surprise that in this word-obsessed culture, literary forgery also developed into a high art.
James Macpherson and the Ossianic Controversy | Thomas Chatterton and the Rowley Poems | De Situ Brittaniae | William Henry Ireland's Shakespeare Forgeries
The Mystery of Madagascar
Was this popular tale of survival in eighteenth-century Madagascar true, or was it a work of fiction penned by the author of Robinson Crusoe
The Brimstone is a common butterfly in Europe. But if you paint a few dots on its wings it can became a completely different species, magically transforming into a North American Papilio ecclipsis.
Graham's Celestial Bed
If you were infertile or impotent, all you had to do was spend a night in Dr. Graham's electrified 'Celestial Bed,' and you'd be cured in a jiffy.