The Museum of Hoaxes
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'Solar Armor' freezes man in Nevada Desert, 1874
Iceberg floats into Sydney Harbor, 1978
Can a bar of soap between your sheets ease muscle cramps?
Mule elected G.O.P. committeeman, 1938
Samsung invents the on/off switch
Brief History of Triple-Decker Buses
Tourist Guy 9/11 Hoax, Sep 2001
The Lovely Feejee Mermaid, 1842
The Man-Eating Tree of Madagascar Hoax, 1874
The Cradle of the Deep, a literary hoax, 1929
Dickens in America
In 1867 the popular author Charles Dickens toured the United States. His tour manager signed an agreement with the New York photographers Jeremiah Gurney & Son, assuring them they would have the exclusive right to photograph Dickens during his visit. However, in December 1867 the New York Daily Tribune proudly announced it had persuaded the author to sit for a photo at the Mathew Brady studio on Broadway. The public was invited to go view the portrait (top). This prompted a protest from the Gurneys who denounced the Brady photo as a fake. Modern research indicates the Gurneys were right.

Historian Malcolm Andrews discovered that somehow the Mathew Brady studio had obtained an 1861 portrait of Dickens (middle) taken by the Watkins brothers in England. It was a portrait Dickens had never liked, privately remarking that he looked "grim and wasted" in it. But the Brady studio tidied it up, offering an early example of what was possible, even in the 1860s, with darkroom techniques.

The Brady studio thickened and combed the author's hair, smoothed his face, gave him a stylish mustache, and added a buttonhole to his lapel as well as a dress-shirt front. The result was a significantly fresher-looking Dickens. The Daily Tribune promised its readers that the portrait showed "Mr. Dickens just as he is in his readings."

In reality, Dickens looked quite different, because by 1867 he had lost much of the hair he had in 1861. The bottom photo, taken by the Gurney studio, shows what Dickens actually looked like during his American tour.

Links and References
• Andrews, M. (2004). "Mathew Brady's Portrait of Dickens: 'a fraud and imposition on the public'?" History of Photography. 28(4): 375-379.


All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.