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The Hoax Photo Archive — Photo Fakery Throughout History
Time Period: 1900-1919
The Cottingley Fairies. (1917-1920) Two young girls used paper cutouts to create a series of images of "fairies" while playing in the garden of a Cottingley village home. Photographic experts examined the pictures and declared them genuine. Spiritualists promoted them as proof of the existence of supernatural creatures, and despite criticism by skeptics, the pictures became among the most widely recognized photos in the world. It was only decades later, in the late 1970s, that the photos were definitively debunked. More…
Ocean Execution. (December 1913) The New York American ran this photo, claiming that the parents of the children had been killed by Mexican soldiers. It said, "The children were driven into the water, forced to hold their hands above their heads, and shot in the back." This was a case of false captioning. The picture was actually an innocent snapshot taken by a holidaygoer in British Honduras. The children had been playing in the waves and raised their arms in order to make a better picture. More…
Roosevelt Rides A Moose. (1912) Roosevelt ran for President in 1912 as the candidate of the Progressive Party, popularly known as the "Bull Moose Party." This image of Roosevelt appearing to ride a moose ran in the New York Tribune several months before the election. It was intended as a humorous photo fake depicting the "Race for the White House." In the 21st Century this image has circulated widely online, where many people have mistaken it for a photo of a real-life scene, which it is not. More…
Cat Drinks From a Bottle. (1911) Unfortunately there's not a lot of information on where this photo comes from. It's listed on the website of the French National Library as having been created in 1911 by the "Agence Rol." photo agency. It's an amusing example of early twentieth-century photo fakery. Included in the same series are photos titled "cat peers through binoculars" and "cat looks through a telescope." More…
The Melon Party. (1911) A postcard created by Alfred Stanley Johnson of Waupun, Wisconsin. In order to create the illusion of a children's party featuring a giant watermelon, Johnson made the children pose while holding a wooden prop. He then cut and pasted a picture of a watermelon slice into the picture to create the finished postcard. In order to create this postcard of children eating a giant watermelon, photographer Alfred Stanley Johnson used wooden props. More…
William ‘Dad’ Martin’s Freak Postcards. (1909-1910) Martin made a fortune selling "freak" postcards that featured midwesterners interacting with oversized animals and vegetables. More…
Pacific Sea Monster. (1906) A group of men show off a sea serpent that washed up on the beach at Ballard, Washington. However, the "sea serpent" looks suspiciously like the trunk of a tree. More…
A Bear and its Hunters. (ca. 1900) A humorous example of a staged scene — a bear joins its hunters for a friendly group photo, somewhere in the Utah wilderness. More…

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