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The Hoax Photo Archive — Photo Fakery Throughout History
Time Period: 1920-1939
Biggest Fish Ever Caught. (1939) The Honolulu Star-Bulletin ran this picture on its front page on Apr 1, 1939, accompanied by a report claiming that Norwegian scientist Dr. Thorkel Gellison (an "authority on prevaricana") had caught the largest fish ever recorded while on holiday in Hawaii. The fish was said to be of the species Gellisoni Fabricata. The doctor caught it "with ordinary Mason & Dixon line, with a leader of Associated Press wire." More…
The Brown Lady of Raynham. (September 19, 1936) This photo is said to show the "Brown Lady" who haunts Raynham Hall in Norfolk, England. The image was taken by two photographers on assignment for Country Life magazine who said they saw an ethereal form descending the staircase and quickly snapped a picture. It is almost certainly nothing more than a double exposure, though whether done purposefully or by accident is not known. More…
The Falling Soldier. (September 5, 1936) Despite allegations that Robert Capa staged this famous war photo, historical research shows that he did not. More…
The Perambulating Skull. (May 1936) Arthur Rothstein took this photo while documenting drought conditions in South Dakota for the Resettlement Administration. But Republican papers noticed that the same skull appeared in other photos by Rothstein and accused him of using it as a "movable prop" to dramatize the drought for political purposes. They mockingly referred to the cow's head as the "perambulating skull." More…
Whopper Hoppers. (circa 1935) Giant grasshoppers were particularly popular subjects for photo fakery during the 1930s. In this image, taken on a farm near Mitchell, South Dakota by an unknown photographer, three men struggle to subdue "the largest grasshopper in existence." The "whopper hopper" appears to have been a wooden model. More…
The Surgeon’s Photo. (April 1934) This is the most famous Loch Ness Monster photo. It was long believed to have been taken on April 19, 1934 by a British surgeon who said he noticed something moving in the water while he was driving along the Loch. The photo actually shows a fake serpent's head attached to a toy submarine, and it wasn't taken by the surgeon. His role was merely to serve as a credible front-man for the hoax. More…
Lung-Powered Flying Machine. (April 1, 1934) The Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung ran this photo in its 1934 April Fool's Day edition to illustrate a spoof story about a flying machine powered by the breath from a man's lungs. International News Photo then distributed the photo to its American subscribers, without identifying it as a fake. As a consequence, it appeared as factual news in many American papers, including the New York Times. More…
Baby Adolf. (Late 1933) In 1933, a picture supposedly showing Adolf Hitler as a baby began circulating throughout England and America. The child in the picture looked positively menacing. However, the child wasn't really the infant führer. In 1938 a Mrs. Harriet Downs of Ohio happened to see the picture in a magazine and immediately recognized it as her son. Someone had darkened the shadows around the child's face to give him a more sinister look. More…
Wisconsin’s Capitol Collapses. (April 1, 1933) An April Fool's Day image of the Wisconsin state capitol collapsing due to an excess of gas generated by verbose debate. More…
Death in the Air. (Published in 1933; debunked in 1984.) Spectacular images of World War I dog fights were eventually exposed as photos of model airplanes. More…
Mother Cat Stops Traffic. (July 29, 1925) The news photographer arrived too late to capture the original scene, so he convinced the policeman to recreate it. More…
Bloody Sunday, 1905. (1925) Soviet textbooks claimed this was a photo of 1905's Bloody Sunday massacre in St. Petersburg. It was actually a reenactment of that event. More…
Ada Emma Deane’s Armistice Day Series. (November 1924) Spiritualists claimed this image showed the spirits of dead war heroes. A newspaper identified the faces as living football players. More…
Raised Runway. (Undated. Possibly from the 1920s.) An April Fool's day image shows a raised runway in a German city. More…
High-Pressure Hijinks. (ca. 1923) A soldier appears to be lifted in the air by the pressure from a water hose. The source of this photo is uncertain. More…
The Nest of a Fatu-Liva. (1921) An image of square eggs satirically proves that the camera never lies. More…
Stotham, Massachusetts: The Town That Didn’t Exist. (April 1920) Weyerhauser Mills issued a series of architectural brochures, which included an issue about the classic, early-American architecture of Stotham, Massachusetts. The church shown above was said to be the meeting house of the Stotham Congregational Society. However, Stotham didn't exist. It was a fictional town created as a way to provide a coherent theme to some photos the editor had felt were "too good to be wasted." More…

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