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June 2004
Back in May I posted an entry about a German couple who went to a fertility clinic to find out why they couldn't produce a child. The reason: they hadn't realized that you first have to have sex in order to get pregnant. Supposedly they both came from very religious backgrounds and had never been taught about the birds and the bees. The clinic was said to be planning to conduct a survey to find out if there were other similarly clueless couples out there. This story was widely reported in the news, even though it seemed a little far-fetched, to say the least. At the time I noted that a case kind of like this had been reported in a medical journal, but that the reason the couple didn't have sex was not because they didn't realize what they were supposed to do, but because the husband suffered from erectile dysfunction. I emailed the German clinic where the clueless couple was said to have been treated and finally received a reply confirming that the case of the clueless couple reported in the English-language media did derive from the case of the couple who didn't have sex for more mechanical reasons. Here's the email I received from the doctor:



Dear Alex Boese,

As one of the authors of the paper you asked for Prof Johannisson I would like to inform you, that in fact we treated such a couple. The problem wasn't that the couple had tried to get pregnant without having sexual intercourse - the reason for not having sexual intercourse was psychogenic erectile dysfunction in the male. They were aware of their problem and not treated with assisted reproductive techiques. We send them to a psychologist for counselling. The reason to publish this case report was to make doctors sensible for those problems. All other things, described in this paper on (1) the religious background and (2) a planned survey etc are not true and definitively not related to this case! May be, others have had a similiar case published which I am not aware of. Hope, this information helps you to put some light on the situation.

Yours,

Priv. Doz. Dr. med. M. Ludwig

ENDOKRINOLOGIKUM Hamburg

Zentrum für Hormon- und Stoffwechselerkrankungen,

gynäkologische Endokrinologie und Reproduktionsmedizin




So that settles that. There was a very small grain of truth to the story, but in its passage from a medical journal article to the Daily Mirror and beyond, the story was improved quite a bit.
Categories: Birth/Babies, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Sat Jun 26, 2004
Comments (0)
I suppose this is no different than thinking that the Virgin Mary has appeared in a stain on a hospital window or flocking to see a weeping statue of Mary, but somehow it seems even more bizarre. For the past two weeks hundreds of Muslims have been making a pilgrimage to a West German University Clinic to see the Messiah being breastfed by his dead mother. They've been drawn there by a rumor spread via Turkish websites. According to the rumor, a Muslim woman died while giving birth to Allah's chosen son. She was buried, but later dug up (why?) and found to still be alive, although her entire body was burned except for her breasts. Allah ordered her to breast-feed the Messiah, and then die again forty days later (wasn't there a James Bond movie with a title like that?). A clinic spokesman told the media that people have been coming from as far away as the Netherlands, and that the clinic eventually had to call in security guards to turn away some of the people who refused to believe that the Messiah wasn't there. No one can find the original internet posting that sparked this whole crazy thing, but the rumor has been discussed on turkdunya.de where one person reportedly claimed to have seen the Messiah's mother. (thanks to Big Gary for sending me a link about this... Gary, this story does appear to be true, so I guess people will believe anything)
Categories: Religion
Posted by Alex on Sat Jun 26, 2004
Comments (0)
image Donald Nyffington, 37-year-old UNIX programmer, is in love. He's in love with Hermione Granger... or rather with Emma Watson who plays Hermione in the Harry Potter movies. And Emma, unfortunately for Donald, is only 14. So he's started the 'Official Countdown Website to Hermione Granger's 18th Birthday.' The site is convincing enough that you really might start to believe that Donald and his unrequited passion for Hermione are for real. But they're not. The picture on Donald's 'About Me' page gives it away. It comes from an old Onion article titled 'Creepy Middle-Aged Weirdos Swept Up In Harry Potter Craze.' (via Scattered Pieces)
Categories: Entertainment, Sex/Romance, Websites
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 24, 2004
Comments (6)
image The Russian Museum of Erotica, newly opened in St. Petersburg, has been crowing about its acquisition of the penis of Rasputin (the mad mystic and lover of the wife of the Russian Tsar). A photo accompanying the many news reports about this unusual exhibit shows an attractive young woman staring rather in awe at the huge, grotesque thing as it floats in formaldehyde (there's another picture here). It definitely looks like a penis, but is it Rasputin's penis (which, according to legend, was 13 inches long)?

As it turns out, Rasputin's penis has had a rather colorful history since its separation from his body. Here are some of the highlights. In 1916 Rasputin and his penis parted ways due to the machinations of a murdering gang of angry nobles. But, according to rumor, a maid found the bodiless member at the crime scene and saved it. During the 1920s a group of Russian women living in Paris acquired it (or acquired something that they believed to be his penis) and worshipped it as a kind of holy relic, while keeping it inside a wooden casket. Rasputin's daughter, Marie, didn't like the idea of her Dad's penis hanging out with these women, so she demanded the thing back. And it presumably stayed with her until she died in California in 1977. It then disappeared for a while until it came into the possession of Michael Augustine, who found it tucked away in a velvet pouch along with some of Marie Rasputin's manuscripts that he bought at a lot sale. Augustine sold the well-travelled penis to Bonham's auction house who then discovered (surprise, surprise!) that what they had bought was not a penis, but instead a sea cucumber.

That's where events stood in 1994. Now, ten years later the Russian Museum of Erotica is claiming that they have Rasputin's penis. Igor Knyazkin, the director of the Museum, claims that he bought it from a French antiquarian for $8,000. Which just begs the question: where did this French antiquarian get the penis from? One might also wonder why the Museum's penis is preserved in fluid, whereas all early accounts of Rasputin's penis describe it as dried out.
Categories: Body Manipulation, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 24, 2004
Comments (88)
In an otherwise dull story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about local school-district politics, one bizarre passage caught my eye:



The embattled Mento also sought to downplay his much-publicized conduct at last year's Christmas party, saying he blew up a bikini-clad doll as a harmless practical joke. An exact replica of the doll was displayed at the hearing, complete with the package labeled "Inflatable Fat Ass Party Doll"... All agreed that it took the superintendent about 15 minutes to inflate the doll and that many at the party were surprised at Mento's determination to finish the task.
"It took a long time. Someone joked about needing an ambulance because he might pass out," recalled Scott.




This is the kind of story where you know there's even more to it than they're telling here.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 23, 2004
Comments (4)
How to get divorced from your wife behind her back: use a fake wife. A man and his wife showed up in divorce court, where they proceeded to file all the paperwork to end their marriage. Only it later turned out that the woman with him at the court wasn't really his wife. She was a phony. His real wife learned about the divorce when she received all the paperwork in the mail. You've got to wonder how this guy ever thought he was going to get away with this. Did he think his real wife would never notice and never complain?
Categories: Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 22, 2004
Comments (0)
Here's a site that ingeniously exploits the power of the internet in order to play a prank. It's Postcards for Mom. Will Hanke created the site late last year in order to play a joke on his mother, Celeste. On the site he invited people to send letters to his mom (you had to email him in order to get her address). People thought it was a great idea, and soon Celeste was getting all kinds of mail, from all over the world. But she had no idea why these people were writing to her, nor could she figure out why they appeared to know personal details about her life. Finally she discovered what was going on when she read an article about Will's prank in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. With his mother now aware of the joke, Will has moved onto a new victim: someone else's mother. This new mother, Betty, was chosen by auction. The highest bidder earned the right to have their mother pranked. It would be a cool way to get your parents really confused.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 22, 2004
Comments (1)
image Before the Ghost in a Jar, before the possessed Coke can, there was the eBay haunted painting. This genuinely creepy painting, titled Hands Resist Him, appeared for sale on eBay way back in February 2000, accompanied by claims that it was haunted. Disturbing things happened to those who owned it, and the figures in the painting itself supposedly moved. Even people who simply viewed it online were said to be gripped by terror attacks and fainting spells. It ended up selling for $1050, and I believe it might have originated the haunted-items-are-worth-more phenomenon on eBay. The BBC has a good description of the auction that includes pictures and text from the original auction. Hands Resist Him was painted by Bill Stoneham in 1972. On his site Bill notes that "Both the owner of the Gallery where 'Hands' was displayed and the Los Angeles Times art critic who reviewed my show were dead within a year of the show." Spooky! Bill is also selling prints of the painting. In my house I've got a 'Hallway of Hoaxes' in which I've hung all kinds of hoax-related prints. I think that a print of Hands Resist Him definitely deserves a place there, although my wife might not like it because she's easily scared... and of course, the painting might really be haunted.
Categories: eBay, Paranormal
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 22, 2004
Comments (35)
image The big news in the blogosphere last week was the revelation that a blogger named 'Plain Layne' wasn't who she said she was. Of course if you, like me, had never heard of Plain Layne before, then the news didn't mean a whole lot. But the people who thought they knew her seemed genuinely shocked.

Plain Layne wrote about her life, and her life happened to be far more exciting and racy than the lives of most people, which is why she had a fairly large following. Jason Kottke has provided a great summary of some of her experiences:

In the past two years, Layne has discovered she's bisexual; fell in love with a Spanish go-go dancer; made room in her home for her cousin's pregnant girlfriend and now her newborn infant; met up with one of her birth parents for the first time; recounted a fling she had with a former boss (who had a girlfriend at the time); hinted at a rape she endured in Mexico (which turned her into a lesbian); charmed a straight woman co-worker into sleeping with her, becoming her girlfriend and then fiancee (!); broken off the engagement with said co-worker; frequently hooked up with one of the ex-fiancee's friends (another straight girl, if you can believe it); most recently slept with three women in the same week; and somehow, as all this was going on, held down a job at a large corporation working 80 hours a week managing a very successful IT group.

About a week ago Plain Layne's weblog disappeared and was replaced by some random text written in Polish. Faced with this vanishing act, her readers quickly realized that no one had ever laid eyes on her, and internet sleuths soon uncovered clues suggesting her non-existence. There's speculation that her weblog was actually some kind of group writing project... i.e. Plain Layne and all her adventures may have been the creation of many people.

At this stage in the life of the internet, I'm surprised that people feel so shocked and betrayed by this revelation. After all, what were they expecting? The phenomenon of bloggers assuming fake identities is hardly a new one. Here's a brief list of previous fake bloggers (or suspected fake bloggers) that I'm familiar with:
  • Kaycee Nicole Swenson: a middle-aged woman who claimed to be a 19-year-old girl dying of cancer
  • Belle de Jour: Claims to be a London call girl. Probably a writer who has never been a prostitute.
  • Rance: Claims to be an a-list Hollywood celebrity. Probably not. Possibly an obscure cartoonist named Keith Thomson.
  • Hot Abercrombie Chick: Claims to be an attractive young college co-ed. Probably a guy named Daniel Zeigenbein
  • Flashman: LiveJournal weblog that ended abruptly accompanied by a (false) claim that the blogger had died rushing into the World Trade Center to save people on 9/11.
  • She's a Flight Risk: Journal of a twenty-something woman who claims to have run away from her wealthy family and become an international fugitive. Widely suspected to be a hoax.

I'm sure there are thousands of other fake bloggers operating out there. But these are the most famous ones that I'm aware of.
Update: The real author of Plain Layne comes clean. She's a man.
Categories: Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 22, 2004
Comments (10)
image They're the latest in Scottish sports technology: running kilts. The instant solution to chafing shorts. They sound kind of like a joke, but actually they're real. And once you get over feeling silly when you first put them on, they're reportedly very comfortable. They actually sound very practical, but still, I would hesitate to wear them to the gym, or to wear them on a windy day.
Categories: Sports
Posted by Alex on Sun Jun 20, 2004
Comments (4)
image Leave a message on Endless Echoes' answering machine, and for only $24.95 they'll beam it into outer space, where it will theoretically travel forever. They bill it as the perfect way to send a message to loved ones who have died (why dead people would get the message in outer space, I don't know). I think the service would be better targeted at lonely hearts in search of alien companionship (Single White Female ISO Single Green Alien). But the whole thing has a hoaxy feel to it... along the lines of those companies that offer to name a star after you, or sell people plots of land on the moon. Why not just call up a radio station and dedicate a song to someone if you really need to send out a message as a radio broadcast? At least that way someone would have a chance of actually hearing what you say.
Categories: Extraterrestrial Life, Radio
Posted by Alex on Sun Jun 20, 2004
Comments (7)
Last night I went to Outback Steakhouse and had a big plate of greasy cheese fries. At the time I didn't realize that I was actually feasting on a plate of fresh vegetables, but apparently I was because the USDA has succumbed to lobbying from the food industry and decided to reclassify frozen french fries as fresh vegetables. This seems up there with the EU's decision to reclassify carrots as a kind of fruit (yeah, I know, there was some twisted logic to the EU's decision because the Portuguese use carrots to make jam and anything you make jam out of must be a fruit... or something like that). According to the USDA's 'batter-coating rule', "rolling potato slices in a starch coating, frying them and freezing them is the equivalent of waxing a cucumber or sweetening a strawberry" (as the Sun-Sentinel puts it). I think this is a case of politics and big business coming together to fashion their own bizarre, alternative reality.
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 16, 2004
Comments (8)
A crowd of hopefuls arrived at the opening of the new Kroger's in Churchill Downs, hoping to participate in the Free Groceries Giveaway that flyers left on their car had advertised. According to the flyers, you could just fill up your cart with groceries and then run straight out the front door of the store. The shoppers were disappointed to learn that the flyers were a joke perpetrated by some unknown prankster. The store was giving away free Rick Pitino bobble heads, but I would think that if you're expecting free groceries, a free bobble head somehow doesn't cut it.
Categories: Pranks
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 16, 2004
Comments (1)
image A trailer for Paramount's new movie The Stepford Wives (which is about housewives being transformed into mindless, but beautiful robots) contains some controversial scenes. One shot shows an image of a sexy-looking Condoleeza Rice naked from the waist up (arms covering her chest), and another scene shows Hillary Clinton morphing into a buxom homemaker bearing a tray of cookies. But if you blink you'd miss these scenes because they literally flash across the screen in less than a second. As a result, most people never noticed them when the trailer aired on tv last week. But Rebecca Reynolds, a 'sharp-eyed' resident of Kansas City, Missouri noticed them, and she immediately called up her local tv station to complain about what she felt were the shocking and offensive images. The station aired a story about Rebecca's discovery, and soon word of the trailer's hidden content had spread all across the country.

Media coverage of this story has focused on the scenes from the trailer, but what makes me suspicious is the role played by the outraged midwesterner, Rebecca Reynolds. It seems awfully convenient that she happened to notice what was in the trailer and felt compelled to contact the media about it, thereby generating great free publicity for Paramount. Could she actually be in cahoots with Paramount? After all, Paramount knew exactly what was in the trailer, but they needed someone to complain in order to create a story the media would cover.

I can't prove anything, but I am suspicious since this is one of the oldest publicity tricks in the book: the pseudo-controversy generated by phony complaints made to the media. P.T. Barnum used this strategy again and again throughout his career. For instance, at the beginning of his career he was exhibiting Joice Heth, an elderly black woman who, so he claimed, was 161-years-old (she was probably in her 80s). When public interest in her began to taper off, Barnum wrote an anonymous letter to a local paper alleging that Joice Heth was a fake. But he complained that not only was Heth not as old as advertised, but that she was also not even human, being a "curiously constructed automaton, made up of whalebone, India-rubber, and numberless springs." This letter, and the controversy it created, helped revive public interest in Joice Heth and thereby substantially fattened Barnum's wallet.


Barnum's Joice-Heth publicity stunt occurred about 170 years ago, but it's odd how parallel it is to Paramount's Stepford-Wives stunt, since they both involve the suggestion of women really being robots in disguise. Weird. But probably a coincidence.
Categories: Advertising
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 16, 2004
Comments (0)
Liwwat Bocke was a German woman who moved to Ohio as a young woman during the nineteenth century. From the 1820s until the 1880s she kept a journal of her experiences... a journal that eventually spanned 1100 pages, all of which is written in a dialect of northern Germany known as Plattdeutsch. When historians discovered her journal during the 1970s they thought it was a remarkable find, sure to shed valuable light on the history of the settlement of Ohio. But now they're not so sure. Analysis of the document has revealed that it's a fake, plagiarized from other sources and containing numerous anachronisms. What no one can figure out is who created this forgery, and why they did it. As this article in The Plain Dealer notes, why would someone "go to such great effort to fake a journal about life in the 19th century and then attribute it to a German-speaking farm woman who is buried in a rural church cemetery in Auglaize County... Who would go to the trouble of hand-writing more than a thousand pages in Plattdeutsch - a low German dialect spoken mostly by older, rural people - to describe the settlement of Ohio?"
Categories: History, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 15, 2004
Comments (43)
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