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January 2013

I came across the above complaint in Gleanings in Bee Culture (1896). It seems that a door-to-door salesman was going around selling something he called "Prof. Humbolt's Electric-Light Fluid," which had absolutely nothing to do with electricity or electric lighting. The term "electric" was thrown into just about every product name back then to make products sound more scientific and modern.

As far as I can tell from the description, this "electric-light fluid" was a powder (not a fluid!) that people could add to the kerosene or coal oil in lamps. Supposedly it made the lamps burn brighter, smoke less, and reduced the risk of them exploding. Kind of like those fuel additives that are sold today that are supposed to increase your car's mileage per gallon.

Of course, as the complaint indicates, Prof. Humbolt's electric-light fluid did absolutely nothing, except separate people from their money.
Categories: Products, Scams
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 31, 2013
Comments (1)
Art fraud typically involves the copying or imitation of famous artists. For instance, Han van Meegeren made millions by claiming that his paintings were actually newly discovered works by Vermeer. But the recent case of Rashidi Barrett shows that it's also possible to make money by copying the work of relatively obscure artists.

Rashidi Barrett (image posted on his website)

Barrett's work generated positive buzz when he began showing it in Norfolk, Virginia around 2011. He used his job DJ-ing to promote his work — he called himself DJ Cornbread — and soon he was having exhibits at local galleries where he managed to sell some pieces, earning himself a few thousand dollars. He described his own style as "comic and pop-iconistic."

But trouble began brewing for Barrett in early 2013 when a rival artist was looking at one of his paintings on display in Harrisonburg's Artful Dodger gallery — an image of a child in a swing hanging from the fingers of a giant hand — and realized he had seen it before. Some searching on the internet revealed it was nearly identical to a work by a Brazilian artist, Matheus Lopez Castro. The rival artist told the gallery manager who then began investigating Barrett's other pieces and soon found a dozen more that were rip-offs of works by other artists. Barrett, in other words, was guilty of art plagiarism.

When confronted with the evidence, Barrett admitted what he'd done and posted an apology on his website (which is now offline):

I have recently been cited for fradulence in a recent artshow regarding some of my works. I have profitted from someone else work both finacially and in reputation. The originator of the aforementoned works has been contacted by me personally disclosing a voluntary settlement, the issue in its entirety and the dialogue has been nothing short of awesome.

It was concluded that what was done was clearly a mistake and that this will certainly make me a better painter. I offer my apologies to the people involved that have been affected by this. This affects my reputation as an artist but more importantly as a man. I temporarily suspended my site to address this matter as I do not take it lightly. A new portfolio will emerge once the site is restored.

Barrett returned some of the money he was paid. Apparently he's also now decided to give up art and music and try to remake his life in another field. Based on the grammar and spelling of his apology, I'm guessing that field won't be writing.

Examples of some of Barrett's derivative works are below.

Barrett's version (left); the original work of Matheus Lopez Castro, aka Mathiole (right)

Barrett's version (top); the original of Polish artist Adrian Knopik (bottom)

Barrett's version (left); the original of Brazilian artist Rubens LP (right)

Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 29, 2013
Comments (2)
Here's an example of a rumor that swept through an African community back in 1959. The story appeared in The Bakersfield Californian (Nov. 10, 1959).

Slave Girl For $7.14 All A Hoax
MOMBASA, Kenya (UPI) — Crowds of Africans who wanted to buy wives for $7.14 each have been told by the government that those stories about slave auctions were only rumor.

Local official W.P.M. Maigacho had to issue an official denial of the rumors after men from outlying tribes twice gathered in the town of Tononka, expecting to take part in a slave auction.

According to the rumors, native girls from a local mission were being sold for the equivalent of $7.14. The purchaser could take the girl to Mombasa and marry her, the rumors said.

I don't know what $7.14 would be in present-day money. Nor do I know what $7.14 would have been in East African Shillings, which was the currency in use in Kenya in 1959. However, one can assume it was a bargain rate for a wife. It seems like a strangely specific number. Why didn't they round down to $7.00?

Of course, perhaps this news story was itself a hoax — something dreamed up by a bored reporter in Africa. I haven't been able to find any other accounts of the rumor to verify that it occurred.
Categories: Sex/Romance, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 28, 2013
Comments (1)
The latest news from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is that a tortoise was found alive after being locked in a closet for 30 years. The story goes that the Almeida family lost their tortoise, Manuela, 30 years ago. They looked everywhere for her, but eventually concluded that she had run away. But when the father of the family, Leonel, died recently, the kids (now adults) were clearing out his room, and there, in the closet, was Manuela. Somehow she was still alive. []

How could this be? A Brazilian vet is quoted as saying that red-footed tortoises (Manuela's species) can go up to 2 or 3 years without food. But not 30 years! To explain this, the vet suggests that perhaps Manuela was eating termites off the wooden floor.

Nature can pull some amazing surprises, so I wouldn't say the story absolutely cannot be true. But I do have some questions:
  1. How does the family know it's the same turtle? Did they have old pictures of Manuela for comparison? If not, then how could they remember what the turtle looked like after 30 years? They may think they remember, but memories can deceive.
  2. How do they know the father wasn't feeding the turtle?
  3. Assuming the turtle was locked in the closet eating termites, how was it getting water?

Categories: Animals, Death
Posted by Alex on Sun Jan 27, 2013
Comments (2) reports that there appears to have been a dramatic increase in Jewish prisoners at Washington State prisons, based on food requests at these institutions. The evidence: in 2011 approximately 1 percent of the inmates requested special kosher meals. But now, 2 years later, almost 11 percent of inmates are requesting them.

Federal law requires that the state honors religious dietary requests. The problem is that the kosher meals are more expensive than normal meals — $6.80 more expensive per day, for each request. However, "experts are dubious of some prisoners' sincerity." That is, they doubt all these prisoners really are Jewish.

Gary Friedman, a former Jewish corrections chaplain and "a leading authority on dietary rules and regulations in the United States corrections system," theorizes that the prisoners have figured out a way to get what they think is safer, better food:

"The primary motivation is, they think it's safer. I can't count how many times it's happened, how many times it has come up, that you hear stories how (jails) buy food that is out of date or how inmate workers are tainting the food. So they think (kosher meals) are safer and it is of better quality."

Prisons can't deny the requests outright. So what they're doing instead is monitoring the behavior of the prisoners outside of the food hall — observing what items they purchase from the prison store and what they barter for. If the prisoners are caught engaging in non-Jewish behavior, their kosher food privileges are revoked.

Categories: Food, Religion
Posted by Alex on Sun Jan 27, 2013
Comments (2)
Rozel is a small town in the middle of Kansas. Population: 156. It was founded in 1886 — its main reason for existence being that it served as a stop on the Santa Fe railroad line. Throughout its history, it hasn't been in the news much. The one time it did receive national attention was back in 1897 when it supposedly disappeared, swallowed up by a giant sinkhole.

The report of its disappearance went out in November 1897 and appeared in papers nationwide, including the New York Times:

A Bottomless Pit Replaces Rozel on the Santa Fe Road

LARNED, Kansas, Nov. 18—Last night the railroad station at Rozel, on the Santa Fe Road, was supposed to rest on a firm foundation. This morning the place, which the night before had consisted of a station, two or three small elevators, and a few other small buildings, had disappeared completely from the face of the earth.

Investigation proved that the bottom had actually dropped out of the land upon which the village was situated and that it had disappeared into the bottomless chasm, the depth of which cannot be determined. The place was not inhabited.

The hole is about an acre and a half in extent, of an uneven oblong shape, with rough and almost perpendicular walls. It is filled to within about 75 feet of the surface with dark, stagnant-looking water, into which everything thrown, even lumber and light boards, immediately sinks. The depth of this water is unknown, as the longest ropes have as yet been unable to touch bottom.

However, the story of the town's disappearance came as a shock to the residents of Rozel, because as far as they could tell, the railroad station and surrounding buildings were all still there, intact.

Rozel circa 1900, sinkhole-free

No one is entirely sure who invented the story of the giant sinkhole, but the leading suspect is Dick Beeth, a station agent in Larned, the nearest town.

The story goes that the railroad company had recently decided to move the Rozel train depot elsewhere where it was more needed. So workers had loaded the entire building onto a boxcar and shipped it off. This left a shallow hole in the ground that filled with water when it rained. Locals who saw this hole joked that the depot had been swallowed by a sinkhole.

When Beeth heard this joke, it inspired him to send out a story on the telegraph wire claiming that the entire town had been swallowed by a sinkhole. Local Kansas papers picked up the story and ran it, and then it spread to the national news.

Map showing Rozel (on the far left) and Larned (on the right)

The "Rozel sinkhole" became a running joke in the region. But the fact that the story had been reported as fact in major newspapers continued to fool people for decades. In 1935, Professor Kenneth Landes, an assistant state geologist, wrote a booklet titled Scenic Kansas, in which he included the Rozel sinkhole as one of Kansas's more unusual sights, describing it as being one acre in size. A decade later, the Rozel sinkhole made its way into a Kansas school geography.

The town still remains standing to this day, its size and population not having changed much since 1897.
  • "Hoary Western Kansas Hoax Still Being Accepted As Something True," (Oct 20, 1952), The Hutchinson News-Herald.
  • Richard J. Heggen. (2009). Underground Rivers.
Categories: Journalism, Places
Posted by Alex on Sat Jan 26, 2013
Comments (2)
My New Years' resolution was to start posting regularly again here, since it makes me feel sad and guilty when I neglect the hoax museum. It's just too easy, when other things demand my attention, to fail to look after the site, given that there's no boss (except my conscience) to tell me to get back to work.

Now I didn't post any updates for the first 24 days of the year, so it may seem like I already broke my resolution. But not quite. I took the time to give the Hoax Archive a big makeover, which was sorely needed, though it turned out to be a lot more work than I had anticipated. Since the Hoax Archive was the original core of the site... how this all got started and out of which emerged the book version of the Museum of Hoaxes... I have a strong, sentimental attraction to it and hated seeing it grow increasingly disorganized. Also, since I recently reacquired the full rights to the Museum of Hoaxes book, I can now legally have everything in the book up on the site.

My goal was to make the Archive look more like galleries that could easily be browsed, and less like a blog. So people can now click through the time periods, from the middle ages to the present, and get a quick visual sense of the character of each period. It's also now much easier to quickly find a hoax, if you know roughly when it occurred. Check it out and let me know what you think.

And now (hopefully) back to regular blogging! (Yeah, I say this every time I resume blogging after a long break, and each time I mean it. With any luck, this'll be the time I stick to my commitment.)
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 25, 2013
Comments (5)