The Museum of Hoaxes
hoax archive hoax archive hoax archive hoax archive hoax archive
HOME   |   ABOUT   |   FORUM   |   CONTACT   |   FACEBOOK   |   RSS
The Top 100
April Fool Hoaxes
Of All Time
April Fool Archive
April fools throughout history
Hoax Photo
Archive

Weblog Category
Death
I periodically receive emails from people who insist I need to add global warming to the site because it's the "biggest hoax in human history." I don't agree with that. Actually, I think global warming is something that definitely merits being worried about. However, I did just add a global warming hoax to the hoax archive, which might make the global-warming-is-a-hoax crowd happy. Except that this hoax occurred in 1874.

It's a story that appeared in U.S. newspapers in February 1874. The premise was that scientists had discovered the earth was getting hotter and hotter. Europe was predicted to be tropical in 12 years, and soon after that the planet would become too hot to support life. The cause of this warming wasn't carbon emissions, but rather the recent laying of transatlantic telegraph cables, which were supposedly acting like giant electromagnets, pulling the earth into the sun.

This was a very minor nineteenth-century hoax. It didn't generate much interest at the time because it was pretty far-fetched. But it's more interesting to us today because of its depiction of man-made global warming. In fact, I suspect it may be the earliest fictional portrayal of global warming caused by man's technology. At least, I can't find any earlier examples.

The full article about the hoax is in the hoax archive. I've redirected comments there to avoid having duplicate threads.

Categories: Death, Journalism, Science
Posted by Alex on Mon May 21, 2012
Comments (0)
In his column on latimes.com, Brian Cronin examines the legend that Hall of Fame football coach George Allen got sick and died after being doused in gatorade by his team following a winning season.

Did a Gatorade shower kill George Allen?
latimes.com

After three straight losing seasons, Allen led the Long Beach 49ers to a season-ending victory over the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on November 17, 1990 that secured them a winning season.
Allen's team gave him a Gatorade shower (Allen noted that due to the budget issues, the team could not afford actual Gatorade, so it was just ice water). Six weeks later, Allen died. The story is most often told as "George Allen died from pneumonia that he caught from being doused with cold water and continuing to give interviews for a long time after the game."
There are a few problems with that story. First of all, as your middle school science teacher could tell you, being doused with cold water during a cold day does not cause pneumonia. Pneumonia is caused by a virus. It is an urban legend in and of itself that getting wet during a cold day causes pneumonia (or the common cold, for that matter). It does not. So Allen could not have caught pneumonia from the Gatorade shower. That's the first notable problem with that story. The second problem? George Allen did not die from pneumonia. Allen died from ventricular fibrillation, a variation of a cardiac arrest. Allen had a heart arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat) and in late December 1990, Allen's heart began to quiver rather than contract properly. This led to his death. This was not caused by a Gatorade shower received more than a month earlier.
Allen himself fed the story a bit by giving an interview soon before his death where he noted that he had had not felt well since the Gatorade shower. Allen's son, former Virginia Senator and Governor George Allen Jr. told Sam Borden of the New York Times, "He got a cold from it, but that was not the cause of his death. He had a heart arrhythmia. It had nothing to do with the Gatorade shower."

It's always seemed to me to be splitting hairs a bit to insist that being cold doesn't cause you to get a cold. It's certainly true that colds are caused by a virus. But being cold can stress your immune system, making you more susceptible to the cold virus. So in that sense it's true that being cold can give you a cold.
Categories: Death, Sports, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Fri May 18, 2012
Comments (0)
Mike McGrady was the mastermind behind the Naked Came the Stranger hoax of 1969. His aim was to show that any book with enough sex scenes, even if lacking in any other merit, could sell well. And the book he created to prove this point did sell well. Although its sales had a lot to do with the fact that McGrady's sister-in-law, the attractive Penelope Ashe, posed as its author. Which shows that the good looks of an author can definitely sell books. And, of course, the book sold even better once it was exposed as a hoax, demonstrating that there's no such thing as bad publicity.


Mike McGrady

Mike McGrady, Known for a Literary Hoax, Dies at 78
nytimes.com

Mike McGrady, a prizewinning reporter for Newsday who to his chagrin was best known as the mastermind of one of the juiciest literary hoaxes in America — the best-selling collaborative novel “Naked Came the Stranger,” whose publication in 1969 made “Peyton Place” look like a church picnic — died on Sunday in Shelton, Wash. He was 78 and lived in Lilliwaup, Wash. The cause was pneumonia, said Harvey Aronson, who with Mr. McGrady was a co-editor of the novel, written by 25 Newsday journalists in an era when newsrooms were arguably more relaxed and inarguably more bibulous.
Categories: Death, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Thu May 17, 2012
Comments (0)
The death last week of former Chargers linebacker Junior Seau was big news here in San Diego. But then, as deadspin.com reports, a rumor began circulating that his death had been predicted on Craigslist. Specifically, on May 1, a day before Seau died, this post apparently was posted on San Diego Craigslist:



The solution to this is simple. Someone must have edited the post after the fact to turn it into an accurate prediction. Either that, or Nostradamus has come back from the grave and is lurking around Craigslist. (But then, the prediction should have been in the form of a quatrain.)
Categories: Death, Sports
Posted by Alex on Mon May 07, 2012
Comments (0)
Late last week a strange story emerged alleging that Egypt's parliament was considering a 'Farewell Intercourse Law' to make it legal for Egyptian husbands to have sex with their dead wives for up to six hours after death. Why six hours? I assume to make sure the tender last moments are wrapped up before rigor mortis fully sets in. Though according to Wikipedia, rigor mortis begins after 3 to 4 hours, so that might be a bit awkward.

Naturally a lot of news orgs ran the story without bothering to do any kind of fact-checking. Then they had to backpedal after it became apparent there wasn't any kind of truth to the report.

TheAmericanMuslim.org tried to find the source of the story and traced it to a fringe Moroccan sheikh, Zamzami Abdelbari, who suggested (a while ago) that Islam might allow the practice. This recently inspired an Egyptian talk-show host to mention the idea. Then a pro-Mubarak columnist for Al-Ahram picked up on it, claiming it was an actual law that was being considered by the Islamist parliament. This provoked a TV commentary on the channel ON TV, which was then reported by the English website of Al-Arabiya. And this, finally, brought it to the attention of English-language news orgs that promptly ran the story. The whole thing was like an extended game of telephone.
Categories: Death, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 30, 2012
Comments (2)
In December 2008, two doctors published a study in the journal BMJ investigating what they called the "urban legend" that there's a link between Welsh rugby and papal deaths. Specifically, that "every time Wales win the rugby grand slam, a Pope dies, except for 1978 when Wales were really good, and two Popes died."

They found that there was indeed a "borderline significant (P=0.047) association between Welsh performance and the number of papal deaths but no significant association between papal mortality and performance of any other home nation."

But despite this weak association, they nevertheless dismissed the theory of the pope-rugby link as "nothing more than an urban myth, based largely on two Welsh grand slam wins in recent memory."


This year, Wales won a grand slam again, but the pope didn't die. Perhaps this should have put the special theory of papal rugby to rest. But a recent letter in BMJ cautions us not to dismiss the theory too quickly. If Coptic Popes are added into the mix, the pope-rugby link appears to become quite robust:

The authors have correctly stated the null hypothesis based on the saying “every time Wales win the rugby grand slam, a Pope dies, except for 1978 when Wales were really good, and two Popes died.” However they have only included Roman Catholic Popes in the outcome measures thus altering the statistical analysis to create a potentially false reassurance.

This year saw the death of the Coptic Pope, Shenouda III , on the very day that Wales won the grand slam. He was pope for 41 years and succeeded Cyril VI, who died in 1971, in the same month that Wales won the grand slam again. Coptic Popes are the heads of the ancient See of Alexandria and directly follow on from Mark the evangelist, thus having a legitimate claim to the title. Since the researchers sought to test the possibillity that there was a link between Welsh grand slam rugby victories and the death of a Pope it is crucial that this new information be brought to the attention of your readership. The relationship between these deaths and the sporting events may not be fully understood, however I believe that the original research has created a false reassurance and may be putting the lives of other Popes at risk.
Categories: Death, Sports
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 23, 2012
Comments (0)
Back in ninth-century Japan, there was a religious charlatan who earned the title bei-fun-hijiri or "saint of rice excrements". Before telling how he acquired this title, I should relate how I came across his story, which was in a rather roundabout way.

First, I came across a post on the Of Small Wonders & Great Wanders blog about the ancient art of self-mummification, developed by ascetic monks of the Shingon sect in northern Japan:

It was initiated by Kobo Daishi (774-835), who took the decision to end his days meditating in a cave. His disciples later found that his body was mummified, which was quite mystical! The Sokushinbutsu tradition developed from there and consisted on willingly becoming a mummy by having a special diet to dry your body.

This led me to wikipedia page about Sokushinbutsu, which further explains:

Sokushinbutsu were Buddhist monks or priests who caused their own deaths in a way that resulted in their mummification. This practice reportedly took place almost exclusively in northern Japan around the Yamagata Prefecture. It is believed that many hundreds of monks tried, but only between 16 and 24 such mummifications have been discovered to date. The practice is not advocated or practised today by any Buddhist sect...

For 1,000 days the priests would eat a special diet consisting only of nuts and seeds, while taking part in a regimen of rigorous physical activity that stripped them of their body fat. They then ate only bark and roots for another thousand days and began drinking a poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree, normally used to lacquer bowls.

This caused vomiting and a rapid loss of bodily fluids, and most importantly, it made the body too poisonous to be eaten by maggots. Finally, a self-mummifying monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, where he would not move from the lotus position. His only connection to the outside world was an air tube and a bell. Each day he rang a bell to let those outside know that he was still alive.

When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed. After the tomb was sealed, the other monks in the temple would wait another 1,000 days, and open the tomb to see if the mummification was successful. If the monk had been successfully mummified, they were immediately seen as a Buddha and put in the temple for viewing. Usually, though, there was just a decomposed body. Although they were not viewed as a true Buddha if they were not mummified, they were still admired and revered for their dedication and spirit.


The self-mummified body of Chûkai Shônin

The wikipedia page, in turn, led me to a 1962 article in the Journal History of Religions: "Self-Mummified Buddhas in Japan," by Ichiro Hori. The article provides a great deal of information about the development of the art of self-mummification — much much detail than I'll go into here. The important point (since it leads us to the Saint of Rice Excrements) is that Hori argues that the self-mummification ritual emerged out of the practice of abstention from cereals (mokujiki-gyô). That is, the practice of not eating rice and subsisting only on fruits and nuts.

Abstention from cereals was considered an important training exercise for Shingon ascetics since a) it required a lot of willpower, and b) it was believed to give one superhuman powers. But of course, human nature being what it is, there were those on the no-cereal diet who cheated. Which leads us, finally, to the Saint of Rice Excrements. I'll let Ichiro Hori tell the rest of the story.

There is the case reported by the Montoku Jitsuroku (Official Record during the Reign of Emperor Montoku, 850-58) in which an upâsaka who came to Kyoto in 854 announced that he abstained from cereals. An imperial edict provided him with a lodging in the Imperial Garden named Shinsen-en, and he there became the object of worship by the citizens of Kyoto, who asked him to pray for them and the welfare of their private affairs. Many women especially were dazzled by the brilliance of his reputation. After about a month, however, someone claimed that he was eating rice at midnight and going to the toilet early every morning. Others then spied upon his doings and discovered high piles of rice excrement. As a result, public estimation for him rapidly declined, and he was dubbed a bei-fun-hijiri (saint of rice excrements).
Categories: Death, Food, Religion
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 17, 2012
Comments (0)
If you're declared dead on twitter, it doesn't mean much anymore — especially if you're Justin Bieber. But if a major bank declares you dead, that can really screw up your finances if you happen to still be alive. This happened to Arthur Livingston (who lives, oddly enough, in a town called Prosperity).

Bank of America reported him dead. Livingston only found this out when he tried to get a new mortgage. But no one would loan him money because he was supposed to be dead. It cost Livingston thousands of dollars to sort out the mistake. Bank of America has apologized, but of course, it hasn't offered him any compensation for its screw-up. Link: ABC News.
Categories: Business/Finance, Death
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 14, 2012
Comments (0)
As far as death hoaxes goes, this is a strange one, both because it involves a chimp and also because it's a fake death report of someone who died long ago.

The story began last week, around Christmas, when it was reported that Cheetah, the chimp who played Tarzan's sidekick in the 1930s Tarzan films, had died at the ripe old age of 80. He had apparently spent the last decades of his life at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Florida. The cause of death was kidney failure.

I remember seeing the headlines about the death and thinking it was odd a chimp could live that long. And sure enough, primate experts quickly disputed the story, saying there was no way a chimp could live to be 80. Chimps that live to 60 are considered very, very old. If Cheetah had lived to be 80, he would have been, by far, the oldest chimp in the world -- ever.

Nevertheless, Debbie Cobb, the director of the Sanctuary, is standing by her story. She insists that the chimp that died was acquired by the Sanctuary around 1960, at which time he was already close to 30. But unfortunately no documentation exists to prove the chimp's age.

So, given the lack of documentation and the dubious longevity of the chimp, it seems safe to assume that the chimp who died never starred in any Tarzan films. Links: abc news, ny times.
Categories: Animals, Death
Posted by Alex on Sun Jan 01, 2012
Comments (1)
Geoffrey Crawley, who played a role in debunking the Cottingley Fairy hoax, died recently on October 29. The New York Times ran an interesting article about his life. From the article:
From the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, Mr. Crawley was editor in chief of the magazine British Journal of Photography. His 10-part series exposing the Cottingley fairy photographs as fakes appeared there in 1982 and 1983. Mr. Crawley had been asked to determine the authenticity of the photos in the late 1970s. “My instant reaction was amusement that it could be thought that the photographs depicted actual beings,” he wrote in 2000. But he came to believe, as he wrote, that “the photographic world had a duty, for its own self-respect,” to clarify the record.

I've always thought it was strange that it took sixty years for the fairy photos to be fully debunked, even though the hoax itself wasn't particularly sophisticated.
Categories: Death, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 16, 2010
Comments (7)
November 17 was the 20th anniversary of the Czech "velvet revolution." One of the events that triggered it was the spread of a rumor alleging that mathematics student Martin Smid had been beaten to death by police. Smid, however, was very much alive, and he still is. To this day, he has no idea how his name got attached to the rumor. From agonist.org:

After a bloody crackdown on a non-violent student march in Prague on November 17, 1989, a woman falsely claimed that the riot police had beaten to death her friend, a 19-year-old mathematics student named Martin Smid.
Reports of the alleged death spread like wildfire, rousing ordinary people from their lethargy and igniting the peaceful coup that brought back democracy to Czechs and Slovaks.
Twenty years later, the motivations of the women's false claim - and the role of journalists in spreading it - remains clouded in mystery.

There's more about the Martin Smid rumor at radio.cz.
Categories: Death
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 19, 2009
Comments (5)
Patty Henken found a small envelope in a rocking chair she bought at auction. In the envelope was a key and a note giving her directions to where $250 in U.S. gold coins was supposedly buried in a lead chest. The note was signed "Chauncey Wolcott." There was also a request to contact the State Journal-Register newspaper of Springfield, if the treasure was found. The Associated Press tells the rest:

With help of a donated backhoe, Patty Henken tore up a vacant lot in Springfield, Ill...
The dig turned up nothing but bricks and old bottles. Henken planned to return Tuesday with the donated services of a man with ground-penetrating radar meant to detect any buried items, but the treasure note's promise may already be debunked.
An Iowa woman who read news accounts of the hunt said she knows Wolcott's true identity: John "Jay" Slaven, a notorious practical joker and coin collector who often used a typewriter in his pranks.
Slaven used the pen name "Chauncey Wolcott" and lived for decades at the location where the dig took place, until his 1976 death, according to Betty Atkinson Ryan of Mason City, Iowa.
Categories: Death, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 05, 2009
Comments (12)
Page 2 of 13 pages  < 1 2 3 4 >  Last ›