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Here's a curious email I just received:

Hallo! My name is Wojciech Krajewski. I come from Poland. I'm collecting museum entry tickets. I would be very happy if I have got in my collection ticket from Yours. I hope that my favour won't be a problem for You and that you won't leave it without answer. I give my regards to you and thank you very much.

I'd really like to help this guy out. But what should I send him?
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Fri Aug 12, 2005
Comments (45)
I was procrastinating by typing my name in the search box at Amazon.com and seeing if anything would come up besides my book. To my surprise, a biography of myself popped up in the search results. It cost $1.50 and stated that it was 540 words long. I wasn't about to pay for it, but I told my mother about it, and she couldn't resist. So she bought the thing. The 'biography' seems to be a summary of the publicity info about me that the publisher of my first book sent out to the media three years ago. I'm guessing that my mother was probably the first one to ever buy it. But here's the part about it that I like. While they're describing my book they make a mistake. They state that:

In 2002, Boese compiled a book version of The Museum of Hoaxes that includes hundreds of scams, pranks, and deceptions dating as far back as the Middle Ages. In addition to the tricks and forgeries featured on his Web site, recent hoaxes are also described, including the case of nonexistent film critic David Manning, who enthusiastically promoted Sony films, and the recurring report circulated via the Internet that KFC no longer serves meat from chickens, but rather from "genetically engineered organisms."

However, I never mention the KFC Frankenchicken legend anywhere in The Museum of Hoaxes (the book). I purposefully didn't include it because it's an urban legend, not a hoax. In fact, I don't think I mention it anywhere on the site either (though I could be wrong about that... maybe it's hidden away somewhere). So I'm not sure how this piece of information got into my bio. But I like the fact that it's there because it introduces a slightly hoaxy element into the biography, which is appropriate.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Mon Aug 08, 2005
Comments (10)
So I'm finally back in San Diego. I had a great vacation, but it involved a lot of driving which got tiring after a while, so it's good to be home. Here are a few of the hoax-related highlights of my trip (which started in Washington DC and ended in Minneapolis):

Grovers Mill
This is the one thing that I got a chance to post about (see below) while I was actually on the road, because the hotel I was staying at that night in Roxbury, NY happened to offer internet connection. But that turned out to be my last chance to connect to the internet during the trip.

The Cardiff Giant
After leaving Roxbury, NY we drove up to Cooperstown, NY. Most people visit Cooperstown to check out the Baseball Hall of Fame, but I'm not a baseball fan, so I was there to check out the Farmer's Museum, home of the Cardiff Giant. The Farmer's Museum turned out to be a lot more interesting than I expected. I thought it was going to be a museum full of tractors and other farm implements, but it's actually set up as a recreation of a 19th century farming community, complete with actors dressed in period costumes who pretend to be part of the community (kind of like Williamsburg). In the middle of the museum's grounds there's a carnival tent in which the Giant lies. An actor stands outside of the tent pretending to be a carnival barker, urging people to come on in and see the Giant. Once a crowd has gathered he explains the history of the Giant, and he actually did a really good job of telling the story right. I half expected that the museum would gloss over the religious aspects of the Giant's story, but the 'interpreter' made it very clear that the Giant was created by an atheist as a spoof of Biblical literalism.
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CSICOP
The next day (after spending the night in the Fingers Lake region of New York where we did some wine tasting), we drove to Buffalo and stopped off at the offices of the Center for Skeptical Inquiry (aka CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal). They're the publishers of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. I got a tour of their offices. Joe Nickell showed me around his office (center picture), and I posed for a shot with Ben Radford, editor of Skeptical Inquirer. Ben also had lunch with my wife and me before we took off for Niagara Falls.
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Marvin's Marvelous Museum
After visiting the Falls, and spending the night in Canada, the next hoax stop was Detroit, home of Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum. I didn't really know what to expect before I arrived at Marvin's Museum. All I knew was that he had on exhibit P.T. Barnum's fake copy of the Cardiff Giant (a fake of a fake, so to speak). But his small museum, tucked away in a strip mall in a Detroit suburb, turned out to contain so much more. I was completely blown away by it. Marvin's collected all kinds of bizarre coin-operated oddities. There are a few of the mechanical fortune tellers often found at carnivals, but he also has other coin-operated machines that are far more ghoulish and bizarre. For instance, there's a machine that recreates a man being electrocuted in an electric chair (it ends with smoke billowing out of the machine), as well as a machine that recreates (with extreme realism) a bum vomiting into a trash can. The pictures below show the outside of his museum, me posing with Marvin in front of the fake Cardiff Giant, and the electric chair exhibit (somewhat obscured by a flash).
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The Forevertron
After Detroit we drove through Michigan, crossed Lake Michigan by ferry, and spent a couple of days in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (where, by accident, we got to meet the mayor). But the next hoaxy thing we visited was the Forevertron, a piece of massive metal sculpture that doubles as an anti-gravity machine located in the middle of Wisconsin. Unfortunately we arrived on a day when the Forevertron happened to be closed, much to our disappointment. I could see the Forevertron in the distance if I peered over the fence, but I couldn't get up close to it. The lesson here was that we should have looked at the opening hours posted on the Forevertron website more closely (though we couldn't have changed our schedule anyway). However, the trip wasn't a complete waste. Down the road in the Wisconsin Dells we found a giant fake dinosaur looming above a gas station.
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In terms of hoaxes, that was pretty much it for the trip. After Wisconsin we drove to Minneapolis where we spent a couple of days visiting family. I got a chance to visit the Mall of America, but unfortunately that wasn't a hoax.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 19, 2005
Comments (19)
So I managed to finish the first draft of my book the night before I flew to Virginia to spend the 4th of July weekend with my parents. And yesterday my wife and I started off on our driving tour of the east coast. Today we arrived in Grovers Mill, New Jersey (the first stop on our 'hoax tour'), where in 1938 Martians supposedly landed, thereby launching a mass panic throughout the United States. Here I am getting out of our rented car in Grovers Mill.
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The first thing we went to see was the War of the Worlds Memorial, located in a park in the center of town. To call Grovers Mill a town is actually a bit of an overstatement... a small collection of houses would be a more accurate description of it. To get to the memorial you have to walk across the park. As we did this we rapidly discovered that this park was home to more animal crap than any other park in the world. There literally wasn't a square foot of grass free of animal droppings. I think they were from deer. It was like navigating a minefield. Anyway, we finally arrived at the memorial safe and sound. Just behind the memorial is the scenic Grovers Mill Pond (note: sarcasm... the pond is like a stagnant wasteland).
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The next thing we wanted to see was the water tower that local residents had supposedly shot at, mistaking it for a martian. After a lot of searching, driving up and down the main road, we couldn't find it. So finally we asked the guy at the local auto parts/gardening store for directions. It turned out that the tower was right next door to the parts store, but you couldn't see it because trees had grown up all around it, totally concealing it. We had walked right past it. Apparently the man whose property it stands on doesn't like people coming to look at it, so he's allowed it to get grown over. You can only catch a small glimpse of it through the branches of the trees. The guy at the auto parts store told us that a photographer from the NY Times had been out there the week before to get a picture of the tower (because of the new War of the Worlds movie that just came out, and which I haven't seen yet), but he finally gave up, concluding that it was impossible to get a picture of it.
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So that was Grovers Mill. Tonight we're in Roxbury, in upstate New York. Tomorrow we head further upstate to see the Cardiff Giant in Cooperstown.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 06, 2005
Comments (21)
I thought I had reached a point where I was almost done with the book and would have more time to focus on the site again. Sadly, I was mistaken. It turned out that there was still a LOT left to do (clearing permissions for images, finishing a few chapters, editing, etc.). So that's why I haven't been posting much stuff lately. And I might as well admit that until July, I may not be able to post anything more because I really need to focus totally on the book. But come July, I have to be done, because my wife and I are going on vacation then (a long-planned vacation), and she's told me that I WILL NOT still be working on the book then, so that's pretty much an absolute deadline. So I should be able to resume posting then.

My wife and I will be doing a driving tour of hoaxes and wineries in the Northeastern U.S. After spending July 4 with my parents, we'll be driving up to Grovers Mill in New Jersey (where the Martians landed in 1938), then on up to Cooperstown, NY where the Cardiff Giant is. We'll next spend some time in the Niagara Falls area (visit some wineries in that region), then head over to Detroit where the fake Cardiff giant is. Next we drive to the Forevertron antigravity machine in Wisconsin, and finish up in Minneapolis where we're visiting family. Hopefully we'll also find lots of other interesting stuff along the way. I'm bringing along my laptop, so I should be able to post pictures of the trip as I go along (if I can find wireless internet connection along the way).

On another topic, after much debate my publisher and I have finally settled on a title for the book. My original title was the FAKE REALITY FIELD GUIDE, but that got canned because it was deemed not fun/quirky enough. So instead we've settled on HIPPO EATS DWARF: A FIELD GUIDE TO HOAXES AND OTHER FORMS OF B.S.

Hippo Eats Dwarf refers to the media hoax of the same name. We chose it basically because it's such a strange phrase, so it provides some indication that the book is full of strange things. I was a little worried that the dwarf (or 'little people') community would take offense, but I hope not. 'A field guide to hoaxes' is obvious. 'And other forms of b.s.' was settled on after a lot of discussion. The book is full of things that are kind of hoaxy, but not quite hoaxes: botox masks, Michael Jackson's nose, imaginary girlfriends, bizarre reality tv concepts, staged political events, etc. I was referring to all of this as 'fake reality', but my publisher convinced me that most people browsing books in a bookstore wouldn't know what that meant. So we settled on 'b.s.' instead because there seems to be a surge of interest in studies about b.s. (such as Harry Frankfurt's On Bullshit, and Laura Penny's Your Call is Important To Us: The Truth About Bullshit). The marketing people at my publisher figured that 'b.s.' would better convey what I was talking about. Plus, it's funnier.

I'm still kind of fond of 'The Fake Reality Field Guide', but my publisher is probably right that not enough people would understand what I was referring to.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Tue Jun 21, 2005
Comments (33)
image I have the good fortune of having a site that ranks relatively high in search engines. But this also means that I have the misfortune of easily attracting the attention of anyone out there who might object to something on my site, or who might want to claim that I'm infringing their copyright by my use of some material. So, in the past, I've had National Geographic threaten me, plus I've had complaints from the Time Travel Mutual Fund and the Human-Flavored Tofu Company (see below), among others.

Now the British Science and Society Picture Library has joined this list. They've sent me a cease-and-desist letter demanding that I either remove all images of the Cottingley Fairies from my site, or pay them a licensing fee for their use.

This raises an interesting legal question. The Cottingley Fairy images were taken in 1917 and published (in England) in 1920. They were also published in America. The earliest American publication of them that I'm aware of is the American edition of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Coming of the Fairies (George H. Doran Co., New York, 1922).

U.S. law states that everything published in America before 1923 is now in the public domain. Therefore, in America the Cottingley fairy images are in the public domain. But the law in the U.K. is that the images remain under copyright for 70 years after the death of the photographer. The two women who took the images died in the 1980s, so the images will remain copyrighted in Britain until around 2050.

So do the British copyrights have any legal status in America? I'm not sure. The closest parallel I can find is the case of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, which is copyrighted in the UK, but is in the public domain in the US. Efforts to enforce the UK copyrights in America have not been successful. When Project Gutenberg made the text of Peter Pan freely available on its site, it simply added a disclaimer noting that the text was public domain in the U.S., but not elsewhere.

So for now I'm telling the Science and Society Picture Library that the images are remaining exactly where they are. I've already traded five or six emails with them about this, and they don't seem willing to give up their claim. But I don't think they have a valid case, so I'm not budging.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 02, 2005
Comments (44)
image A new book about hoaxes has just come out. A Treasury of Deception: Liars, Misleaders, Hoodwinkers, and the Extraordinary True Stories of History's Greatest Hoaxes, Fakes, and Frauds by Michael Farquhar. The publisher (Penguin) sent me a free copy to help promote the book--which means that we get to have another book give-away contest! The winner gets the book. However, I can't think of a good contest to have (my brain is just too tired right now). I'm inclined to do another urban-legend/hoax haiku contest, since that was pretty fun last time. However, I thought I'd take suggestions first. If anyone can think of a fun contest, leave your suggestion in the comments. Otherwise, in about a week, I'll do another hoax haiku thing.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 01, 2005
Comments (45)
I haven't posted for a couple of days. I was just too busy. I had to turn in something to my editor by June 1 (today), which I managed to do. So I've had a few late nights in the past week. Anyway, I now should have more time for the site again, though I'm not completely done with the book yet. I still have a few more chapters, but they're relatively easy ones.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 01, 2005
Comments (18)
Tomorrow (May 26) I'm going to be a guest on an NPR show, Odyssey, which is broadcast out of Chicago. Not that I'm going all the way to Chicago for the show. I'll be in the NPR studios in San Diego. The topic of the show will be "Falling for Hoaxes": From Piltdown Man to crop circles, history is littered with hoaxes that have grabbed headlines and fooled the public. So why do we keep falling for them? (my answer: because we're idiots!)

The other guest will be a historian from UC Davis, Michael Saler. The two of us will be having a discussion with the host, Gretchen Helfrich, and we'll take questions from callers at the end of the show (from what I understand). I've been getting quite a lot of media attention lately, what with being on the Paula Zahn show a week or two ago. I have the Runaway Bride to thank for it all. Anyway, the show will be on at noon Chicago time, if you want to listen. But not all NPR affiliates carry the show.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Thu May 26, 2005
Comments (11)
I haven't been posting as much to the site lately. That's because the deadline for turning in the manuscript for my next book is fast approaching. It's due in about two weeks, so posting in the near future will probably be even lighter. I'm finding it hard to focus on the book and the site at the same time, so the site temporarily has to go on auto-pilot. But I'm not going to disappear entirely. There will be scattered posts. I just can't promise that they'll appear regularly.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Mon May 23, 2005
Comments (5)
Some of you have asked about the images of the Museum that appeared in the piece on CNN. They were created by Eric Schucard of Carlsbad, CA about a month ago (he was hoping I could get USA Today to run them, but no such luck). I've uploaded them so everyone can check them out. At some point (when I'm done with the book) I'll redesign my 'About the Museum' page to incorporate them.
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Categories: Miscellaneous, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue May 03, 2005
Comments (5)
If you watch the Paula Zahn Show on CNN tonight (monday, May 2) you'll see an interesting guest: Me! They wanted someone who could blab on about hoaxes for a couple of minutes, so I fit the part. I didn't get to speak to Paula herself. In fact, I was actually looking at the wall during the entire interview while speaking to a reporter on speakerphone. It airs 8-9pm Eastern time, and 5-6pm Pacific. I think they're going to have a segment about 2 minutes long in which they're interviewing me.
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Mon May 02, 2005
Comments (30)
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