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Everyone assumed that the Duluth Northland News Center team was outside during the coverage of the "Christmas City of the North" Parade on Nov 22. After all, they were wearing heavy jackets. But it turns out they were inside, in front of a green screen. But the News Director insists there was no deception because, if you want to get technical about it, they never actually said they were outside. [jimromenesko,]

Categories: Journalism
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 28, 2013
Comments (0)
There's a long history of sea-serpent sightings off the coast of New England.

A flurry of sightings occurred in August 1817, when fishermen in Gloucester, Massachusetts witnessed a giant sea creature with a horned head ("much like the head of a turtle... and larger than the head on any dog") swimming in the ocean. A local scientific society launched an investigation and concluded that the creature might be a previously unknown species, Scoliophis atlanticus (Atlantic humped snake). However, skeptics denounced the sightings as a hoax.

Broadsheet sold by Henry Bowen of Boston - Aug 22, 1817

As the years passed, reports of a sea serpent continued to trickle in. But it was in 1937 that the New England Sea Monster returned to the nation's headlines in spectacular fashion.

The excitement started in early August of that year when fisherman Bill Manville rushed in to the office of the Nantucket Inquirer & Mirror claiming he had seen a "green sea monster — which reared its head several times off his starboard bow before turning seaward." He elaborated that the creature was about one hundred feet long with a head like a barrel and red-rimmed glaring eyes the size of dinner plates.

The report of Manville's sighting got picked up by the news wires and ran in papers throughout the country.

Charleston Daily Mail - Aug 8, 1937

Some in Nantucket suggested that Manville might have been "seeing things," but his sighting was seconded a day later by amateur fisherman (and teetotaler — as the local paper was quick to point out) Gilbert Manter, who saw the creature while he was fishing for bluefish off Smith's point.

Manter said that the creature "looked like a combination snake and whale, with a head much bigger than the neck." He added that it was grayish green with "sort of a horned head" and was "something like 120 feet long and stood up at least a dozen feet out of the water."

Manter walked down to Madaket Beach the following morning with a friend, Ed Crocker, in the hope of seeing the creature again. They didn't see the monster, but they did find "giant web-footed tracks" in the sand. The prints measured 66-inches long and 45-inches wide.

Photos of the tracks appeared in papers, and copies were sent to scientists in New York City for analysis. However, the scientists proved to be skeptical. Dr. W. Reid Blair, director of the New York Zoological Society, said:

"No marine mammal could have left the tracks as they do not move so much on their flippers as they do on their second joint and on their bellies. Evidence of their passage would be seen on the beach only in a slight indentation. As for a land mammal, there is nothing on Nantucket Island that could leave such large tracks."

But Blair's skepticism proved to be unfounded when, a few days later, the sea serpent itself, in its entirety, washed ashore. It was indeed about 120 feet long, with large teeth. However, it had no horn on its head.

It was also a giant, inflatable balloon.

The Nantucket Sea Serpent was revealed to have been an elaborate publicity stunt designed to get Nantucket in the news. The "monster" had been designed by Tony Sarg, the puppeteer in charge of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

After stirring up interest with the initial "sightings" (done with the collusion of the local paper), Sarg and his crew put the monster balloon in the water at Coatue beach, hoping to land it at the Jetties. But the balloon veered off course, landing instead at South Beach on Washington Street.

Tony Sarg poses with the monster

Large crowds turned out to see the unusual sight, which remained in place for several weeks. Numerous photographs of the sea serpent on the beach have been preserved by the Nantucket Historical Association.

The Nantucket promoters reportedly felt that the stunt was a resounding success and congratulated each other for the "cash value of the space" obtained in the press for Nantucket.

The monster made another appearance a few months later, floating above the streets of Manhattan, when it participated in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

  • "Tony Sarg's Sea Serpent in Nantucket 1937," Nantucket Historical Association, Flickr photo set.
  • Holidays on Display: Building the modern parade. National Museum of American History.
  • Grieder, JE & Charnes G. (2012). Nantucket. p.92.
  • MacDougall, C.D. (1940). Hoaxes. The Macmillan Company. p. 256.
  • "Seein' things at Nantucket, Mass., Again," (Aug 11, 1937). The Hammond Times.
  • "Nantucket Monster Sighted By Two Men," (Aug 11, 1937). Logansport Pharos-Tribune.
  • "The Nantucket Sea Serpent Exposes and Derided," (Oct 31, 1937). The Helena Daily Independent.
Categories: Cryptozoology
Posted by Alex on Thu Nov 28, 2013
Comments (1)
If you're curious about what it would be like to live in a shanty town, but you don't actually want to set foot in a real shanty town, then perhaps the Emoya Luxury Hotel & Spa's "Shanty Town" might be for you. It's a "unique accommodation experience" located near Bloemfontein, South Africa. The Emoya website says:

Experience an unique stay at our Shanty Town (Mkukhu Villlage / Shack Village) where you have to use the famous "long-drop" outside toilet and make your own fire for hot water in the traditional "donkey". This is the first ever shanty town in the world equipped with under-floor heating and wireless internet access.

This falls under the umbrella of Reality Tourism. Other examples that I've posted about include the "Khmer Rouge Experience Cafe" in Cambodia, where you get to sample the kind of watery gruel that people ate in the Killing Fields, and Croatian Club Med, where tourists are issued convict uniforms and get to pound large stones with a sledgehammer.

A similar example that I once posted about on Weird Universe is London's Rough Luxe Hotel, where for over £200 a night you get to stay in a room where the paint is peeling off the walls.

(Shanty Town story via Gizmodo).
Categories: Places
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 27, 2013
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The premise of Invisible Girlfriend is that if you need to pretend that you have a girlfriend (for instance, if a guy is trying to hide the fact that he's gay) this company will provide you with convincing proof to back up your story.

Matt Homann, its founder, says, "This is the business of helping [clients] tell a lie — we’re thinking of it more as a shield — to have the excuse ready in hand and not have to be uncomfortable." [BuzzFeed]

Fake girlfriend services are not new. I've posted about quite a few of them here, including, Cloud Girlfriend, Girlfriend Hire, and

This market niche seems to have become quite crowded.

Categories: Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 27, 2013
Comments (2)
Someone calling himself Michael Mikrivaz (his YouTube username) made charcoal reproductions of works by the early-20th-century Russian abstract artist Kazimir Malevich (whose art now regularly sells for millions of dollars). He then took these sketches to several art academies, claiming they were his own works, and asked for an opinion on his chances of getting in.

Two academies told him that, based on these works, he wouldn't get accepted.

This is an example of what I call the "Spurious Submission" type of hoax. (I've been trying to think of a better term for it for a long time, but nothing has occurred to me.)

The idea is to discredit some gatekeeper of the art or literary world by demonstrating their poor judgement. So the hoaxer takes an acknowledged masterpiece, disguises it a bit, and then submits it to a critic for evaluation. Typically the critic will fall directly into the trap, dismissing the masterpiece as amateurish.

The earliest example of this type of hoax that I've found dates back to circa 1892, when a hoaxer sent disguised copies of a work by John Milton to publishers, most of whom rejected it.

The most famous example occurred in 1982 when Chuck Ross retyped the script of Casablanca, changed its title to "Everybody Comes to Rick's," and submitted it to movie agents as a script supposedly by an unknown writer, "Erik Demos." The majority of the agents promptly rejected it.
Categories: Art
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 27, 2013
Comments (0)
The International Business Times reports that a "fake image" purporting to show the "world's largest tortoise" being transported on a flatbed truck has recently been circulating online.

I think it's been circulating for at least half a year, but it's not correct to call it a fake image. It's a still from Gamera The Brave (a 2006 Japanese monster movie) that has been falsely captioned. Here's another picture of the "world's largest tortoise" in action:

The question that popped into my head is whether the creature in the image is a tortoise or a turtle. The distinction between the two has always been a bit hazy in my mind.

According to, tortoises live on land while turtles live in the water. But wikipedia notes that in North America it's common to use 'turtle' as a generic term for all reptiles of the chelonian order (i.e. turtles and tortoises get lumped together).

Gamera is commonly referred to as both a turtle and a tortoise. But since he walks on his back legs, flies, and breathes fire, it doesn't really seem important to get fussy about what kind of reptile he's classified as.
Categories: Animals, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 26, 2013
Comments (1)
Dayna Morales, a server at the Gallop Asian Bistro in New Jersey, says that a couple she recently waited on not only didn't tip her, but also left a note on the receipt criticizing her lifestyle. So Morales took a photo of the receipt and uploaded it to the facebook page of the "Have A Gay Day" organization.

The photo attracted a lot of publicity and sympathetic supporters soon sent Morales almost $3000, which she says she's donating to charity.

But the twist in the story: a couple has contacted a local news station claiming they were the ones whom Morales served and a) they did tip her (almost 20%), and b) they didn't write any note on the receipt.

They have a customer copy of the receipt that matches the one Morales posted online, and their credit card statement shows they were charged the higher, tip-included amount — which lends credibility to their side of the story.

There seems to be a trend emerging here. It was a little over a month ago that doubts were cast on a very similar case in which a waitress at Red Lobster claimed a customer wrote a racist note on the receipt (and also didn't tip her).
Categories: Hate Crimes/Terror
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 26, 2013
Comments (4)
When tornadoes struck the Midwest last week, some unusual photo fakes managed to get past the media fact-checkers who try to catch these things before publishing or broadcasting them.

The WTHR website posted a photo (submitted by an "iwitness contributor") that showed downtown Lafayette being threatened by both a fake tornado and a UFO. []

The fake — with red arrow added by reporter Eric Weddle to show the UFO

The original

And Chicago CBS affiliate WBBM ran a tornado photo that included a small man-cow love sign photoshopped into the bottom-left corner. The photo itself actually showed a tornado in Oklahoma several months earlier. [deadspin]

Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Sun Nov 24, 2013
Comments (0)
In August 2012, a jury awarded Apple over $1 billion in damages in their patent infringement case against Samsung. This sparked a rumor that Samsung had gotten its own back against Apple by paying the fine entirely in nickels — sending 30 trucks full of nickels over to Apple's headquarters.

A video of a bunch of delivery trucks driving down a city street was offered as confirmation of the rumor — although the trucks in the video weren't from Samsung. A picture also circulated showing coins pouring down a ramp in some warehouse setting.

The Guardian posted a good article debunking the rumor, pointing out:
  1. The fine wasn't yet payable, because the judge hadn't made his decision.
  2. Private businesses are not required to accept any form of coin or currency as payment, despite a popular belief to the contrary.
  3. It would require 2,755 trucks to transport that many nickels, not 30.
  4. There's probably not that many nickels in circulation.
  5. The "payment in nickels" rumor originated from El Deforma, an Onion-like Mexican website specializing in fake news.
Several days ago (Nov. 21) a new jury decision was announced in a retrial of the damages. Samsung now only has to pay Apple $290 million. But that appears to have started the "payment in nickels" rumor circulating again.

I can think of several real-life cases of people who paid fines or fees in coins, just to be annoying. For instance, Washington resident John Patric perennially ran for state elections during the 1950s and 60s, and always insisted on paying the filing fee with loose change. He also always listed his name as "John 'Hugo N. Frye' Patric".

In 2012, Thomas Daigle of Massachusetts carted 62000 pennies to the bank to make his final mortgage payment. [ABC News]

And also in 2012, a man calling himself "Bacon Moose" paid a $137 traffic fine with 137 dollar bills, all folded into origami pigs. [HuffPost]
Categories: Business/Finance
Posted by Alex on Sat Nov 23, 2013
Comments (2)
If you need a meringue top for a pie, and you need it fast, then look no further than They're the "Internet's #1 meringue delivery service." Their fleet of eMeringue trucks are gassed up and ready to hit the highway, to deliver your meringue top directly to your door.

eMeringue was an April Fool's Day hoax by the Motley Fool investment people. But it dates back to 1999, so I'm impressed that they've kept the site up all this time.

If you look at the eMeringue welcome page, you'll see a photo of "eMeringue chef Serge LeGrenouille." My wife is the food geek in the family, but she's rubbed off on me enough that I recognized that chef Serge LeGrenouille is actually Chef Patrick O'Connell of the Inn at Little Washington. I wonder if he knows that in addition to being one of America's top chefs, he's also the head chef at eMeringue?

left: eMeringue chef Serge LeGrenouille -- right: chef Patrick O'Connell
Categories: Food, Websites
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 22, 2013
Comments (0)
Back in 2005, I posted about the website of The Federation of Rodent Cheesemakers, promoters of rat-milk cheese. That website is suddenly back in the news, thanks to an article in Modern Farmer, "Rat Cheese: Internet Hoax or Future Delicacy?"

The author (Sam Brasch) acknowledges that the Rodent Cheesemakers site is a spoof, but then he seriously addresses the question of how to make cheese from rat milk. He notes that you would need a lot of rats: "You’d need an army of 674 rats to produce the 31 kilograms of milk one dairy cow puts out each day."

But if you had that many rats, they might produce a surprisingly good product:

"Rat’s milk is high in protein (8 percent) and contains almost four times the fat by volume when compared to raw cow’s milk, so it would make a great brie and stand as a rich addition to a cup of coffee in the morning. A rodent dairy farm would also earn a stellar environmental report card. 674 rats would only produce .003 percent of the methane that comes from a dairy cow, so a piece le fromage de rat could end up being the most sustainable high-end cheese at the deli counter."

My thought here: depending on what you fed the rats, their milk might also be quite tasty!

But the International Business Times has also weighed in on this issue and throws cold water on the promise of rat-milk cheese by pointing out, "We don't have milking machines small enough to make rat dairies a viable option."

But they're wrong about this. There are milking machines for rats. Back in 1946, Prof. B.L. Herrington of Cornell University designed a "midget milker" — the world's smallest milking machine mounted on a board 18x6 inches. He designed it primarily to milk guinea pigs, but also used it on rats, rabbits, and hamsters. A Science News Letter article noted that "milking guinea pigs is a two-man operation, with one person holding the animal, and it takes about 10 minutes."

I haven't been able to find any pictures of Herrington's midget milker in action, but there is a diagram of it in a 1951 article in the Journal of Nutrition ("Milking Techniques and the Composition of Guinea Pig Milk").

So there wouldn't be a technological problem with milking rats. It could be done. The problem would be the labor involved. It would take too long to milk enough rats to produce a decent amount of cheese. So it would never be done except as a one-off thing.
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 22, 2013
Comments (0)
West Yorkshire police denied reports there was a sinister clown on the prowl in Bradford, "peering in windows, committing robberies and even stabbing people." A police spokesman said, "This seems like it might be a hoax. We haven't had any reports of crimes committed by a clown, I can say that much."

During the past week, a photo has been circulating on facebook and twitter showing an evil clown standing outside a Bradford McDonalds. This photo has apparently helped to fuel the rumors of a clown crime spree.

The Bradford Telegraph and Argus notes that the most popular search term recently on its website has been "clown".
Categories: Law/Police/Crime
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 22, 2013
Comments (0)
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