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Urban Legends
Among the many difficulties American troops are encountering in Iraq (I won't get all political here by listing them), one is a little bit more bizarre than others. It seems that some Iraqis believe that American soldiers carry poison-tipped bullets and eat babies. Kinda tough to win hearts and minds when you're dealing with people who think you dine on infants, I would imagine. I wondered if this story itself was a hoax until I followed the link I found and saw that it lead to Stars and Stripes, the newspaper of the U.S. Army. Again, I'm not being political here, I'm just saying that I think Stars and Stripes is a more credible source for something like this than, say, Ananova. Anyway, it's a weird one for sure.

American troops eat babies?
Categories: Conspiracy Theories, Hate Crimes/Terror, Mass Delusion, Military, Urban Legends
Posted by Cranky Media Guy on Tue Jul 10, 2007
Comments (17)
I posted an entry back in 2004 about Iraqi urban legends regarding the American troops. Three years later the same urban legends still seem to be going strong over there. And a new article in Stars and Stripes lists some more:
  • U.S. troops eat children
  • U.S. servicemembers use poison-tainted bullets
  • Americans peek through women’s clothing with X-ray sunglasses
  • Americans’ berets are dyed with blood
  • Americans have a “cold pill” that they take so they do not get too hot in their gear
The article notes that the belief in the legends seems to be getting worse because, now that we've driven most of the educated middle class out of the country "the remaining population is likely to be unschooled and susceptible to the distortions.
Categories: Military, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu Jun 21, 2007
Comments (7)
Inspired by the urban legend that if all the people in China jumped at once it would alter the orbit of the Earth, German scientists (working in participation with a German TV show) staged an experiment at a music festival. They arranged for all 50,000 people at the concert to jump at once, and then measured the results. They called it a "gang boing." Here's what happened:
In the end, the hoppers created "a mini-mini-earthquake," according to Ulrich Grünewald, who produced the segment for a science program on German television. The ground moved one-twentieth of a millimeter, with four oscillations per second. Scientists from Germany’s Geological Research Institute measured movement up to a kilometer away...

"We showed that people cannot start a (real) earthquake by hopping," Grünewald told the dpa news service. An actual earthquake would contain billions of times more energy than the jumping Germans produced.

Categories: Science, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Jun 06, 2007
Comments (4)
Back in 2000 an email rumor was going around here in the U.S. warning of bananas infected by a flesh-eating bacteria. The rumor read, in part, that:
Several shipments of bananas from Costa Rica have been infected with necrotizing fasciitis, otherwise known as flesh-eating bacteria... It is advised not to purchase bananas for the next three weeks.
Because of this rumor, the Centers for Disease Control had to issue a warning assuring everyone that no shipments of killer bananas had ever arrived from Costa Rica, or anywhere else in the world.

It now looks like a variant of the killer-banana rumor has popped up in China. The BBC reports that:
A rumour spread by text message has badly hit the price of bananas from China's Hainan island, state media say. The messages claim the fruit contains viruses similar to Sars, the severe respiratory illness which has killed hundreds of people worldwide.
The Chinese Health Ministry has issued a statement, assuring everyone that there is no truth to the banana rumor and noting that, "There has not been a case in the world in which humans have contracted a plant virus, and there is not any scientific evidence."
Categories: Food, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu May 31, 2007
Comments (8)
A series of articles by Dave Clarke of the Star Courier has revived interest in the legend of the Deerman. The legend is local to Kewanee, Illinois. It tells of a creature, with the upper body of a deer and the lower body of a man, that lurks in the woods, occasionally popping up to scare lovers parked on moonlit nights or people wandering around alone. Supposedly if you see Deerman three times you die.

Clarke credits Jerry Moriarity, the editor and publisher of the Star Courier during the '50s and '60s, with popularizing the legend of the Deerman in his column "Mostly Malarkey."

Half-human/half-animal creatures are a staple of local legends. Some of the other famous ones that I know about are Mothman of West Virginia, the Owlman of Cornwall, the Goatman of Maryland, and the Lizard Man of South Carolina. I'm sure there must be many others. (Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Cryptozoology, Folklore/Tall Tales, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Fri May 25, 2007
Comments (19)
I'm a bit late with this, but I see (via Fortean Times) that last month Reuters reported that rumors were spreading around Pakistan and Afghanistan alleging that:
a deadly virus was being sent through mobile phones, and that anyone answering phone calls from some certain numbers would contract a fatal illness. The rumours claimed that "as soon as you answer your phone blood comes out of your mouth, nose and ears and you die"
The local phone companies were trying to calm people down, assuring them that it's impossible to contract a killer virus simply by answering your mobile phone.

This is not the first time such a rumor has been reported. The first time I saw it pop up was back in July 2004, when it was spreading around Nigeria. The rumor then was that a phone call from one of two numbers, either 0802 311 1999 or 0802 222 5999, would cause instant death. An Agence France Presse reporter bravely dialed both numbers, but survived.

Next the rumor surfaced in India in 2006. The rumor now warned of "devil calls" which, when received, would cause mobile phones to explode like bombs, killing their owners.

Of course, the real danger is not a killer phone virus. Instead, it's the relentless spread of the unstoppable gullibility virus.
Categories: Mass Delusion, Technology, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Fri May 18, 2007
Comments (30)
PC World writer Steve Bass compiled a list of the Top 25 Web Hoaxes and Pranks. Here's the list (minus Bass's commentary):
  1. The Accidental Tourist
  2. Sick Kid Needs Your Help
  3. Bill Gates Money Giveaway
  4. Five-Cent E-Mail Tax
  5. Nigerian 419 E-Mail Scam
  6. Kidney Harvesting Time
  7. You've Got Virus!
  8. Microsoft Buys Firefox
  9. The Really Big Kitty
  10. $250 Cookie Recipe
  11. Free Vacation Courtesy of Disney
  12. Sunset Over Africa
  13. Alien Autopsy at Roswell, New Mexico
  14. Real-Time GPS Cell Phone Tracking
  15. Apollo Moon Landing Hoax
  16. Sell It on eBay!
  17. Chinese Newspaper Duped
  18. The Muppets Have Not Already Won
  19. Chevrolet's Not-So-Better Idea
  20. Rand's 1954 Home Computer
  21. Microsoft Buys the Catholic Church
  22. Hercules the Enormous Dog
  23. Lights-Out Gang Member Initiation
  24. Hurricane Lili Waterspouts
  25. Pranks Shut Down Los Angeles Times Wiki
It's a decent list, though if I were to create such a list it would be very different. For instance, I would think that Bonsai Kitten would have to be in the Top 25. And what about Kaycee Nicole Swenson, OurFirstTime.com, and the Blair Witch Project (after all, the Blair Witch Project spawned the whole genre of hoax websites created to promote movies)? I also don't think that hoaxes such as "Microsoft Buys Firefox" were really big enough to warrant inclusion in the top 25, and it's a bit of a stretch to count some of the entries, such as the Alien Autopsy and the Moon Landing, as web hoaxes. Well, it goes to show that lists usually say more about the preferences of the people who make them than anything else. One of these days I'll get around to making a list of my own.
Categories: Urban Legends, Websites
Posted by Alex on Sat May 05, 2007
Comments (3)
Pig-Tossing
A number of incidents involving animal throwing have been reported in West Point, Miss., leading one to the conclusion that the sport is the new fad for those to whom cow-tipping is just too passé.

Mayor of Lebanon Sends Chain Letter
The Mayor of Lebanon was not available to comment after he discovered that the Make-A-Wish chain letter that he sent to 33 other businessmen was a hoax.

Woman Sues Over Fake Avocado Dip
A Los Angeles woman has filed a lawsuit against Kraft, claiming that what they label as guacamole... well, isn't.
Categories: Animals, Food, Literature/Language, Pranks, Urban Legends
Posted by Flora on Wed Dec 20, 2006
Comments (14)

Spanish King Shoots Drunk Bear
When the Spanish King visited Russia recently he was taken on a bear hunt. But apparently "hunt organizers, keen to make the King of Spain's chances of killing a bear easier, provided a tame one drunk on vodka." Sad. But the last paragraph of the story is even more pathetic: "Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev had trouble with his aim in his later years. Some of the animals he liked to stalk were either tied to trees or plied with booze." (Thanks, Big Gary)

Ich Vergessen
Here's an urban legend I'd never heard before: "German immigrants arriving at Ellis Island were asked their names, and might respond 'Ich vergessen,' meaning 'I forgot,' if they couldn't understand English. The officials would then mark down that the name was 'Ferguson.'" This doesn't make any sense to me at all. The German and English words for 'name' are almost identical, so I think German immigrants in particular would be able to understand a request for their name. But even if they didn't, why would they respond 'I forget'?

Top 10 Best Ghost Photographs Ever
The Brown Lady of Raynham comes in at #10. (Thanks, Kathy)
Categories: Animals, Paranormal, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 23, 2006
Comments (11)
The well-known and much maligned Wizard of Oz urban legend – that of a scene in the film where one can ‘see’ one of the munchkins hanging himself at the back of the set – is the centre theme of a show opening in Dublin this week. Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh has focused the play, depicting the lives of the actors who portrayed the munchkins, around the premise that the legend is true.
The BBC quotes him as saying:
"It's a persistent myth - the point about myths is they don't have to be true, they don't have to be facts, but people need to believe in them. We've taken that as a starting point, that that myth is actually true and the Munchkin has actually hung himself."
Categories: Entertainment, Urban Legends
Posted by Flora on Wed Aug 09, 2006
Comments (8)

image: bastet
The Xenna Corporation has issued a press release in which they detail a number of widely circulated myths about feet. These include:

• If a person's second toe is longer than the others, they are dependable, conservative and keep their emotions in check.
• If a person's third toe is bigger than the others, they're hot-headed and have a temper.
• If a person has long toes, they're among the thinkers of the world.
• If a person's feet are wide, they're a hard worker and have strong family values.
• If a person's feet are narrow, they're shy and quiet.
• If a person has webbed feet (a hereditary trait), they're the life of the party and would make a good salesperson or entertainer.

I have incredibly wide feet (size quadruple E), which makes it very hard for me to find shoes that fit. For instance, New Balance are the only brand of sneakers I can wear. None of the other sports-shoe manufacturers, such as Nike, make shoes that will fit mutant feet like mine. According to the myths, this would make me hard working, which I'm reluctant to say is false, though I do have a strong tendency to procrastinate. This entire website is the product of my procrastination.

Of course, Xenna coyly omits the greatest foot myth of all: that there's a relationship between foot size and penile length. This myth was actually investigated by Canadian researchers Jerald Bain and Kerry Siminoski, who published their results in the Annals of Sex Research (vol. 6, no.3, 1993. p.231-5). Using a sample size of 63 men, they determined that there was only a very weak relationship between foot size and penis length. They concluded "there is no practical utility in predicting penis size from foot size or height." Their research won them a 1998 IgNoble prize in the field of Statistics.
Categories: Body Manipulation, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Aug 02, 2006
Comments (25)
Status: Hoax
The following quotation is widely attributed to Albert Einstein:
"As a young man, my fondest dream was to become a geographer. However, while working in the Customs Office, I thought deeply about the matter and concluded that it was far too difficult a subject. With some reluctance, I then turned to physics as an alternative."
Did he ever say it? No. Nor did he ever work in the Customs Office. (He worked in the Patent Office.) In an article in the Toronto Star, Sharon Burnside traces how the quotation became attributed to Einstein in the first place. Apparently it was actually written by Duane Marble, a faculty member at New York State University, who, a few decades ago, posted the quotation on his office door as a joke directed at the Physics faculty who worked in the same building with him. From there it spread until it became an official Einstein quote. It was finally debunked in 1997 in a series of columns in GIS World written by Jerry Dobson.

I found the Toronto Star article via Craig Silverman's Regret The Error. Craig says that he's thinking of creating a master list of erroneous attributions. If so, he should definitely add to his list the famous P.T. Barnum quotation "There's a sucker born every minute." Barnum always swore he never said it. No one is sure exactly who did say it, but a leading theory is that it was said by the owners of the Cardiff Giant who were annoyed that Barnum's fake Cardiff Giant was getting more attention than their 'real' one.

Another erroneous quotation is "It's not who votes that counts; it's who counts the votes." Often attributed to Joseph Stalin, although there's no evidence he ever said it. It's not known who did say it.
Categories: Literature/Language, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 25, 2006
Comments (7)
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