Many hoaxes have been created throughout time. Some caused harm large or small, some didn't, and some have had quite a large impression on our culture. Whether the fabricators were in search of fame, money, or were simply bored, many fascinating deceptions have taken place. Here are the 13 biggest hoaxes of all time:
1. The Wiltshire crop circles.
In the late 1970s crop circles started showing up around Wiltshire in southwest England. These never before seen phenomenon were believed by many to be the work of visitors from space, and there was a lot of curiosity and investigation regarding them. Unfortunately for those rooting for the extraterrestrials, it turned out to be two Englishman named Doug Bower and and Dave Chorely. They admitted in 1991 that they were responsible for almost all the crop circles in the UK.
2. The Fiji Mermaid.
Originally bought off Japanese sailors in 1822, this mummified half monkey half fish was displayed in London that year. Later it was sent to New York and leased to PT Barnum. The mermaid was apparently very convincing, as a naturalist Mr. Barnum hired to investigate it reported that he could find no evidence of fraud! Sadly, the mermaid is no longer with us, as it was destroyed in a fire in the 1860s.
3. The Automaton Chess Player.
This elaborate chess playing ruse was created by Wolfgang von Kempelen, and amazed people with its chess playing abilities from its creation in 1770 up until the hoax's revelation in 1820. The machine was actually operated by a human inside, but it amazed people throughout Europe and the Americas, and was known for playing an extremely strong game of chess. It even beat Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin!
4. The disappearing blonde hair gene.
Blonde hair is a recessive trait. Because of this, a World Health Organization study reported in 2002, no one will be born with blonde hair after 2022. The problem here, however, is this study doesn't exist. The fact was quickly disproved, but the nonexistent study was cited with surprising frequency- The Sunday Times cited it as late as 2006!
5. The New York Sun's discovery of a moon civilization.
Back in the early 1800s, newspapers had a hard time getting readership. Since fact checking was a lot more difficult back then, it turned out that fabricating extraordinary stories was a great way to make a lot of money. And thus were six articles published by The Sun declaring evidence of a civilization of people on the moon, their fantastic animals, and their fauna. All attributed falsely to the most famous astronomer of their day. Let us all give thanks to modern journalistic integrity and the internet.
6. The human ancestor that didn't exist.
In 1912 in Piltdon, East Sussex a marvelous discovery was found- a partial fossil of an ape that was a predecessor to humans. This was a quite a disturbing discovery to biologists, and while highly controversial, was actually accepted in large part by the scientific community. The hoax went on until 1953 when it was revealed that it was a forgery- an orangutan jawbone and a human skull.
7. Switzerland's spaghetti trees.
In 1957, the BBC showed the UK a family in Switzerland harvesting spaghetti from their trees. On April first. Unfortunately for Britains, spaghetti was little known in the UK then, so most did not know that it was simply flour and water. Many were convinced, and the BBC received calls from viewers asking how to grow their own spaghetti.
8. The boy that never flew.
A balloon took flight from Fort Collins, Colorado in October of 2009. Very distraught parents then contacted authorities and the media, stating that their son was in the balloon. A large search took place after it was discovered the the boy was not in the balloon, and it was later revealed that he had been in the attic the entire time. The family got even more media attention and appeared on Larry King Live. It's hard for a child to keep a hoax a secret, though, and he ended up letting the secret slip on television. Woops!
9. The giant of Cardiff.
This elaborate ruse was the creation of a wily entrepreneur named George Hull in the 1860s. A crew attempting to dig a hole for a well was shocked to find something amazing buried there- a petrified, ten foot tall man. Although it was fairly quickly observed by experts to be a fake, it convinced many. It was in fact a statue that George Hull had built, then buried, then hired men to dig there a year later.
10. Mary Toft's birthing of rabbits.
In 1726, Mary Toft, with the help of a local surgeon, gave birth to nine rabbits. Unfortunately, none of them lived. This spectacular oddity gained national attention, and King George decided to send two of his own men to investigate. In the presence of these doctors, she continued to birth even more rabbits. When a famous physician decided that he would have to surgically examine Ms. Toft for science, she decided to come clean and admit that she had been placing the animals inside her womb all along. As terrifying as that is, you should be delighted to know that Mary gave birth to an actual human about a year later.
11. The nonsense article in the prestigious scientific journal.
In 1996, Alan Sokal, a physics professor, was very concerned about the scientific rigor of the journal Social Text. The journal, although highly prestigious, was lacking in some basic scientific methodology in Sokal's view. So he crafted the finest nonsense the world has ever seen, or as Sokal put it, “a pastiche of left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense.” He revealed his submission to be a hoax the day it was published, starting an enormous amount of debate in the scientific community.
12. The mysterious teenage girl's vlog.
In 2006, lonelygirl15 started vlogging on YouTube. The videos started out about a typical teenage girl and her thoughts and her life. Things started turning bizarre quickly, however. There were dealings with a mysterious cult, her parents disappeared, and the cult was out to get her. It was made all more real by the fact that she routinely interacted with her fans on YouTube and MySpace. By this time it had gotten enormously popular, and many people were highly suspicious of the authenticity of the vlog. It took an LA Times reporter, however, to discover that it was in fact all created by a media company in Australia.
13. The haunted house of Amityville.
In November 1974, a man shot and murdered his parents and siblings. He killed six people in total in a home in Amityville, New York. A little over a year later, George and Kathy Lutz moved into the home, spent 28 days in it, and promptly moved out. They reported to have been tormented by the ghosts of the dead, and had many intricate details and stories. It turns out that they collaborated with author Jay Anson to fabricate the story, which may not have been such a bad idea. With multiple books and many movies based on the Lutz' time in the house, everyone involved has made quite a lot of money.
From the strange to the fantastical, from cunning to conniving, these hoaxes have deceived many. In hindsight, many of these hoaxes seem ingenious and rather simple, not to mention obvious. However, it is quite difficult to make make a plan that can really deceive, and harder still to make one that can sustain the deception. With how clever many of these deceitful people were and how fascinating their hoaxes turned out to be, it is hard to be upset!
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