History may not always repeat itself, but it does come up with some really strange myths and legends as to why some things just can’t be explained. While some of them tend to be examined for years, others are hilariously wrong, and turn out to be some of the greatest hoaxes of all time.
1. April Fools’ Day or Fools’ Flop?
Who started the prank-filled holiday after the solemn Ides of March? No one really knows, but for a few weeks in 1983, one professor had all the answers to that question.
Boston University pop culture historian and professor Joseph Boskin faked it until he failed when reporter Fred Bayles asked him about the holiday in an interview. Boskin weaved a comedic tale of Constantine’s rule, and how jesters asked for one day to rule. A jester named King Kugel ruled for 24 hours on April 1, a day full of silliness and pranks.
The AP ran the story until Boskin slipped up during a lecture, revealing he made the whole thing up. Boskin was famous, and Bayles became a journalism professor at the university.
2. Washed Up
When’s the last time you took a warm bubble bath? Have a little basket of bath bombs waiting to be used on a Saturday night? You might have writer H.L. Mencken to thank for that one…or do you?
In the throes of World War 1, the writer needed something to distract his readers from the onslaught of negative media coming in from Europe. So in 1917, he wrote “A Neglected Anniversary” in The Evening Mail, about December 20th and the arrival of the bathtub in the United States.
Much to his dismay, it gained credibility. The essay was cited in professional journals and even on the floor of Congress. Lesson learned…make sure everyone knows you’re kidding before you write something.
3. The Missing Link is Still Missing
Scientists have constantly been looking for the missing link, a fossil showing a transitory period between apes and humans. If found, it would prove human evolution to be a definite fact. In 1912, Charles Dawson, a geologist and archaeologist, said he found it.
The skull was found in a gravel pit in Piltdown, England. Skeptics were quickly silenced by believers, and the fossil was presented to the Geological Society of London that December. But soon, there was doubt cast over the fossil. Skulls of humanoids and early humans were found in other regions of the world, slowly deteriorating the credibility of the fossil. The plot unraveled in 1953, when the skull was found to be an amalgamation of a human skull, an orangutan jaw, and a chimpanzee’s teeth.
There’s only one question: who fabricated it? Some have pointed to the Dawson, but others have a stranger idea. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (yes the creator of Sherlock Holmes) was a member of that same geological society, and included faking bones in one of his novels? Coincidence? I think not, my dear Watson.
4. The Hanging Gardens of Linguini
The seven ancient wonders of the world are truly awe inspiring. The pyramids of Giza, the Colossus of Rhodes, the Hanging Gardens of…Spaghetti? That doesn’t sound right.
But that was the rumor going around as the result of a very strange BBC program that aired on April 1, 1957. The episode of Panorama was about the issues a Swiss town had with their spaghetti crop.
The very next day, viewers rushed the station with calls and questions about how to grow their own noodles, which were a delicacy in the country. Needless to say, the only remedy the station could offer was placing a single strand of spaghetti inside a can of tomato sauce. So far, nothing’s grown yet.
5. The First Fifty Shades…of Failure
A quiet bestseller list was racked with scandal, raunchiness, and a fake author in 1969 with the debut of Naked Came the Stranger. Written by a Long Island housewife named Penelope Ashe, the book hit the bestseller list and was there for 13 weeks by the end of the year.
But that author was not the modest housewife the book jacket claimed her to be, but a newspaper columnist named Mike McGrady. McGrady was a Newsday columnist who was appalled at the state of bestsellers at the time. He and 24 other columnists, each writing a chapter full of scandalous sexual behavior in a subpar writing style were meant to expose the problem.
It did the opposite. Though the hoax was revealed a few month later, McGrady was always worried about the 20,000 people who bought it…before they knew the truth.
6. Lions and Bears and Moon Beasts, Oh My!
In an age where new species were being constantly discovered and analyzed across the globe, hearing about the extraterrestrial was an occasion too dramatic to pass up. But the civilizations on the moon were all but blurry spots on a telescope.
Yellow journalism was the moneymaker of the day, so the New York’s paper The Sun decided to cash in with a set of articles entitled “The Great Moon Hoax.” The articles, written by Richard Adams Locke, came out in 1835. They believed British astronomer John Herschel spotted unicorns, winged men, beavers that walked on two legs, and a harmonious civilization away from the chaotic earth below.
The public was not convinced of the truth. Pamphlets of the entire story were sold and a theater company scrambled to bring it to the stage. Clearly, the definition of satire is still being worked on.
7. Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth…and Don’t Teach it Math
We live in an age where compilations of pets doing tricks are ubiquitous. People who claim that their pets are smart and talented have nothing on this guy, though. Enter, the math horse.
Math teacher Wilhelm von Osten was convinced that he taught a horse named Hans how to read and do basic arithmetic in German. Mind you, he tried teaching a cat and a bear to do the same and horrendously failed. Hans made headlines in his home country and across the ocean in the United States.
Experts deemed the horse competent, and Von Osten was satisfied. He would have gotten away with it, too, if not for a meddling psychology student. Oskar Pfungst wasn’t satisfied with the experts’ analysis of Hans, and decided to do his own analysis.
Pfgunst found that von Osten was giving the horse subconscious facial cues when the horse tapped out the correct answer to a math question. The owner denied it, and continued to show his horse to happy crowds. Some people just love a good show.
8. A Sold Out No Show
Rock fans were delighted when the rumors of an album being put out by some of the genre’s biggest names was on the way. The Masked Marauders were supposedly a supergroup of stars including John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, and Paul McCartney.
A review of the album was put out by a 1969 edition of Rolling Stone, and was eaten up by the press and fans alike. Too bad they didn’t put all the crazy details of the article together. Of course, the album and the band itself was an elaborate hoax, created by the magazine’s editor, Griel Marcus.
Marcus was sick and tired of the supergroups forming and hoped the article would dissuade fans from hopping onto the bandwagon. But they wanted the album instead. So Marcus struck a deal with an underground band in San Francisco and Warner Bros. to make an album. It wasn’t until fans got their hands on it that they realized it was a scam.
9. Last Boarding Call For the HMS Hoax
Before the careers of established writers like Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster took off, their penchants for tricks and pranks were part of an elite fraternity known as the Bloomsbury Group. While their lasting prank may have been a hit for themselves, in the eyes of a lot of others, it was in poor taste.
The group sent a telegram to the commander of the HMS Dreadnaught, which was then the most powerful ship in the British Navy, letting them know that an international delegation wished to tour the vessel.
This ‘delegation’ was really Woolf, her brother, and some other members of the Bloomsbury Group in costume. They painted their faces black, and wore amateurishly awful costumes in gold and assorted colors, wearing turbans and speaking in a gibberish, made up language. They were greeted with all the trappings of an international arrival, complete with an honor guard and a red carpet.
Though they had no trouble on the ship, reporters got wind of the story and the Royal Navy became embarrassed at their mistake. Still strange that they never really found out…
10. Doggy Deeds After Dark
Once the sun goes down, no one wants to know what happens behind closed doors. What people do is their own business…and what dogs do is their own, too.
That’s where career prankster Joey Skaggs comes in. He ran an ad in The Village Voice giving pet owners the opportunity to send their canine companions to a bordello for the night. While that sounds outrageous enough to be an Onion article today, back then it might not have been.
People shelled out $50 to send their dogs out for a night with poodle companions as well as other dogs in the area. But when Skaggs revealed that it was a hoax, some people didn’t bite. Some at WABC, the local news there, believe the ring was real…but maybe because they won an Emmy for their troubles.
11. It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s…an Octopus?
Keep your eyes peeled on this nature tour around the Pacific Northwest, you might find an octopus in the trees! The elusive Pacific northwest tree octopus lives in the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. Sadly, this noble creature is being driven to the brink of extinction by the sasquatch.
Did you believe that one? You’re not the only one! A lot of people are on the hunt for a creature that doesn’t exist. Many fall victim to the numerous linked pages and the supposed webpages and video footage of the creatures, sending them off on a failed hunt.
The octopus’ creator, Lyle Zapato, is only one of the prankster’s causes. He also has a site saying that the country of Belgium doesn’t exist. Let it be a lesson to anyone looking for something new on the Internet, not everything is as real as it seems