Hoaxes and Deceptions
"No man is happy without a delusion of some kind. Delusions are as necessary to our happiness as realities."
—Christian Nevell Bovee
When the Spanish conquistadors first reached Peru, centre of the Inca empire, the Peruvian Indians felt the Spanish horses to be ferocious and deadly monsters, there being no horses native to the Americas. Through an interpreter, they asked the Spanish cavalrymen what these animals ate. In response, the Spaniards, pointing to the gold jewellery and ornaments of the Peruvians, said, "They eat those things of yellow metal. They are hungry now but do not wish to be seen eating. Leave the food in front of them and go away." The Indians gathered some gold objects for the horses. After they had left, the Spanish pocketed the gold, and then, calling back the Indians, told them that the horses were still hungry and needed more food. (source)
On April Fools' Day, 1957, the BBC television documentary show Panorama broadcast a documentary about the "spaghetti orchards" of Switzerland. Over pictures of Swiss spaghetti trees, the spaghetti plantations of Switzerland and Italy, the spaghetti weevil, and the reason for spaghetti being of such uniform lengths were discussed. Many viewers, oblivious to the date, believed that what they were watching was genuine. (source)
In 1113, Adelaide, who at the time was regent of Sicily, married King Baldwin of Jerusalem. This marriage was very advantageous to Baldwin, who was able to use Adelaide's dowry to pay off the crusader knights of the city for its defense. Four years later, by which time all of Adelaide's money had been spent, Baldwin became sick. He then announced that he blamed his sickness on the fact that his marriage was bigamous. Unknown to Adelaide, Baldwin's wife Arda had been in Jerusalem the last four years, and Baldwin had placed her in a nunnery just before marrying Adelaide. Baldwin was granted an annulment and Adelaide went back to Sicily impoverished. (source)
An article was published in the New York Evening Mail on December 28, 1917, written by H. L. Mencken, describing the curious history of the bathtub. According to the article, the first bathtub appeared in America seventy-five years previous. Americans, however, were slow to accept this innovation. Physicians asserted that bathtubs were dangerous to the public health, and cities passed ordinances to restrict their use. It was not until 1850, when President Millard Fillmore installed a tub in the White House, that public sentiment swung in favour of the bathtub and soon tubs were widely used. Mencken's history was entirely untrue, and he expected that readers would catch on. However, the opposite happened. Mencken's history was widely accepted as true, and was cited by scholarly histories of public hygiene. In 1926, Fairfax Downey even wrote a serious history of the bathtub that drew largely on the false story. Mencken concluded from this turn of events that "the American public will swallow anything". (source)
On April 1, 1996, a full-page advertisement appeared in several newspapers, including the New York Times, announcing that Taco Bell had purchased the Liberty Bell, and that the bell would from now on be known as the "Taco Liberty Bell". In the advertisement, Taco Bell said that it hoped that this move will prompt other corporations to take similar action to help reduce the national debt. Many people, apparently not noticing the date, took it seriously, calling the home of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to complain. The White House played along, with spokesperson Mike McCurry saying that the government planned to sell the Lincoln Memorial to Ford, which would rename it to the Lincoln-Mercury Memorial.
On April 1, 1979, Capital Radio in London broadcast a story saying that Britain's time was out-of-sync with other countries due to switching to and from British Summer Time. It was announced that, because Britain was around 48 hours ahead of the rest of the world, the Government had decided to cancel April 5 and April 12 of that year. Capital Radio received hundreds of anxious calls from listeners who apparently hadn't noticed that it was April Fools' Day. (source)
On the eve of April Fools' Day of 1919, well-known hoaxer Horace Cole, in Venice on his honeymoon, persuaded a gondolier to take him to the mainland, where he purchased a load of horse manure. When it was dark, he returned to Venice and deposited it in small lumps in the Piazza San Marco. In the morning, Venetians were puzzled as to how horses could have crossed the canals, paraded around the piazza, and then left. (source)
On the morning of April 1, 1976, on BBC Radio 2, astronomer Patrick Moore announced a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event. Moore stated that at 9:47 a.m., Pluto would pass directly behind Jupiter, and at that very moment their gravitational alignment would counteract and so lessen Earth's gravitational pull. Moore told his listeners that if they were to jump in the air at this exact moment, they would experience a strange floating sensation. At 9:48 a.m., the phone lines of BBC 2 were flooded with stories from people who, evidently unaware of the date, claimed to have experienced this sensation.
For over 25 years, between around 1950 and 1977, Tom Keating produced over 2,000 imitations of works of art of famous artists, including Constable, Rembrandt, Degas, Gainsborough, Goya, Renoir, Turner, Monet, and Van Gogh. He never forged for financial gain and always left some clue in his pictures to show that they were fake, such as writing "this is a fake" in white paint on the canvas before working, or painting a detail in the wrong style, or using incorrect paper for the artist's timeframe. (source)
In 1890, James Scotford and Daniel Soper reported finding thousands of ancient relics in Michigan, including the diary of Noah (of Noah's ark fame), carved tablets, and a clay cup with symbols. Their finds were reported in several newspapers. Experts found the "artifacts" to be made with contemporary tools. (source)
In April 1844 the New York Sun carried a detailed account of the first transatlantic balloon flight. The article detailed how eight men set out from Penstruthal in North Wales, and about three days later landed on Sullivan's Island, in South Carolina. The account, however, was a complete fabrication, written by novelist Edgar Allen Poe. (source)
In 1935 the Museum of Modern Art in New York City held an exhibition of Vincent Van Gogh's works, at which American artist Hugh Troy played an interesting practical joke. He moulded a piece of beef and placed it in a velvet-lined box, which was labelled: "This is the ear which Vincent van Gogh cut off and sent to his mistress, a French prostitute, Dec. 24, 1888." The ear was the star exhibit until the authorities found out. (source)
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, president of the United States between 1933 and 1945, noticed that most people whom he greeted at the many functions he attended paid little attention to the brief pleasantries that were exchanged. He once put his theory to the test at a party in the White house. As he shook hands with each guest, he muttered, "I murdered my grandmother this morning." Only one person seemed to notice: a Wall Street banker, who responded, "She certainly had it coming!". (source)
In the 1860s, Ulysses S. Grant, president of the United States, gave a cigar to philanthropist Horace Norton, founder of Norton College. Norton did not smoke the cigar but kept it as a memento of the meeting. On his death the cigar passed to his son, who didn't smoke it either, and then to his grandson, Winstead. In 1932, Winstead attended a Norton College reunion in Chicago. Delivering a speech, he lit Grant's cigar. The cigar, as it turned out, was an exploding cigar and exploded in Winstead's face. (source)
In the book Predictions for the Year 1708, a soothsayer going by the name of Isaac Bickerstaff made the prediction that John Partridge, a cobbler turned astrologer who was the editor of a rival almanac, Merlinus Liberatus, would die on March 29 around 11:00 p.m. of a raging fever. On March 30, Bickerstaff published a pamphlet claiming that the prediction had come true, Partridge having died within four hours of the predicted time, and that on his deathbed he had even confessed that he was a charlatan. Partridge was still alive, however, and protested that the report was entirely false, even advertising that fact in newspapers. Bickerstaff, together with other writers, continued to insist that Partridge was in fact dead and that the man claiming to be Partridge was an imposter. Partridge lived another seven years, most of which were spent struggling to prove his existence and discover who Bickerstaff was. He never did discover that Bickerstaff was Jonathan Swift, who was better known for Gulliver's Travels. (source)
It is said that in the 18th century the American general Israel Putnam once invited a certain British general (whose name was not recorded) to a curious test of nerves. Both were to sit on barrels of gunpowder, and the fuses lit. The winner would be the last to run away. The British general accepted Putnam's challenge. However, as the fuses burned, he became increasingly fidgety while Putnam remained calm, smoking his pipe. At the last moment the British general fled. Putnam remained seated, for he knew that both barrels were filled with onions. (source)
In Dawks's News-Letter for April 2, 1698, it was noted that "yesterday being the 1 April several persons were sent to the Tower of London to watch the annual lion-washing ceremony." The ceremony was a hoax, but for many years afterwards this fictitious event continued to attract the gullible. In 1856, many people bought tickets to attend the ceremony on April 1, evidently being unaware that the lions were moved to the London Zoo 21 years previously. (source)
In April 1817 a woman was found wandering the streets of Almondsbury, Gloucestershire, who spoke no recognisable tongue. She was taken to Knole Park, the home of local magistrate Samuel Worrall and his wife Elizabeth, who was intrigued at how the woman went into raptures at a picture of a pineapple. She was eager to unravel the mystery, and fortunately a Portuguese sailor in town was able to understand the vagrant's language. He explained that she was a Princess Caraboo from the island of Javasu in the East Indies, who had been kidnapped and sold to pirates, but who had escaped and swam ashore to England. The princess was painted by Tomas Barker, shown off to the local aristocracy, and wined and dined everywhere, until a Mrs. Neale recognised the description of the princess in the Bath Chronicle and realised that she was really her former servant girl Mary Baker, who had previously amused children by speaking an imaginary language. As it turned out, the "Portuguese sailor" was neither, and the island of Javasu was also fictitious. Mary left for America, where she managed to continue the "Princess Cariboo" scam. (source)
In 1896, the Louvre purchased the "Tiara of Saitapherne" on the assumption that it had belonged to Saitapherne, a third-century B.C. Scythian king. Actually, a skilled goldsmith had created the tiara for an archaeologist friend of his. (source)
In 1809, Theodore Hook, a notorious practical joker, was walking through London with a man named Beazley when he passed a rather nondescript row house at 54 Berners Street. He made a wager with Beazley that he could make the house the most famous spot in all of London. Beazley took the bet. Hook then discovered that the only inhabitant of the house was a Mrs. Tottingham, and sent over a thousand letters purporting to be from her. One morning Berners Street was suddenly crowded with men delivering coal, furniture, beer, potatoes, a church organ, and a hearse, wigmakers, hairdressers, butchers, greengrocers, seamstresses, repairmen, a dozen chimney sweeps, two doctors, a dentist, and others, claiming that Mrs. Tottingham had ordered their goods or requested their services. Several illustrious people also converged on the house, including the Duke of York, who had been advised by letter that one of his men lay dying at 54 Berners Street, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the lord chief justice, the governor of the Bank of England, and the lord mayor of London. The lord mayor had a suspicion that Hook was behind this, and police were called out to restore order. Hook won the bet, although the amount won was nowhere close to covering all of his expenses for the prank. (source)