15 Convincing Hoaxes That Almost Fooled Us All
We’re all intelligent, worldly-wise people, perfectly capable of spotting a piece of fakery a mile off, while we laugh in the faces of those gullible fools who fell for obvious chicanery.
At least, that’s how we like to think of ourselves.
The truth is, we’re just as susceptible to bullshit as our idiot neighbor, willing to believe something utterly fantastic – at least for a fleeting moment – before the fraud collapses into a pile of clay alien bones. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, really. The world we live in is, for the most part, mind-numbingly mundane, and there’s a part of us that is desperate to be shown just a little glimpse of something amazing. Whether it’s the swollen body of an extraterrestrial, or beavers that live on the moon, the human race has a tendency to fall for hoaxes hook, line, and sinker.
The worst part is, most of the time they’re not especially good hoaxes – Bigfoot is clearly a guy in an ape suit, the Lock Ness Monster is obviously the ravings of drunk Scots, and we’re all praying that the current POTUS is an animatronic creature created by the Henson company as a gag.
Here’s a smattering of the fakery that has managed to pull the wool over the eyes of we weak-minded mortals.
15. Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds
Up there as the mothership of hoaxes, it’s a story we all know. Well, sort of.
The popular idea of this hoax is one of epic proportions. That on Hallowe’en of 1938, Orson Welles and his team of mischievous radio goblins gathered together and performed a version of HG Wells’ “War of the Worlds” which sent the people of New York into raging panic, believing that Martians were invading.
The truth is, Welles and his team did pull off a masterful feat of reality-style radio drama, setting the narrative up as news reports of the invading Martian tripods. However, it seems only one small town was fooled. The residents of Grover’s Mill in New Jersey, where the fictional drama was set, began shooting buckshot at their own water tower, believing the looking structure to be Martian technology.
Unfortunately, that’s about as far as it went. The true hoax is that Orson Welles – master of self promotion – nearly 80 years later still has the world believing that his radio play sent a major city into a fit of mass-hysteria.
That’s right, Orson Welles punked us with a meta-hoax.
14. Realistic Alien autopsy
Honestly, we’re still not completely sure this one is a hoax. Surely part of any great conspiracy is making people believe evidence is fake?
In 1995 Fox aired a special claiming to show genuine footage of the autopsy of an alien recovered from the Roswell crash of 1947. These days, alarm bells would have been ringing at the sight of a Fox logo attached to this project, but 1995 was a simpler time – a jury thought OJ Simpson was innocent.
The video ostensibly showed 3 government pathologists undertaking an autopsy on an incredibly pot-bellied extraterrestrial visitor. Sure, it had undertones of vivisection, and secret government conspiracies, but we all thought the scariest part about it was that hideous alien pot-belly. Who knew the Grays drank beer?
In a light investigative documentary in 2006, television producer Ray Santilli admitted that he made the fake “autopsy” video in his own studio, and supplied it to Fox for the documentary. However, Santilli also claimed that he based his fake upon a genuine video he once saw, but that this footage was too damaged to use by the time he had gathered enough money to buy it.
Which sounds plausible.
13. The Masked Marauders
Sure, this hoax sounds like the title of an especially cheesy heist film, where Harvey Keitel gathers a team of Harry Potter fans to pull off a job in a mob-owned casino. Yes, thank you, we graciously accept this Best Screenplay Oscar.
The truth of this lie is that The Masked Marauders was the name of a rock supergroup. In 1969, then editor of Rolling Stone magazine, Greil Marcus, wrote a review of an album created by John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, and Bob Dylan under the name of The Masked Marauders.
This of course was a giant dollop of codswallop, and Marcus had written the review as a response to his distaste for the trend of supergroups that was littering the music scene at the time. Marcus had hyped the album as the record of the year in his piece, and a s a result the magazine received a flood of calls from fans wanting to know where they could buy this masterpiece.
This was the time for Marcus to come clean, right? Wrong – he gathered a group of sound-alikes and recorded the album, which sold in excess of 10,000 copies. It was only after the album just missed hitting the billboard top 100 that he came clean to his hoax.
Still, who wouldn’t be taken in by such song titles as “Cow Pie” and “I Am the Japanese Sandman”?
12. Taco Liberty Bell
This one is a little hard to admit to being an awesome hoax, because at it’s heart is a filthy publicity stunt. Still, because we’re a race of gullible noobs, this hoax had a significant number of the US populace fooled.
In 1996, an ad appeared in several prominent American newspapers that Taco Bell – gourmet purveyors of next-morning-regret – had purchased one of the country’s great historical treasures, the Liberty Bell. In the adverts, the company claimed that they purchased the Bell in order to help assist with the country’s national debt, and they would split its time between its Philadelphia home and the Taco Bell HQ.
The response was huge. Thousands of concerned citizens called both Taco Bell and the National Parks Service, worried that their precious artefact would soon ring a chime that sounds uncannily like a bowel movement.
Later that same day – April 1st, by the way – Taco Bell announced their hoax as such, and donated $50,000 for the upkeep of the Liberty Bell.
11. The Archaeoraptor
Jurassic Park has a lot to answer for. Not least because the sight of Jeff Goldblum’s half-open shirt as he’s ensconsed while wounded is an unrealistic image of manliness for us to live up to. It also created a public hunger for new paleontological discoveries – which the public doesn’t seem to understand is a really slow process.
In 1999, amateur paleontologist Stephen Czerkaas gave into the pressure to discover something new and exciting, and spent $80,000 on a creature dug up by a Chinese farmer who illegally exported it, and he named it the Archaeoraptor – which in itself sounds faker than the fakiest fake.
The “remains” were presented to National Geographic, who agreed to fund it’s study by a group of scientists. The scientists discovered that the Archaeofakeyfake was actually a composite of perhaps 5 different fossils glued together. Which would have made for a boneheaded mistake on Czerkaas’ part, if he didn’t then convince the scientists not to tell National Geographic about their findings. They prepared a paper and in October 1999 the magazine published a piece on the exciting new paleontological discovery.
In the December of that year one of the scientists sent an email to National Geographic, who investigated the claims, and a year later they announced Archeoraptor as a fake.
10. The Delicious Spaghetti Tree
Another April 1st hoax, but one that continues to be trotted out each year as a reminder that we are, at heart, naive morons who shouldn’t be left in charge of anything as dangerous as safety scissors.
In 1957, the BBC revealed the embarrassing gullibility of the British people when they unveiled a documentary showcasing the magnificent spaghetti trees of Switzerland. The film footage, which can still be viewed online, purported to show a family bringing in their yearly harvest of spaghetti strings. The film was given extra credibility by a narration by respected documentarian David Dimbleby.
Even the director general of the BBC at the time had to research the topic 3 times before he could confirm that it was a hoax.
As a result of the broadcast, the BBC received a raft of phone calls from delighted and intrigued Brits, some wondering how they could grow their own spaghetti in their gardens.
Idiots – everyone knows spaghetti only grows in the unique Swiss climate!
9. The Connor Brothers’ Art
The art world is notoriously po-faced, and never fails to take even the most ridiculous aspects of itself far too seriously. Therefore, it’s always a pleasure to see them hoaxed from within their own ranks.
In 2013, the art community became enamoured by a pair of emerging artists – the Connor Brothers. Though nobody seemed to have actually met these twins, their story described how they were brought up in a controversial Christian cult in California known as “The Family”. Having escaped their religious prison, and armed with no knowledge of the world outside their commune, the brothers ostensibly began to communicate with each other through creating artwork that blended pop culture with historical references – a way to make sense of this new and frightening world.
Their story found them exhibiting their art in London, LA, and Sydney, alongside Banksy and Damien Hirst, selling to collectors for thousands of dollars.
Eighteen months after the amazing story broke, tired of the pressure of the hoax, the perpetrators – Mike Snell and James Golding – came clean. They revealed that they created the hoax because they didn’t feel that their true identities, and their respective pasts as a suicidal depressive and a heroin addict, would see their art taken seriously by the fickle art community.
8. Piltdown Man
Since the theory of evolution entered the popular lexicon, the search for the missing link between Neanderthal and Homo Sapiens has been the Holy Grail to anthropologists.
Except those anthropologists who are looking for our ancient alien ancestors. Those guys are are all tripping on peyote and watching Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
In 1912, it was reported that this long-sought ancestor had been discovered in a gravel pit in the British village of Piltdown, Sussex.
Charles Dawson, a lawyer (because lawyers are known to rummage around in human remains), presented a chunk of skull, some large ape-like teeth, and stone tools to the Royal Geological Society. The scientific community got terribly excited about evidence they thought would help find the missing link, and dubbed the figure Eoanthropus Dawsoni. The Piltdown Man was hailed as the scientific breakthrough everyone had been waiting for.
Until 1954, when Oxford University scientists took more than a fleeting glance at the “remains” and realised they were in fact carved and stained ape bones. Turns out, all it took for Charles Dawson to fool the world was to use the same technique kids use to make aged “treasure maps” with coffee and an oven.
7. The Roswell Body Slides
We’re not saying it’s aliens – but it’s definitely aliens.
In 2015 a mysterious invitation went out to the world from noted UFOlogist (which is an actual, real-life title that people use) Thomas Carey, to attend a ticketed unveiling of new Roswell evidence to be displayed via a streamed presentation from New Mexico. The invitation described the evidence as a “smoking gun” in the case, and desperate UFO enthusiasts gladly forked out $20 for entry.
Attendees were shown a series of slides, apparently from 1947, that a group of UFO researchers claimed had been found in a deceased couple’s attic. The slides included blurry images of a misshapen and leathery body which the researchers claimed was that of an extraterrestrial.
Many people came away from the event lauding it as a breakthrough, actual photographic evidence that aliens were recovered from a crash in Roswell. In fact, the images still float around the internet as evidence despite the fact that one of the “researchers”, Florence Cabrera de Theresa, revealed that the photo was actually one taken of a mummified Native American child on display at a museum in the Smithsonian.
So yes, faking aliens and exploiting Native American remains. This hoax just gets classier and classier.
6. The Big Donor Show
Reality bites, but reality television does nothing but suck. Except occasionally when a production company slightly dips into the pool of genius.
In 2007, publicity began circulating in the Netherlands about a new reality television special, “De Grote Donorshow” (come on, you don’t need that translated). The producers told the public that the show featured a terminally ill woman selecting just 1 out of a group of 25 sick people to donate a kidney to – which seems a bit selfish, being that she had 2 kidneys. The public would be able to send text messages into the show to influence the donor’s decision.
The show received a barrage of criticism and complaints from across the globe in the build-up to the air date. It wasn’t until half-way through the live show that it was revealed that the donor was in fact an actor. However, 3 of the 25 possible recipients were genuinely waiting for a kidney transplant, and were in on the hoax in the hope that it would raise awareness of organ donation.
There’s no news yet on whether they also pinned down the producers and removed the organs they required.
5. The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven
People regularly come back from vacation with ridiculous stories – like that kid in middle school who claimed he felt up a girl while he was in Alaska. In 2010, a family told the story of how their son came back from heaven having met Jesus and Satan…but apparently did not cop a feel. Which isn’t plausible at all.
In 2004, 10 year-old Alex Malarkey (aptly named) told his family of how, when in a car wreck, he watched his father being caught and taken to safety by angels, while he ascended to the gates of heaven. The boy’s family immediately did the balanced and sensible thing when confronted with a delusional tale told by a child suffering brain trauma, and contacted a Christian publisher to sell the book and movie rights.
The tale sucked in the gullible masses, and between 2010 and 2013 it sold more than 1 million copies.
However, proving that people will believe anything that reassures them that the only way Satan gets close to heaven is by peeking through a hole (seriously), Alex’s mother came clean in 2012 saying that the book had been heavily embellished, even though the father, Kevin (also the author of the book) maintained it was a true account. Alex himself then confessed in 2015 through an open letter to Christian bookstores that the entire account was a complete fabrication.
The publishers immediately withdrew the book from sale, but unfortunately the TV movie remains as something that people paid real life money to have made.
4. Yogi Super-Pitcher Sidd Finch
Sports teams are a bit like little religions – they thrive by the faith and belief of their followers. When a team is struggling to stay in the league, or tournament, or death match, fans can often be seen praying to the gods of sport for a miracle.
In 1985, New York Mets fans thought they had received their own miracle. In the April 1st Sports Illustrated, George Plimpton reported that he’d seen a new rookie in training – Siddhartha “Sidd” Finch. Plimpton told how the pitcher wore only one shoe – a hiking boot, had spent years in Tibet learning “yogic mastery of mind and body”, and could pitch a ball at speeds of 168mph (the current record was 103mph).
Mets fans were overjoyed at the prospect of their new player, and the sports editor of one of the New York newspapers even complained to the Mets’ PR department for giving Sports Illustrated the exclusive. Two general manager of other teams went so far as to question how their batters could possibly face Finch’s pitch safely.
In the April 8th edition of Sports Illustrated, Finch’s retirement was announced, followed by a confession in the April 15th issue that the whole ridiculous story was a hoax.
By the way, the sub-heading of the hoax article read, “He’s a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd’s deciding about yoga…”, the first letters of each word spelled out “Happy April Fool’s Day”.
3. The Hitler Diaries
Adolf Hitler was an early 20th Century watercolor painter who had an interesting side hobby that involved being a genocidal dickhead.
Rather than treat Hitler as the pathetic moron with a superiority complex that he was, we’ve elevated him to the lofty heights of legendary monster-dom. People are fascinated by him, and are frequently desperate to snap up any little morsel that would give them a peek into the life of the man who stole Chaplin’s look.
In 1983, a discovery came to light of 60 volumes of journals that apparently had been written by the petite dictator. Barely able to contain their excitement, German magazine Stern bought the journals for the equivalent of €4.7m, and sold serialization rights to news agencies around the world.
It was only when The Sunday Times, one of the publications Stern licensed the serialization to, started throwing up questions as to the journal’s authenticity and whether or not anyone bothered to do forensic testing on the documents.
It turned out the journals were forgeries, produced by Konrad Kujau over a period of 2 years. Kujau had a history of selling Nazi memorabilia, which he discovered would be worth more if he faked certain details which would link items to party leaders. Kujau found a Stern journalist, Gerd Heidemann, who had an obsession with the Nazis, and the pair teamed up to make a fortune. However, the pair wound up spending time in prison for fraud.
2. Microsoft Acquires the Catholic Church
We all know by now that Bill Gates could buy the Milky Way and use it as his own personal Fidget Spinner. So it’s not too surprising that in 1994 the world was convinced that Microsoft had bought the Roman Catholic Church.
Believed to be the first internet hoax, a press release – ostensibly from the Associated Press – was cycled online, stating that Microsoft would acquire the Church in exchange for an unspecified amount of Microsoft stock.
Even though the press release included such dubious details as Catholics would soon be able to receive communion via their computers, many people contacted Microsoft to confirm the details of the acquisition.
Despite the fact that Microsoft officially debunked the hoax in December 1994, follow-up “press reports” continued to circulate for some time after, until – one assumes – the perpetrators stumbled across their first adult entertainment site.
1. The Il Bambino Sculpture
While most of these entries focussed on hoaxes that fooled a huge number of people in a short amount of time, this final fake was of a much smaller scale, but no less bold.
In 1496, a sculptor created a piece featuring the figure of a child, a sleeping Cupid, which he named “Il Bambino”. Figuring he’d struggle to sell it, and taking the advice of a friend, he treated it with acid and rubbed it all over with dirt in order to make it look older. He then sold it to an art dealer, claiming it to be of ancient Greek origin.
The dealer sold the fake to Cardinal Riario of San Giorgio, who was delighted with the new acquisition. However, the Cardinal later discovered that the piece had been faked, and he demanded his money back. Which is perfectly understandable, because who the hell would want a sculpture made by some nobody called Michaelangelo?
Sources: telegraph.co.uk, time.com, rollingstone.com, theguardian.com, newyorker.com
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