Every History of American journalistic hoaxing properly begins with the
GREAT HOAXES OF JOURNALISMBy R. J. Brown
Ref: The History Buff Website - Discovery.com
The Great Moon Hoax of 1835
The first installment of the moon hoax appeared in the August 25, 1835
of the New York Sun on page two, under the heading "Celestial Discoveries."
The brief passage read in part as follows: "We have just learnt (sic) from an
eminent publisher in this city that Sir John Herschel at the Cape of Good Hope,
has made some astronomical discoveries of the most wonderful description, by
means of an immense telescope of an entirely new principle."
As a mater of fact, Herschel had gone to South Africa in January, 1834,
up an observatory at Cape Town. Three columns of the first page of the Sun
contained a story credited to the Edinburgh Journal of Science. (That publication
had suspended some time before.) There was a great deal of matter about the
importance of HerschelÍs impending announcement of his discoveries.
On August 25, the Sun ran four columns describing what Sir John had been
to see, looking at the moon through his telescope.
So fascinating were the descriptions of trees and vegetation, oceans and
beaches, bison and goats, cranes and pelicans that the whole town was talking
even before the fourth installment appeared on August 28, 1835, with the
master revelation of all: the discovery of furry, winged men resembling bats.
The narration was printed as follows:
"We counted three parties of these creatures, of twelve, nine
and fifteen in each, walking erect towards a small wood...
Certainly they were like human beings, for their wings had
now disappeared and their attitude in walking was both erect
and dignified... About half of the first party had passed
beyond our canvas; but of all the others we had perfectly
distinct and deliberate view. They averaged four feet in
height, were covered, except on the face, with short and
glossy copper-colored hair, and had wings composed of a
thin membrane, without hair, lying snugly upon their backs
from the top of the shoulders to the calves of their legs.
The face, which was of a yellowish color, was an
improvement upon that of the large orangutan... so much so
that but for their long wings they would look as well on a
parade ground as some of the old cockney militia. The hair of
the head was a darker color than that of the body, closely
curled but apparently not woolly, and arranged in two circles
over the temples of the forehead. Their feet could only be
seen as they were alternately lifted in walking; but from what
we could see of them in so transient a view they appeared
thin and very protuberant at the heel...We could perceive that
their wings possessed great expansion and were similar in
structure of those of the bat, being a semitransparent
membrane expanded in curvilinear divisions by means of
straight radii, united at the back by dorsal integuments. But
what astonished us most was the circumstance of this
membrane being continued from the shoulders to the legs,
united all the way down, though gradually decreasing in
width. The wings seemed completely under the command of
volition, for those of the creatures whom we saw bathing in
the water spread them instantly to their full width, waved
them as ducks do theirs to shake off the water, and then as
instantly closed them again in a compact form.
The Sun reached a circulation of 15,000 daily on the first of the stories.
the discovery of men on the moon appeared Day was able to announce that the
Sun possessed the largest circulation of any newspaper in the world: 19,360.
Later stories told of the Temple of the Moon, constructed of sapphire,
roof of yellow resembling gold. There were pillars seventy feet high and six feet
thick supporting the roof of the temple. More man-bats were discovered and
readers of the Sun were awaiting more astounding details, but the Sun told
them the telescope had, unfortunately, been left facing the east and the Sun's
rays, concentrated through the lenses, burned a hole "15 feet in circumference"
entirely through the reflecting chamber, putting the observatory out of
Rival editors were frantic; many of them pretended to have access to the
original articles and began reprinting the Sun's series. It was not until the
Journal of Commerce sought permission to publish the series in pamphlet form,
however, that Richard Adams Locke, confessed authorship. Some authorities
think that a French scientist, Nicollet, in this country at the time, wrote them.
Before Locke's confession a committee of scientists from Yale University
hastened to New York to inspect the original articles; it was shunted from
editorial office to print shop and back again until it tired and returned to New
Haven. Edgar Allan Poe explained that he stopped work on the second part of
The Strange Adventures of Hans Pfaall because he had felt he had been
outdone. So many writers have perpetuated the legend that Harriet Martineau in
her Retrospect of Western Travel said a Springfield, Massachusetts, missionary
society resolved to send missionaries to the moon to convert and civilize the bat
After a number of his competitors, humiliated because they had "lifted"
series and passed it off as their own, upbraided Day, the Sun of September 16,
1835, admitted the hoax. When the hoax was exposed people were generally
amused. It did not seem to lessen interest in the Sun, which never lost its
In the early 1800's, in New York City, at the junction of Baxter, Centre,
Grand Streets, was the Centre Market. It is this area that people gathered to
buy their goods as well as exchange news. There was an area with long benches
and a soapbox where people could hold open forum to discuss topics of the
day. So sets the scene for my favorite hoaxes in journalism.
Of all the orators, a man named Lozier was the most respected. On a daily
basis, he could be found at the Market debating an important topic. Lozier had
an illustrious background. He had made several voyages to Europe as a ships'
carpenter and was well educated. Of all factors, his most important was that he
had charisma. Through sheer charm, Lozier could convince others that what he
was claiming was correct. He always had an answer ready for questions whether
they be political, financial, or moral. July of 1824 saw a sudden change in Lozier
and the birth of a great hoax. Although for years Lozier had made daily
speeches at the Centre Market, and was always available for individual debates,
now, all of a sudden, though coming to the Market each day, he sat off in a
corner and was very introverted. If anyone approached him he would abruptly
ask them to leave him alone. His friends debated among themselves on what
was causing this change in Lozier. Finally, after a few weeks of quietness, a
delegation approached Lozier with concern. Why was he so quiet and
This moment is just what Lozier had waited for. He proceeded to explain
was not only his own problem but it also greatly affected their very own lives!
With that statement there was dead silence and the crowd surrounding Lozier
grew bigger. In a well calculated and rehearsed speech, he went on to reveal the
dire problem. Simply put, he informed them that Manhattan Island was much
too heavy on the Battery end because of all the heavy construction that had
gone on in recent years. The weight of all these buildings at one end was
causing it to tip and eventually would break off into the sea! Though some
expressed doubtfulness, Lozier had "proof." He took the crowd to the center of
the street and told them to look down the road. From City Hall to the opposite
end was all downhill.
Now it was sheer panic! It was true! Lozier told them not to worry as he
almost figured out a solution. He asked them to give him a few more days and
he would announce how Manhattan could be spared of the pending disaster.
After a few days the news came that Lozier was going to speak that afternoon
the Market. Needless to say, hundreds showed up to hear his solution. With
much drama, Lozier explained how Manhattan Island could be saved. The plan
was as follows: First it would be necessary to saw the island off at the Northern
end, at the Kingsbridge, and tow it past both Governor's and Ellis Island and out
to sea. There Manhattan would be turned around and brought back into the
mainland and reattached. Now the heavy end would be the one attached to the
mainland and the opposite end, which had fewer heavy buildings, would be on
the free end. Zoning laws could be passed to prevent construction of buildings
on this end. Problem solved!
For several days the sawing off of Manhattan Island was on everyone's mind.
When public interest was at its height Lozier, who possessed a perfect sense of
timing, again showed up at Centre Market. When he arrived at the scene, he
took command. He held up a large ledger and announced that the names of all
able-bodied men would be recorded as applicants to work on the project. Over
300 men signed up the first day! Lozier next hired a handful of contractors and
carpenters to furnish lumber and build large barracks which would be used by
laborers during the actual saving process. Going one step further, he also
ordered a separate building to be constructed to house a mess hall to feed the
Continuing with the well-executed plan, Lozier next notified butchers to
their bids for five hundred head of cattle, the same number of legs, and three
Lozier was having great fun. He continued thinking up new things that had
done before the actual sawing could take place. He next sought out some
blacksmiths to have them make fifteen crosscut saws one hundred feet in
length and each saw tooth 3 feet high. (It would take fifty men to operate each
saw.) They also needed to make several miles of heavy gauge chain which
could be wrapped around trees and attached at the other end to the fifteen
hundred boats he was having built. (It must be added that no one questioned
just who was going to finance this operation.)
Perhaps the single event in this plot that tops them all in the sheer humor
is that of a "pitman." Lozier, at Centre Market, announced new applications were
being taken for several "pitmen." He explained that a "pitman" had the most
dangerous job. That job entailed being on the bottom end of the cross cut saw
-- under water! Since the job was so dangerous, the pay was triple of those on
top of the saw. To qualify for the job, the applicants must hold their breath and
be timed. Those with the longest time would be selected as "pitmen." All day
long the scene was the same. A man would have his turn at the front of the
line, Lozier would activate his stopwatch while the man held his breath. At a
certain point the man's face would turn various shades of red then, finally, let
out a burst of breath. Several men got in line more than once to see if they
could better their previous time.
The time came when Lozier could stall no longer. People were getting restless
and anxious to start the project. Lozier was forced to announce a starting date.
Even this was done with great flair. The date was announced and the workers
"hired." All were to report at 6 AM at a specific location on the Battery end. From
there a parade would march to the City Hall -- complete with bands! Thousands
showed up at the appointed time and place -- all except Lozier that is. He left
town the night before and hadn't been seen since!
History has not recorded how long these people waited around before it
dawned on them that they had been "had" -- or if they ever did realize it was
only a well-planned hoax.
Is Manhattan Island still sinking? No problem. Call Lozier!
Journalists created hoaxes to entertain and fool their readers. Journalists
wanted to beat their rivals: to create interesting, exciting (and exclusive) stories
for their readers. Before the invention of the telegraph, journalists also created
some hoaxes for a more practical reason: to help fill the empty spaces in their
It was difficult, however, for journalists to create hoaxes about topics
truly new. Newspapers published too many of the hoaxes, and journalists'
experiences -- and imaginations -- were limited. Thus, while creating a hoax,
most journalists selected a familiar topic: a topic they had already thought or
Journalists created hundreds of hoaxes about unusual animals, often monsters.
Journalists created other hoaxes about natural phenomena: earthquakes,
tornadoes and volcanoes, for example. While writing about the topics,
journalists tried to surpass their rivals. If journalists decided to write about a
monster, for example, they tried to create a monster that was bigger, louder
and more dangerous than any of the monsters described by their rivals.
Petrifications were another popular topic, especially among editors in
Stories about petrified men became so common that Mark Twain tried to stop
them. Predictably, Twain failed. Stories about unusual petrifications continued to
appear for years after his death. One of the last stories appeared in a
Wisconsin weekly. Typically, the story has reappeared dozens of times since
then, often as a factual account of a genuine event.
The phenomenon is a common one. When journalists create a hoax, no matter
how preposterous, some readers will believe it. Moreover, other journalists will
notice and reprint the story, not knowing (or perhaps caring) that the details are
fictitious. For years after that, Americans browsing through old newspapers will
find copies of it, and other media will reprint the copies. Thus, a good hoax may
continue to appear and reappear for 50 or even 100 years. Unfortunately, it is
difficult, often impossible, for historians to determine who created the hoax and
which newspaper was the first to publish it. Three of my favorite petrification
The Petrification of a Human
A San Francisco paper, the Alta, published a story about one of the West's
unusual petrifications. The story appeared in 1858 and was written in the form
of a letter. The author, Dr. Friedrich Lichtenberger, said he had witnessed a
death so shocking the he wanted to warn everyone about it.
Dr. Lichtenberger explained that a Prussian named Ernest Flucterspiegel
accompanied him on an expedition that began in San Francisco. Because of a
storm, they were forced to camp near a small stream. It was still early, Dr.
Lichtenberger continued, and several members of the expedition decided to
look for gold. They failed to find any of the valuable ore but amused
themselves by breaking open geodes: rounded masses of quartz with hollow
centers. The geodes varied in size from a few inches to several feet in
diameter, and some contained a transparent fluid. Most, however, contained so
little of the fluid that it never attracted much attention.
Flucterspiegel found a geode containing a half pint of liquid, and he promptly
swallowed it. While returning to their camp, Flucterspiegel complained of a pain
in the epigastric and left hypochondriac regions. By the time Flucterspiegel
reached their camp, he was speechless. The doctor laid him in a bed, much
alarmed, but not guessing the cause of his illness. Attempts to make
Flucterspiegel swallow some brandy failed. Cold beads of sweat covered his
face. His pulse was feeble, and his heartbeat violent and irregular. In 15
minutes he was dead.
A companion informed Dr. Lichtenberger that Flucterspiegel had swallowed
fluid in the geode, and the doctor concluded that it was some sort of mineral
poison. He could not, however, conceive of any poison which acted so rapidly,
nor caused such peculiar symptoms.
The doctor observed an unusual rigidity in Flucterspiegel's limbs. It increased
minute by minute, "until in the course of two-and-one-half hours the victim's
entire body became stiff and inflexible as a board."
The doctor decided to conduct a post mortem examination. He assumed that
the cause of death was some poisonous substance in the geode and proceeded
at once to examine the victim's stomach and part of his intestines. As Dr.
Lichtenberger made the initial incision, his knife created a grating sensation,
and he noticed Flucterspiegel's smaller blood vessels were solid and apparently
ossified. The doctor then removed Flucterspiegel's stomach. Upon slitting it
open, he found several masses as hard as the hardest quartz. The doctor also
removed some muscle and lumps of undigested potatoes, all equally hard. The
contents of Flucterspiegel's stomach had turned to stone.
The doctor next cut an opening in the victim's chest and discovered that
heart was a natural color, but hard as a piece of red jasper. Dr. Lichtenberger
used a small hatchet to separate the heart from its connections and, with some
difficulty, broke it in pieces. "The larger blood vessels were all as rigid as pipe
stems," he reported, "and in some cases the petrified blood could be cracked
out from the veins"
For future investigation, Dr. Lichtenberger saved portions of Flucterspiegel's
petrified food and bile, as well as pieces of his heart, lungs and blood vessels.
Members of the expedition then buried Flucterspiegel's remains on a little
island, erecting stones to mark the spot.
After returning to Fort Langley, Dr. Lichtenberger examined the specimens
saved. He applied nitric, sulfuric and hydrochloric acids, but nothing seemed to
have any effect whatever on the petrified blood. After various experiments, Dr.
Lichtenberger prepared a small quantity of fluorhydric acid, and this, to his great
satisfaction, acted upon it rapidly. It also acted upon the contents
ofFlucterspiegel's stomach and heart. After still more tests, the whole question
resolved itself in the doctor's mind. He concluded that the liquid which
Flucterspiegel consumed contained an immense quantity of silicic acid, and that
the acid caused a petrification of certain substances within his body.
Mark Twain's First Hoax
Mark Twain moved to Nevada in 1861 but failed as a miner looking for silver
and gold. Twain submitted several articles to the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia
City and was promptly offered a job on its staff. The Enterprise was already one
of the best papers in the West. Its editor-in-chief, Joseph T. Goodman,
employed a talented staff and encouraged his reporters to write interesting
features, including hoaxes.
Twain's first hoax, "A Petrified Man," appeared a few weeks after he began
work for the paper. Twain reported that a petrified man, about 100 years old,
had been found nearby. Every limb and feature was perfectly preserved, Twain
wrote, even the manÍs left leg, which had evidently been a wooden one. Twain
added that water dripping down the man's back deposited a limestone sediment
that glued the man's mummified remains to the rock upon which he sat. A
Justice "Sewell" or "Sowell" rushed to the spot to conduct an inquest and
determined that the man died from protracted exposure, Twain concluded.
Twain had two reasons for creating the hoax. First, he wanted to ridicule
journalists' frequent creation of stories about petrifications. Twain explained
that: "One could scarcely pick up a paper without finding in it one or two
glorified discoveries of this kind. The mania was becoming a little ridiculous. I
was a brand-new local editor in Virginia City, and I felt called upon to destroy
this growing evilÉ I chose to kill the petrification mania with a delicate, a very
Twain also wanted revenge. He was mad at the region's new coroner and Justice
of the Peace, a man named "Sewall." TwainÍs hoax portrayed Sewall as a fool
who rushed to the scene to learn what caused the death of a man who had been
dead (and turned to stone) for 100 years. While writing the hoax, Twain refused
to even spell Sewall's name correctly.
Like other journalists, Twain was surprised by the public's response to
by the fact that many of his readers believed it.
Wisconsin Petrified Man
Manley Hinshaw created Wisconsins' most successful hoax and, typically,
readers throughout the United States. Other journalists have continued to
reprint Hinshaw's story for more than 60 years -- and their readers continue to
believe it. On January 21, 1926, Hinshaw's story appeared on the front page of
a small weekly: the Rusk County Journal. It reported that two loggers had found
the remains of a French explorer lost in 1663. The explorer had been trapped
inside a basswood tree, and his body had become petrified there. Now, it was
being sent to the State Historical Society in Madison.
Hinshaw apparently wrote the story because he needed something to fill
empty space in that weeks edition of the Journal. Local readers realized that it
was a hoax but had also read Hinshaw's earlier stories, including a story about
an inventor who extracted static electricity from the air, then used the electricity
to run a large motor.
Other newspapers, even a national news agency, picked up Hinshaw's story
about the petrified explorer, and reprinted it as truth. As a result, people as far
away as Oregon sent the Journal a flood of letters and telegrams, asking for
more details and photographs.
Readers who wanted to see the mummified remains drove to the State
Historical Society's museum in Madison. An expert insisted that the remains had
not been brought to the museum and probably never would be. The expert
explained that, to be petrified -- to be turned to stone -- a body's decaying
cells would have to be replaced by mineral matter. And it was impossible for the
sap in a basswood tree to carry that type of mineral matter to a decaying body.
Other journalists find Hinshaw's story while paging through old editions
for stories to reprint in their newspapers' "Yesteryear" columns. The columns
reprint stories 5 to 50 years old. Some, however, reprint stories 100 years old.
In 1976, the 50th anniversary of Wisconsin's most famous hoax, the Ladysmith
News received a flurry of letters, apparently as a result of the storys'
republication in the column. The Ladysmith News received more letters in 1981,
the storys' 55th anniversary.
A book published in 1982 added to the publics' confusion. The book,
Wisconsin's Famous and Historic Trees, reprinted Hinshaw's story without
explaining that it was a hoax. In 1984, a newspaper copied Hinshaw's story
from the book The story goes as follows:
"Recently a firm in Chippewa Falls acquired a tract of land near here.
morning two employees of the firm, Art Charpin and Walter Latsch of Owen, set
about clearing the land for their company.
"They noticed a large basswood, and felled it. Even though it had a large
some 30 feet above the ground, it looked like good timber. Monday afternoon
they struck their saws into the basswood at a point where they expected a cut
would give them a 20-foot log and eliminate the portion affected by the large
hole. All went well until about half way through the log the saw stuck in a rock.
Latsch and Charpin cursed because they knew their saw blade would be dulled.
"After some labor, the men turned the tree trunk over and began a cut on
other side. Before long the same difficulty was encountered, but by turning the
trunk about, the cut was finally completed, and the log rolled away, revealing
what threw the men into a bad fright.
"There, staring up at them, was the ashen face of a man. And there, encased
the living trunk of the tree, was the entire body of a man, fully clothed in a
coarse homespun and buckskins, which fell away when touched, and the head
had been covered with long hair which had been tucked up under a Coonskin
cap. With the mummified body in the hollow tree was an old muzzle-loading
flintlock rifle and a muzzle-loading pistol of fanciful design."
One UFO sighting, which occurred on April 17, 1897, in the town of Aurora,
Texas, achieved fame more long-lived than the town itself. The incident, as
reported in the April 19 edition of the Dallas Morning News is as follows:
About 6 o'clock this morning the early risers of Aurora were
astonished at the sudden appearance of the airship which has
been sailing around the country. It was traveling due north and
much nearer the earth than before. Evidently some of the
machinery was out of order, for it was making a speed of only ten
or twelve miles an hour, and gradually settling toward the earth.
It sailed over the public square and when it reached the north
part of town it collided with the tower of Judge Proctor's windmill
and went into pieces with a terrific explosion, scattering debris
over several acres of ground, wrecking the windmill and water
tank and destroying the judge's flower garden. The pilot of the
ship is supposed to have been the only one aboard and, while his
remains were badly disfigured, enough of the original has been
picked up to show that he was not an inhabitant of this world.
Mr. T.J. Weems, the U.S. Army Signal Service officer at this place
and an authority on astronomy gives it as his opinion that the
pilot was a native of the planet Mars. Papers found on his person
-- evidently the records of his travels -- are written in some
unknown hieroglyphics and cannot be deciphered. This ship was
too badly wrecked to form any conclusion as to its construction or
motive power. It was built of an unknown metal, resembling
somewhat a mixture of aluminum and silver, and it must have
weighed several tons. The town is today full of people who are
viewing the wreckage and gathering specimens of strange metal
from the debris. The pilot's funeral will take place tomorrow.
The article was written by E. E. Haydon who was a part-time reporter for
Morning News. As startling as the news was, no other newspapers in the world
ran the story in their paper. News of the incident remained dormant for almost a
century (May 24, 1973) when newspapers around the country published the
following United Press International account:
"Aurora, Tex. -- (UPI) -- A grave in a small north Texas cemetery contains
body of an 1897 astronaut who "was not an inhabitant of this world," according
to the International UFO Bureau.
The group, which investigates unidentified flying objects, has already
legal proceedings to exhume the body and will go to court if necessary to open
the grave, director Hayden Hewes said Wednesday.
"After checking the grave with metal detectors and gathering facts for
months, we are certain as we can be at this point [that] he was the pilot of a
UFO which reportedly exploded atop a well on Judge J.S. Proctor's place, April
19, 1897," Hewes said. ñHe was not an inhabitant of this world."
A few days later, another UPI account datelined Aurora quoted a
ninety-one-year-old who had been a girl of fifteen in Aurora at the time of the
reported incident. She said she "had all but forgotten the incident until it
appeared in the newspapers recently." She said her parents had gone to the
sight of the crash, but had refused to take her along. She recalled that the
remains of the pilot, "a small man," had been buried in the Aurora cemetery.
Not to be outdone, the Associated Press, in a story datelined Denton, Texas,
reported that "a North Texas State University professor had found some metal
fragments near the Oates gas station (former Proctor farm). One fragment was
said to be 'most intriguing' because it consisted of primarily of iron which did not
seem to exhibit magnetic properties." The professor also said he was puzzled
because the fragment was "shiny and malleable instead of dull and brittle like
The Aurora Cemetery Association was successful in blocking the attempts
up the grounds in search of the "Martian pilot." The incident will probably go
underground again (pun intended) until its centennial in 1997 will bring another
round of widespread press coverage.
Crossing the Atlantic Ocean by a wind-powered, lighter-than-air balloon
been the dream of mankind since the invention of lighter-than-air craft. Since
the first manned balloon ascension on October 15, 1783 (tethered) and the first
manned free-flight on November 21, 1783, the goal has been to break the
bond with Earth and float between the New World and the Old World. This dream
lay unfulfilled for almost the entire history of manned flight to the present day.
It was not until 1873 that the first attempt was made to cross the Atlantic
New York to Europe by balloon --- the three brave souls got no further than
Long Island Sound before a storm forced them down. Not until August 10, 1978,
when Abruzzon and Newman in Double Eagle II went non-stop from
Pennsylvania to France was this elusive goal finally realized.
The New York Sun of April 13, 1844 put out a broadside extra headlined:
"Astounding News by Express. VIA Norfolk! --- The Atlantic Crossed in Three
Days . . .[by] Flying Machine . . ." How does this story jive with the facts at the
beginning of this article?
To understand these contradictions you must realize that in this era of
newspaper history, speed and more speed was the important issue, particularly
among the penny newspapers.
The New York Sun and the Herald had been battling for years and now the
Tribune came into the fray. Each of those (and other) competing papers desired
to be the first on the street with up-to-the-minute news. This was in the era
before the telegraph and the main source of "hot" news was a correspondent
with an "in" or a correspondent with a rapid mode of travel. Accuracy was to be
sacrificed for speed. Get the story and worry about truthfulness later.
Enter on the scene Edgar Allan Poe. This was the Poe of the Tell Tale Heart
Murders in the Rue Morgue fame. But although he was an author who is
venerated today, in 1844 he was nearly destitute. Poe had returned to New York
from Philadelphia with his sick wife and mother. He was a recognized genius but
his worldly wealth amounted to $4.50. His fortunes were at a low ebb when he
arrived back in New York on April 6, 1844. He and his family found rooms at
Greenwich Street, He wrote to a friend: "The house is old and buggy but it is the
best I can do with less than $5.00 in my pocket." He had to have more money.
The newspapers seemed to be the most available place to get it, and the Sun
was the liveliest of them all. Speed was what they wanted and speed was what
they would get!
Edgar Allan Poe wrote a hoax centered on the first crossing of the Atlantic
balloon and sold it to the New York Sun. It appeared on April 13, 1844
headlined in an extra heralding: "The Atlantic Crossed in Three Days!" The story
went on to say: "The great problem is at length solved. The Air, as well as Earth
and the Ocean, has been subdued by science, and will become a common and
convenient highway for mankind. The Atlantic has actually been crossed in a
The story that followed was about five thousand words in length. To summarize
it, Monck Mason had applied the principle of the Archimedian screw to the
propulsion of a dirigible balloon. The gas bag was an ellipsoid thirteen feet long
with a car suspended from it. The screw propeller, which was attached to the car,
was operated by a spring. A rudder shaped like a battledore kept the airship on
The voyagers, according to the story, started from Mr. Osborne's home in
Wales, intending to sail across the English Channel. The mechanism of the
propeller broke, and the balloon, caught in a strong northeast wind, was carried
across the Atlantic at a speed of sixty or more miles an hour. Mr. Mason kept a
journal, to which, at the end of each day, Mr. Ainsworth added a postscript. The
balloon landed safely on the coast of South Carolina, near Fort Moultrie.
The names of the supposed voyagers were well chosen by Poe to give credibility
to the hoax. Monck Mason and Robert Holland were of the small party which
actually sailed from Vauxhall Gardens, London, on the afternoon of November
7, 1836, in the balloon Nassau and landed at Weilberg, Germany, five hundred
miles away, eighteen hours later. The others named by Poe were familiar
figures of the period.
Poe used a plan of having real people do the things that they would like
The balloon hoax, however, lasted for only a day. The Sun itself said on April
15, 1844: "Balloon -- the mails from the south ... not having brought
confirmation of the balloon from England ... we are inclined to believe that the
intelligence is erroneous."
Poe went on to bigger and better things, although like many talented artists,
real fame and fortune were to elude him in his own lifetime. People fondly
remember Poe for Murders in the Rue Morgue and the Tell Tale Heart but
newspaper aficionados will think of him fondly as the author of the balloon
From 1866 until 1868 Mr. George Hull, of Binghamton, New York studied
archeology and paleontology. Over this period of time Hull contemplated how to
pull off a hoax. It seems that many an evangelist at the time had been
preaching that there were giants in the earth. In June of 1868 Hull traveled back
to Fort Dodge, Iowa where there was a gypsum quarry he had recalled seeing
two years earlier. Even then, he had noticed that the dark blue streaks running
through the soft lime rock resembled human veins. Realizing this its
appearance was tailor-made for his hoax and it was easy to carve, Hull hired a
group of quarry workers to cut off a slab measuring twelve feet long, four feet
wide and two feet thick.
In November, Hull had his gypsum wrapped in canvas and hoisted onto a
wagon. Since the nearest railroad was forty miles away, it proved to be a long,
difficult job. He then had the slab of gypsum shipped by rail to Chicago where
he had hired a stone cutter named Edward Burghardt to carve a giant. Burghardt
and his two assistants, were sworn to secrecy and agreed to work on the piece in
a secluded barn during their off hours and Sundays. The instructions were to
carve the giant as if it had died in great pain, and the final result was an eerie
figure, slightly twisted in apparent agony, with his right hand clutching his
stomach. All of the details were there; toenails, fingernails, nostrils, sex organs
and so forth. Even a needlepoint mallet was used to add authentic-looking skin
pores. When the carving was done, sulfuric acid and ink were used to make the
figure look aged.
The giant finished, Hull then had the figure shipped by rail to the farm
William Newell, his cousin, located near the town of Cardiff, New York. In the
dead of night, Hull, Newell and his oldest son buried the giant between the barn
and house. They were instructed to say nothing about it and that Hull would let
them know in about a year of what the next stage was.
Luckily, about six months later, on another farm near the Newell's, some
year-old fossil bones were dug up. Newspapers around the country reported the
finding. Hull was filled with glee in reading the accounts.
True to his word, one year after burying the giant, Hull sent word to his
on October 15, 1869, to start the next stage of the hoax. Newell hired two
laborers to dig a new well near his home. Newell directed them to the exact spot
he wanted the well dug and went back into the house to wait -- anxiously. Sure
enough, well into the day, the two laborers rushed up to the house to announce
their discovery: a giant turned to stone! The laborers and both Newells carefully
excavated the area surrounding the giant.
News of this amazing discovery spread throughout the valley and soon wagon
loads of neighbors streamed into Newell's farm to see the giant. By
mid-afternoon, Newell erected a tent around the "grave" and started charging
25 cent admission. Two days later, the Syracuse Journal (New York) printed an
article about the discovery. Being greedy, Newell raised the price to 50 cents,
and a stage coach company made four round trips a day from Syracuse to the
Newell farm. Thousands came every day. Among the visitors were clergymen,
college professors and distinguished scientists. Before long, the expert's
opinions split into two theories; one side claimed it was a true fossilized human
giant and the other side pronounced it an authentic ancient statue. No one
asserted that it was a fake!
About ten days after the discovery, and about the time the Cardiff Giant,
papers had named it, started receiving national attention, Hull sold two-thirds
interest in the giant for $30,000 to a five-man syndicate in Syracuse, the head
of which was a banker named David Hannum. The syndicate moved the giant to
an exhibition hall in Syracuse and raised the admission price to a dollar a head.
Unknown to them, P. T. Barnum sent an agent to see the giant and make an
assessment. The particular Sunday the representative saw the giant, the crowds
were abnormally large -- about 3,000 people. The agent wired the news back to
Barnum and Barnum instructed him to make an offer of $50,000 to buy it.
Hannum turned his offer down.
The Cardiff Giant was the most talked about exhibit in the nation. Barnum
wanted the giant to display himself while the attraction was still a hot topic of
the day. Rather than upping his offer, Barnum hired a crew of workers to carve a
giant of his own. Within a short time, Barnum unveiled HIS giant and
proclaimed that Hannum had sold Barnum the original giant and that Hannum
was now displaying a fake! Thousands of people flocked to see Barnum's giant.
Many newspapers carried the version that Barnum had given them; that is,
Hannum's giant was a fake and Barnum's was authentic. It is at this point that
Hannum -- NOT BARNUM -- was quoted as saying "There's a sucker born every
minute." Hannum, still under the impression that HIS giant was authentic, was
referring to the thousands of "fools" that paid money to see Barnum's fake and
not his authentic one.
Hannum brought a lawsuit against Barnum for calling his giant a fake. When
came to trial, Hull stepped forward and confessed that the Cardiff Giant was a
hoax and the entire story. The judge ruled that Barnum could not be sued for
calling Hannum's giant a fake since it was a fake after all. Thereafter,
Hannum's name was lost to history while Barnum was left with the misplaced
stigma of being the one to say "There's a sucker born every minute."