Famous Hoaxes

Is there a “most famous” hoax in history?
Is there a good source for historical hoaxes?
I would nominate the shroud of turin.

Christianity ?


I guess it depends, as a recent President might say, on what the meaning of ‘hoax’ is.

Even if I accept that the Shroud of Turin is not the cloth in which Jesus’ body was wrapped, I don’t think there’s much doubt that the proponents of the Shroud have held a long-standing and good-faith belief in its reality. I think there’s a perjorative sense to the word ‘hoax,’ implying as it does a conscious effort to deceive.

In the same way, I wouldn’t characterize Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” broadcast as a hoax; they didn’t do it deliberately to mislead people, although that’s what happened.

Crop circles, on the the other hand, are legitimately ‘hoaxes’ to the extent they’re done by people, and not extraterrestrials.

  • Rick

Piltdown man was a very famous hoax. There is a book about hoaxes I have read before I don’t recall its exact name but I think if you do a search at amazon or your local library you could find it.

There are a lot of books on hoaxes (with titles like “Hoax!”, or “Hoaxes”, etc.). I don’t recall the exact titles – they’re at home and I’m at work. Pick up the Paradox Press “graphic Novel/overpriced comic book” called “The Big Book of Hoaxes” and rummage through their bibliography.

For my money the plan to saw off Manhattan and turn it around has a pretty good shot at the best hoax. It’s in the aforementioned Big Book of Hoaxes, but it’s also in New York City histories, like “The Epic of New York”. (I know EVE has read that book, 'cause it’s in one of her bibliographies.)

Here’s a top-ten of hoaxes:


I was hoping for a list by category. ie art,history,science,people (Anastasia,…)

I am just now reading a biography of Thos. Chatterton, the 18th-century writer who faked a bunch of 15th-century poems and passed them off as being written by one Thos. Rowley, a monk from Bristol. It’s pretty much forgotten now, but—oh—200 years ago or so was quite the talk of the booksy-wooksy world.

Other more modern litarary frauds include Clifford Irving’s “memoirs” of Howard Hughes, and Christina Crawford’s “Mommie Dearest.”

Ummm, “literary.”

[of all the words to flub!]

HOAXES, by Curtis MacDougall, published by Dover, is a fine and very entertaining reference book on the history of the phenomenon up to the late 1950s.

Dover’s usually pretty good about keeping their stuff in print, but I see on Amazon.com that they dropped the ball on this one. You can probably find a reasonably-priced copy on ABE or Bibliofind.

Oh, yeah, and I second Cal’s suggestion of that Paradox Press book. Great bathroom reading, as are most of the “Big Book of…” series.

MOMMIE DEAREST? I LOVE that book! I never realized that Joan Crawford gargled with razor blades!

Off to IMHO.

I have to take issue with Frolix8’s link, specifically in regards to the Amityville Horror. While the story may be a hoax, the story that the Lutzes have confessed is itself a hoax!

I saw the story on, IIRC, The History Channel. What the Lutzes actually admitted was that the movie overly dramatized some of the events of “the Amityville Horror.” In other words, it wasn’t really that scary. The guy who wrote the book where the Lutzes “confessed” willfully distorted this because he had a major axe to grind against the Lutzes. He admitted as much on the History Channel show and, yes, I think he’s been sued over it. The Lutzes were also interviewed on the show and they still claim that they did NOT stage the events themselves. But you still hear skeptics everywhere repeating the claim that the people involved have confessed.

It just goes to show that even skeptics are prone to believe what they want to believe. Please note that I’m not saying that I believe that supernatural activity took place in Amityville. One theory, which I think has been woefully overlooked, is that someone other (living) person was tormenting the Lutzes in order to drive them out of the house.

Evolution ?


The OP can be interpreted in various ways, but I think the most successful hoax in history is one that’s still fairly obscure to the general public (not to SDMBers, of course :)), but, at the same time, looks like it will be passed along forever.

I refer to “The Great Bathtub Hoax.”

  1. It is a true hoax. H. L. Mencken deliberately made it up.

  2. It is widespread. Even now – 80+ years after it was created, the “facts” of the hoax are still being repeated as true in history books and other sources.

Briefly, the hoax says that the bathtub was invented in Cincinnati in 1842, that doctors called them unhealthy, that Boston passed a law against its use, and – the part that looks like it will never die – that Milliard Fillmore installed the first bathtub in the White House (over the protests of the medical authorities). These “facts” crop up even in legitimate reference sources (Like Grolier online, for instance.)

(For the record, Andrew Jackson installed the first bathtub in the White House – and there was no uproar. It was in 1834, before the bathtub was supposedly “invented.”)

A book called “Naked Came the Stranger” came out ca. 1970,
supposedly by some hot new author, it was in fact written
by 10 NewsDay journalists, one chapter each, without each
having read anyone else’s chapter.

Not the biggest, but a cool one, especially because the
book sold decently.

Perpetrated by whom? God, for leaving all that evidence?

Otherwise, as Bricker pointed out, it doesn’t fit the definition of hoax. Those wacky scientists actually believe the mountain of physical evidence they’ve accumulated.

Of course, by that definition I don’t think Christianity can be called a hoax either.

The people who manufactured the shroud actually thought it was the burial shroud of Jesus? :rolleyes:

The scientists who bought the Piltdown Man hoax, hook, line and sinker, weren’t guilty of fraud. The person who thought to attach the gorilla jaw to the human skull was.

The sincerity of belief among those not involved in the hoax doesn’t make the hoax any less a hoax, and the fact that someone else believes the hoax doesn’t mitigate the crime of the person perpetrating the hoax.

“Conscious effort to deceive” is a pretty darned good definition of “hoax.” The word deserves every bit of the perjorative sense with which it’s been saddled.

I would have nominated christinsanity, but ronan beat me to it, and anyways we all know how far that kind of debate gets us…

I nominate ‘democracy’. Several billion people around the world would claim they live in a ‘democracy’, but in actual fact they don’t. Anyone familiar with the work of Kenneth J. Arrow and others who work in the same field will know that what most people consider to be ‘democracy’ can’t exist anyway. (See “Social choice and individual values” by K.J. Arrow).

But it’s such a comforting illusion that people get rather angry and defensive if you even hint that what they think of as a ‘democratic’ society is actually far from being one. Meanwhile, the few at the top retain all the wealth, power and privilege for themselves.

Eat me Doubleday. You did not create it and you did not do it at Cooperstown


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