…Almost without exception the perpetrators of [these] kind of hoaxes… have been amateurs at that sort of thing. That is, they have concentrated their energies on exposing one or at most two or three situations which have ``gotten under their skin’’ to such an extent as to compel action. Then they have laughingly rested on their laurels.
There was, however, at least one professional bubble-buster: Brian G. Hughes, New York paper-box manufacturer and founder of that city’s Dollar Savings Bank, who died in 1924 at the age of seventy-five years. Wealthy, Mr. Hughes enjoyed spending his money in no way better than by exposing inflated egos.
The owner of numerous pieces of property, he erected ``Not for Sale’’ signs on all of them. Instead, he posed as a public benefactor by offering supposedly valuable gifts of real estate to official and semi-official bodies.
On one occasion he appeared before the Board of Aldermen to announce he wished to donate a plot of ground in Brooklyn as a public park. After accepting the offer and extending gracious thanks, the board appointed a committee to inspect its acquisition. It turned out to be a two-by-eight-foot rectangle which Hughes had purchased for thirty-five dollars near Sixth Avenue and Sixty-third Street.
Several historical societies accepted from Hughes a mansion which Lafayette was supposed to have occupied during the Revolutionary War, actually a dilapidated shack at 147th Street and Concord Avenue in the Bronx, tenanted by tramps.
Hughes is credited with having been the first to drop a package of imitation jewels in front of Tiffany’s. He also distributed tickets to banquets and other functions which never were held. Once he caused a frantic search of the Metropolitan Museum of Art by leaving a set of burglar tools and some empty picture frames on its doorstep.
Disguised ornately as the Prince of Amsdam, Cyprus and Aragon, he presented an old policeman’s badge to the actress, Lavina Queen, who sat on an improvised throne in the old Waldorf-Astoria in the belief she was being made a Princess of the Order of St. Catherine of Mount Sinai.
All of Hughes’ vans bore the mysterious letters, L.P.B.M.I.T.W., which stood for
Largest Paper Box Manufacturer in the World.'' Hughes delighted in hanging expensive umbrellas in public places and then watching their thieves, upon opening them, become showered with signs reading, Stolen from Brian G. Hughes.’’
Best remembered of Hughes’ pranks were those involving animals. For an entire year, through newspaper publicity, he kept alive interest in the South American Reetsa expedition which he said he had financed. Finally word came that one rare reetsa had been captured; quidnuncs lined North River to watch its arrival. Down the gangplank came an ordinary steer. Spell ``reetsa’’ backwards.
Purchasing an alley cat for ten cents, Hughes belittled the ability of some of the world’s leading cat judges by entering it in an important animal show as of the famous Dublin Brindle breed named Nicodemus by Broomstick out of Dustpan by Sweeper. Almost unbelievably, the carefully groomed feline won a first prize.
Hughes’ only outstanding failure was his own fault because he spilled his secret before judges at the Madison Square Garden horse show had a chance officially to pass on the horsy merits of Orphan Puldeca, Sire Metropolitan, dam Electricity, purchased by Hughes for eleven and a half dollars, from the Metropolitan Street Railway Company which was changing from horse to electric power. The animal could not be started until Miss Clara Hughes, its rider, jingled a little bell. Its name meant ``Often Pulled a Car