Known as "The Cottingley Fairies," this was one of a series of photos taken by two young cousins in 1917. The images were an instant sensation, even fooling Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who viewed them as clear proof of the existence of fairies. It wasn't until 1983 that the two girls finally admitted that they faked the photos by using cardboard cutouts. Still looks like a cool party, though.
In 1869, George Hull created a fake 10-foot-tall petrified man, then buried and exhumed it from his cousin's back yard in Cardiff, NY. Upon "discovery" of the giant, they immediately began charging spectators 50 cents to see it. The giant became such a phenomenon that Hull managed to sell his part-interest in the Cardiff Giant for $23,000 ($429,000 when adjusted for inflation).
A year later, to stop P.T. Barnum from profiting off an unauthorized copy, Hull confessed in court that petrified man was a forgery. Barnum's therefore, was proven to be a fake of a fake.
3. The BBC's "Spaghetti Tree" Hoax for April Fools' 1957
On April Fools' Day 1957, the BBC aired a short TV segment about the harvesting of spaghetti trees in Switzerland. At the time, not everybody knew how pasta was made, so to them, a spaghetti orchard seemed just as plausible as anything else.
About 8 million people watched the broadcast, which CNN later called "the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled." Well, aside from the content that Fox News airs every single day...
Known as "The Turk," this 18th-century automated chess-playing robot toured the world for a staggering 84 years and defeated thousands of human players in the process. Thing was, though, that The Turk didn't know how to play chess at all. Instead, a chess master would hide inside its table and manipulate the pieces via magnets and levers.
That's a relief. So, what's Garry Kasparov's excuse for losing to Deep Blue?
In one of the strangest hoaxes of all time, rumors swept the world in September of 1969 that Paul McCartney had died and was replaced with a look-alike. The story began when a writer for the Drake University newspaper pointed out various "clues" to Paul's death in Beatles album artwork and tracks.
McCartney, who had been out of the public spotlight for a few months, finally granted an interview with Life magazine in November of 1969, and so that would be end of all the "Paul is dead" nonsense, right? Of course not! People still believe the McCartney's a fake to this day, because conspiracy.
In the 90's, a guy name Ray Santilli showed up with a supposed 50-year-old alien autopsy film. The footage was black-and-white, grainy, and very suspect. Even still, UFO conspiracy theorists ate it up, and it became the focus of a massively successful hour-long Fox special titled Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction.
Spoiler alert -- it's fiction. In 2006, Santilli admitted he shot the whole thing with a homemade dummy but contested that it was "a reconstruction of real footage that has been destroyed." Uh-huh...
In 1725, professor Johann Beringer was Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Germany's University of Würzburg. Also, he was apparently an insufferable coworker, which is why two of his colleagues decided to mess with him by planting fake fossils in places Beringer was known to dig.
...And we're not talking about one or two false fossils, here. We're talking about thousands of stones, planted over a series of months, bearing images of plants, animals, Hebrew symbols, religious iconography...you name it.
When Beringer was about to publish a book on his findings, his colleagues finally came clean and admitted the prank, but by then it was too late. He figured they were just a couple of haters and went ahead with the book anyway. In the end, it would ruin all three of their careers.
The editors of Rolling Stone magazine decided to try an experiment. In 1969, they printed a review of a fake album by a non-existent band called The Masked Marauders, which they claimed was a supergroup that included Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney (all playing under pseudonyms, of course).
Rolling Stone then took the joke one step further by hiring an obscure California band to record a full Masked Marauders album. All told, The Masked Marauders spent 12 weeks on the Billboard charts and sold more than 100,000 copies. Not bad for a group that never even existed.
Brace yourselves, pranksters and flash mobbers, because you all look downright pedestrian when compared to Theodore Hook. For no purpose other than his own amusement, Hook sent out thousands of letters requesting services at the address of 54 Berners Street in London. All day, the unsuspecting residents had to send away chimney sweeps, wedding cakes, over a dozen piano deliveries, priests, lawyers, dignitaries... It was reported that Berners Street eventually became so congested with chaos that every available police officer was sent to try to disperse the crowd.
All the while, Theodore Hook calmly sat across the street, letting the insanity entertain him all day.
In 2012, Notre Dame football star and Heisman candidate Manti Te'o had a breakout season, despite the fact that his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua had recently died in a car accident.
It was an uplifting story of personal triumph... until Deadspin found out that Lennay never existed. In fact, she was the creation of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, an acquaintance of Manti's. Tuiasosopo had been pulling one over on Te'o for an unreal three years of romantic phone calls and emails. Once exposed, he did what we all would do: he went on Dr. Phil, then retreated into obscurity.
Some people reach for the stars with their hoaxes, while others just strive to build fake perpetual motion machines. Charles Redheffer was in that latter camp. He toured his device around the country, charging exorbitant prices for viewings. Sadly, though, when an engineer investigated, he found that Redheffer's "perpetual motion device" was actually being operated by a man in the other room with a hand crank.
In 1726, Mary Toft -- a human woman -- gave birth to rabbits!
...Well, ok, they were actually just rabbit parts that she managed to birth (eww, by the way). Days later, she went into labor again with another litter of dismembered rabbit pieces. That's when the press got involved. But strangely enough, once she was under constant supervision, Mrs. Toft could no longer magically produce bunnies from her womb. Weird, right?
When threatened with a surgical inspection of her uterus, Mary finally admitted it was a fraud. Smart choice.
The early 1900's should be forever known as the era in which a horse scammed us all. Clever Hans was its name, and solving math problems was its game. Trainer Wilhelm von Osten would ask the horse various math equations, and Clever Hans would answer by stamping its hoof.
The problem? Clever Hans didn't know math at all. He was just a dumb ol' horse. But, he would respond to involuntary cues from von Osten and spectators in order to know when to stop tapping the floor. He made fools of everyone, all for those sweet, sweet congratulatory carrots.
In 1934 and the decades that followed, this image was known as the "Surgeon's Photograph." It was viewed by many (including the Daily Mail) as indisputable proof of the existence of Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster. After all, just look at it. It has to be a lake dinosaur. What else could it be?
...How about a toy submarine purchased from Woolworths with a wooden head attached? Because that's what photographer Robert Kenneth Wilson eventually admitted it was.
This one is probably king of the "Forwards from Grandma" genre of Internet hoaxes that invade our inboxes on a daily basis. It was a bogus press release passed around in 1994 that claimed Bill Gates "will acquire the Roman Catholic Church in exchange for an unspecified number of shares of Microsoft common stock."
Yeah, it's totally ludicrous, but you need to remember that computers and the Internet were just starting to catch on at the time, and Microsoft was seen as this magic company with unlimited resources. For that reason, this dumb email was forwarded around to millions upon millions of people, many of whom actually believed it and called their Congresspeople to complain.
Today, of course, we find that idea adorable. ...You know, the notion that contacting your local representative could actually accomplish anything.
Was this over 5 years ago already? For those of you not in the know, in October of 2009, Richard Heene (a father in Colorado) caused a media sensation when he claimed that his 6-year-old son was trapped inside a runaway gas balloon. People all over America watched live as the balloon sped through the sky, presumably with a child stuck inside.
Turned out, though, that it was all a ruse, and the kid was safely at home the whole time. For orchestrating this event, Heene was sentenced to 90 days in jail and had to pay $36,000 for wasting the time of rescue personnel (who prefer to assist people with actualemergencies, not reality TV sizzle reels).
Look at those mysterious markings left in a Wiltshire, England field in 1985. Surely, extraterrestrial life is the only being that could possess the tools to make such incredible formations.
...Or two dudes with some wood planks and rope. In 1991, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley admitted creating every single crop circle since 1978. What was their motivation? Was it money? Fame? Power? No, it was a force more powerful than that...boredom.
If you're an anthropology buff (and who isn't?), then hoaxes don't get much bigger than Piltdown Man. It was a skull that purported to be proof of evolution's "missing link" between apes and humans, and was celebrated as one of the most important cultural discoveries in history. For a full 40 years, Piltdown Man was regarded as fact, until it was exposed as a forgery in 1953. For single-handedly setting the evolution debate back an entire generation, we'll say this to Piltdown Man's "discoverer," Charles Dawson: not cool, dude.
What do you do when an issue of Sports Illustrated is scheduled to be released on April 1st? How about invent an entirely fictional baseball prodigy and make him the cover story? "The Curious Case of Sidd Finch" told the story of a young phenom who could supposedly throw at 168 miles per hour, is a world-class French horn player, and only wears one shoe. They even got the New York Mets to go along with the con, staging photographs of Finch's jersey and spot in the clubhouse.
One week later, on April 8th, Sports Illustrated announced Finch's retirement.
For the price of $12.50 per week, P.T. Barnum purchased the exclusive rights to display a supposed "mermaid skeleton" called the Fiji Mermaid (actually the remains of a monkey sewn to the back half of a fish). Barnum then hired an associate to pretend to be a doctor who discovered the rare creature and had that man travel city to city, drumming up grassroots enthusiasm. Once the public was sufficiently enamored, Barnum "convinced" the doctor to let him display the mermaid for the public. What a guy!