The Most Epic Hoaxes Ever to Fool the Unsuspecting Masses
These days, most of us are well aware that you can't believe everything you see on TV or read on the internet. But throughout history, plenty of elaborate hoaxes have managed to fool people the world over. Here you'll find a collection of some of the most successful hoaxes, pranks and April Fools’ Day jokes of all time. From the hilarious to the bizarre, these unbelievable antics are proof that people are a lot more gullible than most of us would like to believe.
The Not-So-Accurate Origins of April Fools’ Day
Back in 1983, university professor and historian Joseph Boskin was being interviewed by an insistent reporter named Fred Bayles. Though Boskin kept explaining that nobody really knows for sure how April Fools’ Day first came about, Bayles kept asking for a definitive answer.
The Curious Case of Edward Mordake
If you're a fan of American Horror Story: Freak Show, then you may be familiar with a character named Edward Mordake. As it turns out, Mordake first began as a hoax back in the late 19th century.
The Derbyshire Fairy
In 2007, Dan Baines, a magician's illusion designer (red flag, anyone?) posted a photo that he claimed showed the remains of an actual fairy. He insisted the creature had "been examined by anthropologists and forensic experts who can confirm the body is genuine."
The Notorious Balloon Boy Incident
In 2009, a couple named Richard and Mayumi Heene were all over the news after they claimed their 6-year-old son had disappeared. The couple said that the boy had floated away in a large weather balloon on their property, but was nowhere to be found when the balloon was discovered miles away.
The Giant Camel Spider Scare
Though there are plenty of reasons to be sympathetic to soldiers serving overseas, something truly bizarre appeared online in 2004. A photo began circulating via email that appeared to show two soldiers in Iraq holding a giant, prehistoric spider.
Happy Bathtub Day
In late December of 1917, fun-loving writer H. L. Mencken of the New York Evening Mail decided to treat his readers to a little trickery. He wrote a piece that might be seen in The Onion today, throughout which he lamented the loss of the public's observance of December 20.
The $50,000 Bigfoot Scam
There have been plenty of Bigfoot hoaxes in history, but perhaps none quite so brazen as the one pulled off by two Georgia men in 2008. The pair not only claimed that they had discovered the body of Bigfoot while out hiking, but they also held an elaborate press conference to discuss their find.
The Blair Witch Project
While "found footage" movies aren't such a novelty today, this wasn't the case when The Blair Witch Project first premiered in 1999. The movie appears to be a documentary made by a group of film students who set out to find the truth behind a creepy local legend in the nearby woods.
The Missing Link Misses the Mark
Ever since Charles Darwin popularized the theory that humans and apes shared a common ancestor, scientists have been looking for the "missing link." In 1912, a man named Charles Dawson claimed he’d found a skull that appeared to have been formed in mid-evolutionary transition between apes and humans.
A Novel Approach
In 1969, a Newsday columnist named Mike McGrady decided to make a point about how questionable some of the books that made the bestseller lists of his day had become. He and his friends from Newsday each wrote a smutty chapter for their own book, with an emphasis on the idea that the result should be truly terrible.
The DIY Spaghetti Tree
On April 1, 1957, the BBC program Panorama played one of the most epic April Fools’ jokes of all time on an unsuspecting public. Apparently, the process of how spaghetti was made was a bit murky for a lot of the program's listeners back then. So the radio show did a segment all about a Swiss town that was renowned for its spaghetti trees.
The Automated Chess Player
These days, all you have to do is download a chess app if you want to face off against a computer. But around 1770, when this "chess-playing robot" came out, such an idea was the stuff of sci-fi legend. "The Turk" first appeared in the court of Maria Theresa, the Empress of Austria-Hungary, and went on to tour Europe and even America for nearly a century.
The HMS Dreadnought
Virginia Woolf and poet William Horace de Vere Cole were once part of an elite group of artists and thinkers known as the Bloomsbury Group. In 1910, Woolf and Cole got together with a few fellow geniuses and played an epic prank on the British Royal Navy.
The Taco Liberty Bell
In 1996, Taco Bell played one of the most famous pranks in American history. It took out full-page ads in newspapers like The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune to announce its plans to buy the Liberty Bell. Such a purchase, the fast-food chain claimed, would undoubtedly help America catch up on its national debt.
The Great Moon Myth
On August 25, 1835, a writer named Richard Adams Locke began publishing what was meant to be a satirical social commentary in the New York City paper The Sun. Throughout a series of essays, he detailed how an astrologer named John Herschel had discovered a civilization on the moon.
Don't Drink and Type
In 1994, a writer named John Dvorak got Americans all riled up when he ran an article in the magazine PC Computing. Throughout the piece, he described Bill 040194, which was supposedly up for consideration in Congress. The contact person was listed as a Lirpa Sloof, which no one took the time to realize was "April Fools’" spelled backward (check out the bill’s number, too).
Clever Hans' Clever Ruse
Around the turn of the 20th century, one of the greatest hoaxes of all time was pulled off by a horse. It all began when a German math teacher named Wilhelm von Osten claimed he had trained a horse named Hans to perform basic math.
The Cardiff Giant
On October 16 of 1869, a large stone man was discovered by a group of well diggers in Cardiff, New York. It came to be known as the "Cardiff Giant." Some argued it was a petrified man, while others insisted it was an ancient statue. As it turned out, the truth was even crazier.
The Masked Marauders
Back in 1969, Rolling Stone editor Greil Marcus became so fed up with the supergroup trend of the day that he released a satirical article designed to mock it. In it, he announced an upcoming record by The Masked Marauders, a band formed by Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
The Loch Ness Monster
Though legends of the Loch Ness Monster go back centuries, most of us have probably seen the 1934 photo that claimed to prove its existence. Taken by a man named Robert Wilson, the photo soon convinced people around the world that the monster was, in fact, real.
The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus
An online hoaxer named Lyle Zapato loves creating fake but elaborate websites detailing the existence of mythical creatures. One of his sites details the plight of the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, an octopus that hangs out in the trees of Washington State.
The Great Faint
If you happened to be watching The Phil Donahue Show on January 21, 1985, then you may remember a bizarre phenomenon play out on national television. Seven audience members suddenly fainted during the course of the taping. Donahue got concerned and sent everybody home. The baffled producers theorized that the studio lights had become too hot.
Rudolph Fentz: The Accidental Time Traveler
As the story goes, a man named Rudolph Fentz suddenly appeared in New York City's Times Square in June of 1950. Clad in clothes from the 1800s, he appeared terrified before being struck and killed by an oncoming car. Investigators later found 19th-century money and a card with his name on it in his pockets.
Nat Tate: The Greatest Artist Who Never Lived
In 1998, British novelist and former Oxford lecturer William Boyd published a biography on an obscure artist named Nat Tate. The book told of Tate's life from 1928 to 1960, during which he produced abstract art, 99% of which he destroyed before leaping to his death from the Staten Island Ferry.
I'm Still Here
In 2009, popular actor Joaquin Phoenix suddenly announced that he was retiring from acting in order to pursue his true calling of becoming a rapper. He even appeared on David Letterman’s show with a long beard, unkempt hair and sunglasses, and appeared to basically be out of his mind.
Mary Toft's Awkward Offspring
In one of the more bizarre hoaxes on record, 25-year-old English servant Mary Toft claimed to give birth to several litters of rabbits in 1726. Though they were mostly dead, her furry offspring began to cause quite a stir around the English countryside.
The Hitler Diaries
In 1983, several renowned newspapers and magazines published parts of what were believed to be the diaries of Adolf Hitler. After the diaries apparently surfaced from the wreckage of a 1945 plane crash, one German magazine paid $4 million for them.
The Fijian Mermaid
No list of hoaxes would be quite complete without something from P. T. Barnum. The famous Victorian circus man was known for his oddities in the 19th century, and it's no surprise today that not all of them were as legitimate as he claimed.
Microsoft's Holy Roman Acquisition
In 1994, rumors began circulating online that Microsoft intended to take things to the next level by purchasing the Roman Catholic Church. The story even quoted Bill Gates as saying, "The combined resources of Microsoft and the Catholic Church will allow us to make religion easier and more fun for a broader range of people."
In 1907, a woman named "Sober Sue" began to make appearances at The Roof Garden in New York City. Sue issued a challenge which, if completed, could earn anyone $100. In order to collect the prize, however, they had to make her laugh. Sounds simple enough, right?