During the late 1970’s and early 1980’s a leaflet was circulated around Europe claiming that many safe food additives were in fact carcinogenic. It caused widespread panic considering that common substances like citric acid were included on the list. The name was derived from the false belief that the hoax originated in Villejuif, France.
The Long Distance Lift
Frederick Lorz was a long distance runner taking part in the 1904 Olympics. Part of the way into the race, he had to stop running because of exhaustion. His manager gave him a lift for the next 11 miles before Frederick got out and finished the race on foot. Not surprisingly, he won. But his glory didn’t last long. Although he initially went with it, he was forced to admit the hoax shortly thereafter.
In 2002, people started receiving emails to delete a file called jdbgmgr.exe on their computer because it was a piece of malware that anti-virus programs couldn’t detect. The reason that they couldn’t detect it, however, was because jdbgmgr.exe wasn’t actually malware. It was a valid file used by Microsoft Windows.
On April 1, 2008, the BBC reported about a colony of flying penguins in Antarctica. They even had a reporter walk among the alleged “flying penguins” and document their flight to the Amazon rainforest.
Of course, many of you will be thinking…but that’s just water. Yes, it is. But many people don’t know that. In the 1990’s, a 14-year-old student started the anti-DHMO campaign to expose the lack of scientific literacy among people. Today, it has been expanded to include a website and references. A popular warning is that 100% of people who drink dihydrogen monoxide die. Note: of course they do. Everybody drinks water and everybody eventually dies.
This was a supposed psychoactive drug made from bananas. Its recipe was first published in the Berkeley Barb in 1967. Although it was clearly a joke, many people believed it to be true.
In 2009, hundreds of U2 fans descended on a shopping center in Cork, Ireland believing that U2 was playing live on the rooftop. A local radio station, however, had organized the whole thing deliberately. The disappointed fans showed up to find a tribute band called U2opia.
Wilhelm von Osten, a German math teacher, wanted to prove that animals were smart. So, in the early 1900’s he taught a horse named Hans to do math. People were impressed. Hans would tap his hoof to solve almost any problem. Hans was even nicknamed Clever Hans. Eventually, however, psychologists figured out the truth. Wilhelm was giving Hans the answers via nearly imperceptible movements of his face. The craziest part? He wasn’t doing it on purpose. Although Wilhelm refused to believe it, today we refer to such a situation as the “Clever Hans Effect.”
This winged hare is supposedly indigenous to Sweden. It was thought up by taxidermist Rudolf Granberg and is now on permanent display in a museum in the city of Sundsvall. At one point it was even jokingly given the scientific name “Tetrao lepus pseudo-hybridus rarissimus L.”
When he noticed that there were no Indonesian superhero films, Iskandar Salim made up an entire marketing campaign to promote an upcoming film about Gundala (an Indonesian superhero). There were a lot of disappointed fans when Iskandar was forced to reveal the hoax and that there wasn’t really a movie being made at all.
Long story short, there was a website that promoted bonsai kittens. That’s right, you could allegedly grow your own kitten in a jar. Needless to say, people were outraged. At the end of the day, however, it emerged that the whole thing was a hoax.
On April 1, 1957 the BBC reported to its viewers about a small Swiss town that grew its spaghetti on trees. Before long people were calling in asking about how they can grow their own spaghetti at home.
According to the official Australian Museum website, tourists should watch out for so-called drop bears. These carnivorous koalas drop out of trees and attack humans. If you ever talk to an Australian, you can be assured that they will readily warn you of the very real drop bear threat. But trust us, it’s a hoax. You trust us right?
In 1969, Rolling Stone editor Greil Marcus reviewed an album by a supergroup called the Masked Marauders. It consisted of Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Bob Dylan, and Paul McCartney. Greil was annoyed with the popularity of so-called “supergroups” and intended his article to be a parody. His audience, however, took the bait and everybody was desperate for a Masked Marauders album.
Manhattan Airport Foundation
Intended to be a parody of government lobbyists, the Manhattan Airport Foundation lobbies to replace Central Park with an airport. They claim it would be the largest public works project in New York since the creation of Central Park.
Moonicorns (Great Moon Hoax)
In 1835, The Sun, a newspaper in New York City published a report that astronomers had found unicorns on the moon. As dumb as it sounds, people believed it.
War of the Worlds
Perhaps the most famous hoax in history happened in 1938 when Orson Welles narrated the War of the Worlds (by HG Wells) live on air. Although the extent of the ensuing panic is disputed, some people apparently mistook the fiction for fact and actually believed Earth was being invaded by Martians.
Naked Came the Stranger
This was a book published by Penelope Ashe in 1969. Except Penelope Ashe wasn’t a real person. She was made up by the real author, Mike McGrady. He had tried to make the book as terrible as he possibly could in order to protest the current state of affairs in the publishing world. Much to his dismay (but proving his point!), the book went on to become a best seller. When Mike exposed himself as the true author…it only sold more! Apparently, the joke was on Mike.
A fictional creature supposedly found in the waters of North America and Iceland, this hoax dates back to the 17th century when locals told tales about Iceland’s “shaggy trout.” In 1929, the Montana Wildlife magazine added fuel to the fire by publishing an article about how the fish explodes when it is taken out of the water (allegedly due to temperature changes). Although it was quickly refuted, the hoax persists to this day.
The Big Donor Show
In 2007, the Big Donor Show (De Grote Donorshow) aired on Dutch TV. In it, a woman tried to select one of twenty five people to whom she would donate her kidney. Due to its controversial nature, it was eventually revealed that it was just a hoax. The woman was an actress. The contestants, however, actually did need kidneys and had agreed to participate in order to raise awareness about a lack of available organs. It was a hoax for a good cause!
On April Fools of 1965, the BBC conducted a trial of a new technology where they transmitted smells over the radio. Apparently a lot of people called in to report the success of their trial.
On December 20, 1917, H. L. Mencken wrote an article explaining that the bathtub had been brought to the US on the same day in 1842. He claimed that only after being installed in President Fillmore’s White House did it begin to catch on in the US. He went on to further explain that the anniversary had been forgotten. Although it was meant in good fun, soon even universities were publishing his story. It was too late, he couldn’t take it back. To this day people cite December 20, 1842 as the birthday of the American bathtub.
Taco Liberty Bell
In 1996, Taco Bell ran an advertising campaign announcing that they had purchased the Liberty Bell and renamed it the Taco Liberty Bell in order to reduce the public debt.
The Gullible Media
Perhaps this is more relevant today than ever before. On April 1, 1983, Joseph Boskin, a history professor at Boston University, was pressured into explaining the history of April Fools. After unsuccessfully trying to explain that the history is uncertain, the reporter kept pushing for more. Joseph decided to just make up a story on the spot (basically that it started with court jesters in ancient Rome). The media believed the story, and for several days, they published it non-stop. Needless to say, the truth eventually emerged, and the AP was left somewhat embarrassed.
In 1884, a news article appeared in Canadian news titled “What is it? A strange creature captured above Yale. A British Columbia Gorilla.” Although it has since been discounted as a hoax, some conspiracy theorists have latched onto the article as proof of Sasquatch.