Face it, some people get off on making everyone else look stupid. Alright, maybe that’s a bit harsh, but suffice to say, they enjoy fooling people, getting their goat, yanking their chain. You get the idea. Hoaxes. Some are clever, others are just mean (and therefore probably more funny). These are a few of the most famous.
Cardiff, New York : Cardiff Giant
Atheists and ministers… the two don’t always get along. In the 1860’s an atheist tobacconist named George Hull got into an argument with a fundamentalist minister named Mr. Turk. Sparks flew and the main point of contention became Mr. Turk’s unfaltering belief that giants did indeed wander the Earth as stated in Genesis 6:4. Hull, being a jerk, and rich, and admittedly kind of funny, decided to have a fake petrified giant created. The ten foot high giant was carved out of gypsum then weathered with chemicals. Hull then had it buried on his cousin’s farm. A year later, the cousin hired two men to dig a well where Hull had buried the giant. The giant was, of course, discovered. A big brouhaha was made. People gathered. People paid money to see it. Hull’s cousin doubled the price. Scholars immediately could tell it was fake, while religious fundamentalists insisted it was real. Hull laughed himself silly and sold the giant for almost fifteen times what it cost him to make. P.T. Barnum wanted to lease it, was turned down, so had a replica made. Today both the giant and its replica still survive and are on display. Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills, Michigan claims to have the replica, while the original is housed at the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York.
New York City : War of the Worlds
Imagine it, you’re a genius storyteller. You’ve adapted the work of another genius storyteller. Tonight’s the night you perform, and your performance is so convincing that your audience thinks it’s real. They’re panicking, they’re calling the police, they’re contemplating suicide. Who are you? You’re Orson Welles, and you’ve just convinced a whole lot of people that Martians have invaded New Jersey. Good times. Yep, on October 30th, 1938, Orson Wells and his “Mercury Theatre on the Air” performed a radio adaptation of H.G. Wells “War of the Worlds”. The gimmick? The performers didn’t introduce it. They just cut in with, “We interrupt this program” and went into a series of News Reports about a Martian Invasion that had just landed. The show also had no commercials, which made it all the more convincing. Alright, so maybe the people who thought it was real weren’t such dopes. This was Orson Welles they were dealing with. It’s likely he timed key points of show to occur when listeners were flipping through the dial, so they’d happen upon the show right as something gripping was happening under the guise of a news broadcast. Those who were fooled were of course outraged afterwards. CBS was apparently banned forever from using “We interrupt this program” for dramatic purposes. Welles, of course, immediately became one of the most famous storytellers in America and soon left for Hollywood.
Winchester, Hampshire, England & Various : Crop Circles
Most prevalent in England, the best part of the crop circle hoax is probably how much it tends to humiliate the so-called experts. For almost two decades, mysterious crop circles would appear throughout England and the rest of the world. The crops were not cut, they were bent. It was “impossible” apparently for humans to bend crops this way. This must be the work of supernatural forces. These people were, of course, complete morons. And this was proven in 1991 when two men from Southampton, England stepped forward and claimed they were the two who started the whole modern craze. They proceeded to show how they did it using hats, wire, rope, and a long plank of wood. Their reason for stepping forward? One of the two men was afraid his wife thought he was cheating on her. What, with the late hours and enormous mileage being put on his car, what else could she think he was doing? He couldn’t possibly be using tools a veritable caveman would have to create things experts thought had to have been made by UFO’s.
Cottingley, England : Cottingley Fairies
Oh my god, those are photographs of fairies! Sorry, but this hoax is especially laughable by today’s standards. Why today’s standards? What’s changed? That’s simple. Star Wars. Why Star Wars? Two words. Special effects. We’ve spent the last thirty years surrounded by them. We’re used to them. We can tell when they’re great, and we can tell when they stink. Now, go back 100 years. When motion picture film was first invented and a clip of a train arriving in a station was shown in a theater, people in the audience ran screaming in fear of being run-over. What am I getting at? No offense to those who came before us, but when it comes to movies and photography in general, we’re a much more sophisticated audience than they were. In 1917, cousins Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright took five photos of “real fairies”. The photos became public a couple of years later and a large number of people believed they were authentic. So why is this so laughable? Because by today’s standards the photos are blatantly fake. This hoax is a product of its era.
Piltdown, East Sussex, England : Piltdown Man
It’s 1912 and the missing link between man and apes has finally been found! Actually… it hadn’t… but it would take 40 years for anyone to widely figure that out. Over the course of several trips to a gravel pit in the small village of Piltdown, pieces of a skull and jaw were discovered. Once assembled, the skull itself resembled that of a modern man, the jaw looked like an ape’s. In 1923, a German Anatomist named Franz Weidenreich took a look at the remains and said, “Yeah… uh, guys? It’s a human skull… with an orangutan jaw. *cough*” You’d think someone would have paid attention, but nope. In 1938 a memorial was erected where the skull was found. This was an important discovery! In 1953 “The Times” published a report. The skull was a human skull from medieval times, the jaw was 500 years old and an orangutan’s with teeth from fossilized chimpanzees. The bones had been stained with chromic acid. The hoax is believed to have lasted for so long because it confirmed (incorrect) beliefs by scientists that human evolution from apes started with the brain. It was also a matter of national pride for the British. The forger has never been identified, but the man who discovered the bones, Charles Dawson, is the prime suspect.
We may be more sophisticated these days, but we’re still just as gullible. As we see every April 1st, people fall for hoaxes. In the 1980’s there was a huge uproar when it was announced in London that Big Ben would be converted to a digital clock. And as long as people fall for them… well, we’ll just keep having fun at their expense.