25 Forgotten Hoaxes That Fooled The World

A hoax is a deliberately fabricated falsehood made to masquerade as truth. It is distinguishable from errors in observation or judgment, rumors, urban legends, pseudosciences, or April Fools’ Day events that are passed along in good faith or as jokes. Even if you weren’t aware of its meaning it’s almost certain you’re aware of some of the most famous and “successful” hoaxes. Some have even managed to fool millions of people and last for ages or even decades. Take the Loch Ness monster for example. It may be easy for us to understand how a photograph can be manipulated (after all, photoshopp skills are not that uncommon anymore), but for people back then, a photo manipulation was not something easily done.

Another extremely successful hoax was the alien autopsy. The 1995 London-based film by producer Ray Santilli, which presented a few minutes of grainy black-and-white film footage that purported to show a dead alien (supposedly from the Roswell crash) undergoing an autopsy, had hundreds of millions of people fooled worldwide and the footage was at first hailed by many in the UFO community as authentic before it was exposed as a fraud. Both hoaxes are, without a doubt, among the most famous and part of pop culture. However, there have been countless hoaxes throughout history. You might have heard of a few of them. These are 25 Forgotten Hoaxes That Fooled The World.


William Mumler’s Spirit Photography

William Mumler’s Spirit PhotographySource: hoaxes.org, Image: commons.wikimedia.org

William H. Mumler was an American spirit photographer who worked mainly in New York and Boston. Perhaps his two most famous works are the photograph of Mary Todd Lincoln with the ghost of her dead husband Abraham Lincoln, and his photo of Master Herrod, a medium, with three spirit guides. After being accused of various activities, he was taken to court for fraud, with noted showman P. T. Barnum testifying against him. Though found not guilty, his career was over, and he died in poverty. Today, Mumler’s photos are considered fakes.


The Walam Olum Hoax

The Walam Olum of Constantine RafinesqueSource: hoaxes.org, Image: commons.wikimedia.org

The Walam Olum or Walum Olum, usually translated as “Red Record” or “Red Score,” is purportedly a historical narrative of the Lenape (Delaware) Native American tribe. The document has provoked controversy as to its authenticity since its publication in the 1830s by botanist and antiquarian Constantine Samuel Rafinesque. Ethnographic studies in the 1980s and analysis in the 1990s of Rafinesque’s manuscripts have produced significant evidence that the document is a hoax. Some Delaware people, however, believe Rafinesque based his writing on actual Lenape stories.



The Travels of Sir John Mandeville

The Travels of Sir John MandevilleSource: hoaxes.org, Image: commons.wikimedia.org

Ostensibly written by an English knight, the Travels claim to relate his experiences in the Holy Land, Egypt, India, and China. Mandeville declares that he served in the Great Khan’s army and to have traveled in “the lands beyond”—countries populated by dog-headed men, cannibals, Amazons, and pygmies.


The Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of TurinSource: hoaxes.org, Image: Wikipedia

The Shroud of Turin is a length of linen cloth bearing the image of a man that is believed by some Christians to be the burial shroud of Jesus. Three radiocarbon dating tests in 1988 concluded that the age of the cloth only goes back to the Middle Ages.


The Rabbit Babies of Mary Toft

The Rabbit Babies of Mary ToftSource: hoaxes.org, Image: Wikipedia

Mary Toft was an Englishwoman from Godalming, Surrey, who in 1726 became the subject of considerable controversy when she tricked doctors into believing she had given birth to rabbits. However, when a famous London physician threatened that he might have to surgically examine Mary’s uterus in the name of science, she confessed she had simply inserted the dead rabbits in her womb when no one was looking, motivated by a desire for fame and the hope of receiving a pension from the king. She was briefly imprisoned for fraud, but released without trial.

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