Messing About With Reading Lists: Media Hoaxes

This is sort of a reblog of myself, because I have a habit of making up reading lists like this - and this one has been sitting since last September in my GR writing area.


While I like the Booklikes' list idea, what I can't figure out is whether I can add any annotations or writing on this list - I'm thinking no? Because here's the thing - a reading list doesn't make much sense with only a single title to pull it together. You need to have a little bit of context before you'll understand the purpose, if it has a specific theme that is. Or alternately you could make a really, really long title, I suppose


My "new" Reading list:


Media Hoaxes and History


Under the page break is the long list of those books that I posted in my GR writing area, explaining what some of those books are and why I started the list in the first place. Some of the specifics are important - and here's a great example of why - because some of the hoax stories are short stories found only within a collection, you'll not be able to figure out the hoax just by looking at the books.


So, for some context, here's the explanation I wrote last year. I'm going to be lazy and not remove all of the GR links, just know that the reason they're all there is due to where this was first published. I'd link to my current Media Hoaxes Reading shelf but I have yet to figure out how to do that in Booklikes - I don't think it's possible? Anyway, it's under M.


Also I never did get back to finishing the research at the end - probably because I got sidetracked by other reading! (Spoiler: that's what usually happens to me!)



List inspired by the book Media Hoaxes by Fred Fedler. It's also Poe's fault*.

Fedler, a now retired journalism professor, enjoyed his hoax research so much that in the preface he prints a mailing address, and asks:

"If you know about a forgotten hoax - any hoax lost in one of those old newspapers or obscure editions - I would like to hear about it."

He not only thanked multiple people who helped him but also describes their research - which not all authors bother to do. But then I'm a research junkie and love such behind-the-scenes stories.

I have to admit here that I previously only used Fedler's book as a teaching resource, which isn't the same as sitting down and reading the entire book for enjoyment - and all the more reason why I took time for an unhurried full read now. Anyway, the more I read his book the more I realized that a lot of the more famous hoaxes are now easily accessible as ebooks or at least posted online somewhere.

[An aside: Another thing I've discovered is that hoax is one of those words that, the more you type it, the more odd and misspelled it looks. I'm sure there's a word for that feeling of "I'm misspelling this, aren't I?" - clue me in if you know it.]

So this list began with Fedler, but I'm going to pull in other books and resources and continue adding to it over time. Hoaxes will be (vaguely) defined as tall tales and more tongue in cheek fare, all printed to resemble actual news articles. It's going to be up for grabs as to how much each author actually intended readers to really believe in the truth of these articles. The key for my selection is that the article was presented as factual and it was up to the reader to figure out the reality through careful reading and common sense.

I'm focusing on the more historic cases in newspapers and magazines rather than anything too close to the modern era in hopes that the material will be more easily available (and free) online. These articles are particularly fun for the history lover who already has too much too read and too little time, because many of them are short, quick reads.


Links helpful in adding to the list:

wikipedia: List of Hoaxes
wikipedia: Journalistic Hoaxes
Museum of Hoaxes: Journalism, Media Hoaxes

Resulting Reading List of Media Hoaxes History Books
(that writing the following led me to with links to GR book page - link to my GR review indicates I've read it, otherwise I haven't, but want to)

The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showmen, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth-Century New York by Matthew Goodman

I've also made a Media Hoaxes Reading List shelf, though GR links to individual works are in the list below.


Dates are primarily taken from wikipedia, so as always double check and don't assume complete accuracy.

Links are to: wikipedia page, GoodReads page (GR), Gutenberg ebook page. Text link indicates work is online on a webpage rather than a downloadable ebook.

Authors and stories arranged by date from oldest to newest.

[While I'm working on this a lack of links may indicate I'm not finding anything online. See end of this list for the Still Looking list.

Also please feel free to recommend a book, website, etc. or offer up corrections where needed. I particularly wish I had examples from non-American and non-British authors.

Unless stated otherwise all of the following were presented to the public as news stories documenting actual events.


Jonathan Swift - wiki - GR

The Bickerstaff-Partridge Papers (1708-1709) : wiki - GR - Gutenberg
Swift found the yearly almanac of John Partridge so irritating and the predictions such nonsense that he created the persona of Isaac Bickerstaff to make his own astrological predictions, one of which was the date Partridge was to die. When that date passed Bickerstaff claimed that Patridge had died (a few hours later than predicted) - although in reality Patridge was still alive, and annoyed that people thought he wasn't. Swift kept up the joke, and was assisted by other writers/friends.

A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick (1729) : wiki - GR - Gutenberg


Benjamin Franklin - wiki - GR

Silence Dogood letters (around 1722): wiki - ebook: Internet Archive [not in GR alert librarian]
At age 16 Franklin created the character of Silence Dogood, a widowed mother, and then proceeded to write essays/letters by her which were printed in The New-England Courant and then in other papers. The wikipedia page has many quotes from the letters.

"A Witch Trial at Mount Holly" (1730): text and background (Museum of Hoaxes)

Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim on the Slave Trade (1790): Franklin's penname: Historicus - text (at website:, also here (website: The Founders' Blog)
The letter writer tells of a speech by an Algerian, supposedly given in 1687, about his society's enslavement of Christians and how this is both necessary and good thing for the slaves. Franklin is parodying the arguments given in favor of slavery in a speech by Congressman James Jackson of Georgia.


Washington Irving - wiki - GR

A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by Diedrich Knickerbocker (1809): wiki
Ebook: Gutenberg (Knickerbocker's History of New York)
Randomly Knickerbocker has his own GR page, with no note that it's Washington Irving - UPDATE: within hours of hailing a GR librarian all was fixed! Which may help someone since there's a tv show that may spur a bit of Irving interest.



The Great Moon Hoax of 1835 (1835, August) - wiki - GR
ebook: Google Books
Read online: Museum of Hoaxes - has full text of all articles, starting with Day One (other days are linked on that page)

Six days worth of stories were published in the New York Sun claiming that life had been discovered on the moon. The series went into detail about the (extremely imaginary) moon inhabitants, and readers were fascinated by the content. Authors/those involved with hoax: Richard Adams Locke (reporter with the Sun), Jean-Nicolas Nicollet (astronomer, etc.), Lewis Gaylord Clark (editor of The Knickerbocker).

Poe's Moon Hoax story preceded this one by a month.


Edgar Allan Poe - wiki - GR

The Unparalled Adventures of One Hans Pfall (1835, June): wiki - GR - Museum of Hoaxes
Online Text: here (at Good Short Reading page), also here (Poe Society of Baltimore)
Ebook: Internet Archive
Also referred to as Poe's "Moon Hoax story."

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1837): wiki - GR - Museum of Hoaxes
Online text: here (Poe Society of Baltimore)

The Journal of Julius Rodman (1840): wiki - GR - Museum of Hoaxes
Online text: here (Poe Society of Baltimore)

The Balloon-Hoax (1844): wiki - GR - Museum of Hoaxes
Online text: text (website: Poe Society of Baltimore)
Story about a group of adventurers in a balloon accidentally crossing the Atlantic, thanks to a storm. Poe has as one of the passengers a Harrison Ainsworth, who many at the time would have recognized as a British novelist.

The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar (1845): wiki - GR - Museum of Hoaxes
Ebook: Gutenberg (Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Volume 2)

Von Kempelen and His Discovery (1849): GR - Museum of Hoaxes
Online text: text at Wikisource
Ebook: Gutenberg (Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Volume 2)

And possibly

Mellonta Tauta (1849): GR
Online text: text at Wikisource

[If you're looking for works of Poe to read online bookmark this the index of the Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, A Comprehensive Collection of E-Texts, Poe Society of Baltimore.]


Maria Monk - wiki - GR

Awful Disclosures of the Hotel Dieu Nunnery of Montreal (1836): GR - Gutenberg
No one's sure if this was actually written by Maria Monk or by ghost-writers, but the book definitely fed upon the anti-Catholic feelings many held at the time.


Mark Twain - wiki - GR

"A Ghost Story" (1870)
Cardiff Giant - wiki - year: 1869


Dan De Quille - wiki - GR


Ambrose Bierce - wiki - GR

[Checking under Tall Tales (Ambrose Bierce Project) for one that can fit the list. Bierce was known to write satire and news stories, catch is finding an example online - most online work of his are the stories.]


Great Wall of China Hoax (1899, June 25): wiki - text (Museum of Hoaxes), authors: Al Stevens, Jack Tournay, John Lewis and Hal Wilshire; all were reporters at four different Denver newspapers
Article stated that several Chicago businessmen were negotiating with the Chinese for a contract to demolish the wall and use the stones for roadways. And of course was completely false.


H. L. Mencken - wiki - GR

A Neglected Anniversary” (1917) : printed in New York Evening Mail - wiki - GR (book:The Bathtub Hoax, and Other Blasts and Bravos from the Chicago Tribune, 1958) - text (at Museum of Hoaxes)
A story on the history of the bathtub's introduction in the United States (cited in the article as December 20) becomes so popular everyone thought it was the truth, even when Mencken tried to explain it was all meant as a joke and completely fabricated.


Not a Hoax But I Wanted To Add This Somewhere Because in the 1880s You Just Know That This Incident Would Cause Some More Straitlaced Folks' Heads To Explode

Harcout Interpolation (1882, January 23) - wiki (contains screenshot of effected portion of the article)
The London Times newspaper's compositors (who arranged type for printing) were in a dispute with management, and so it probably wasn't too surprising that someone in that department fiddled with the text of Home Secretary Sir William Harcourt's speech.

See if you can guess which part/word was tampered with/added:

"I saw in a Tory journal the other day a note of alarm, in which they said “Why, if a tenant-farmer is elected for the North Riding of Yorkshire the farmers will be a political power who will have to be reckoned with”. The speaker then said he felt inclined for a bit of fucking. I think that is very likely. (Laughter). But I think it is rather an extraordinary thing that the Tory party have not found that out before."


Still Researching: I Can't Find The Original Articles Behind These Hoaxes Online - Yet

Philip Yorke, 2nd Earl of Hardwicke - wiki
The English Mercurie - wiki - the hoax wasn't debunked until 1839
Supposedly The English Mercurie was the first English newspaper, but was actually a hoax created by the earl and his friends.


1834, newspaper: The Leeds Mercury - subject: survivors of the Concordia, probably sunk in Feb 1708 off the coast of Australia - Dutch Shipwrecks on the Western Australian Coastline

1943, Faux Soir - wiki


1950, scientific journal, topic: Bare-fronted Hoodwink (Dissimulatrix spuria), author: ornithologist Maury F.A. Meiklejohn. - wiki, Museum of Hoaxes (with photo!)


* So I was off happily reading Poe's detective stories here, and then when the need for some non fiction hit me I'd read Fedler's media hoaxes. And though I should have remembered this (having read Fedler before) there's a large amount of Poe's writing that has to do with hoax media stories and suddenly I was reading Poe and then reading Fedler sum up Poe and suddenly everything was all POE POE POE! It also seems weird that no one's put together a collection of just those media stories, or at least made a point of listing them all together - and then of course I thought I should read them back to back - and ta da, here we are, a long list that I'm spending time twiddling with.

And it's not as though Poe hasn't sent me off on Research Quests before: example here! (With GR readers/researchers coming to the rescue with information and citations!)

Yes, I do odd things for fun in my free time...