With the power of the internet and photoshop type software, it’s now so easy to perpetrate some great hoaxes that are perfectly believable. Indeed, everyday there are people who sit behind their computer screens with multiple online personalities all hiding their real selves. Long before the internet, though, people have been hoodwinked or fooled into believing something that later turned out to be completely false. Here are 7 great hoaxes that rocked the world.
The Turk was a chess playing machine invented in 1769 by Wolfgang von Kempelen. He toured Europe for several years defeating luminaries such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin. The Turk was a cabinet that displayed a set of clockwork mechanisms that played chess against human opponents. It turned out to be a cabinet that concealed a Grand Chess Master who operated the mechanism.
This is one of the most enduring of great hoaxes. The legend of Loch Ness has existed for hundreds of years and in 1934 the legend came to life when Colonel Robert Wilson, a highly respected British surgeon, took a picture of a serpent head and neck rising out of the loch. Nessie finally became real for millions of people until 1994 when Christian Spurling confessed to his role in the plot to create the famous photograph and fool the public.
Der Stern, the German magazine, announced on 22 April 1983 that it had purchased the greatest Nazi memorabilia of all time. It had bought sixty small books that were a diary kept by Adolf Hitler between 1932 until his death in 1945 and it had cost 10 million Deutsche Marks. Within 2 weeks, however, the diaries were found to be a forgery perpetrated by notorious Konrad Kujau. For one of great Hitler hoaxes of all time, he was sentenced to 42 months of prison for his work that was written on modern paper with modern ink and full of historical inaccuracies.
The British Museum reconstructed a skull from fragments found in 1912 in a gravel pit at Piltdown. Experts claimed the original fragments were the fossilised remains of a hitherto unknown form of prehistoric man. After reconstruction, it was presented as an evolutionary missing link between ape and man. 41 years later however, it was exposed as a forgery that was composed of a medieval human skull, a 500 year old jaw of an orangutan and fossilised chimpanzee teeth. The forger has never been established and Piltdown Man remains one of the great hoaxes Britain would like explained.
Ray Santilli presented his film of his alleged Alien Autopsy in May 1995. The debate still goes on today about his claim that the alien body was picked up from the Roswell UFO crash site (1947). There are arguments that the body is either a mannequin, a girl with a genetic disorder or a real alien, and pathologists have questioned the techniques used in the autopsy. Fox TV debunked the video soon after its release and in 2006, a British spoof was released with a plot line of Santilli faking the autopsy footage. The facts that Santilli was involved in the later film and that a sign on the wall in the original film was of a sort not seen until 20 years after the event are evidence that people accept show Santilli’s film was a fake and a great hoax.
As a Halloween special on October 30 1938, Mercury Theater performed a radio adaptation of The War of The Worlds, the novel by H.G. Wells. The live broadcast caused panic because many listeners believed that Martians were really invading. People fled their homes while others, including Princeton scientists, rushed to the supposed site of the meteorite crash landing. This has gone down in history as the single greatest media hoax of all time, even if it was unintentional.
In 1994, a press release was circulated on the Internet claiming Microsoft had bought the Catholic Church. It quoted Bill Gates as saying he considered religion to be a growth market and that the combined resources of Microsoft and the Catholic Church would make religion easier and more fun for a broader range of people. Microsoft would acquire exclusive electronic rights to the Bible and sacraments would be made available online. On December 16 1994, Microsoft had to issue a formal denial of the press release. This was the first of the great hoaxes of the Internet and the origin remains unknown.
Well, I hoped you’ve enjoyed this little trip in the world of fake and forgery and some of the great hoaxes of all time. I'm certain there are many more to come. Have you ever been hoodwinked?
Top Photo Credit: Ben Heine
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