Famous Hoaxes Throughout History

Cayle Suntken

While we are living in the age of information, there is still a lot of misinformation out there, no thanks to confidence artists and tricksters. Here are a few of the more infamous examples of trickery:

Paul is Dead

There was a widely circulated rumor that Paul McCartney of the Beatles was killed in a car accident in the late 1960s. The earliest mention of this rumor appeared in the February 1967 issue of “Beatles Book Monthly”, the magazine of the official Beatles Fan Club in which the rumor in question was debunked in a one paragraph article entitled “False Rumour”. The rumor wasn’t widespread until a Drake University student by the name of Tim Harper wrote an article for the September 17, 1969 edition of the Drake Times-Delphic student newspaper entitled “Is Beatle Paul McCartney Dead?” The student newspaper at Northern Illinois University plagiarized Harper’s article for their September 23, 1969 edition.

The rumor reached its apex later that year with a RKO-produced one-hour Thanksgiving special entitled “Paul McCartney: The Complete Story, Told for the First and Last Time”. The special was a mock trial that featured future O.J. Simpson defense team member F. Lee Bailey.

It’s safe to say that the rumor is false as Paul McCartney is still with us to this day.

The Cardiff Giant

On Oct. 17, 1869, archaeologists Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols were doing an excavation on the farm of William “Stub” Newell in Cardiff, New York when they discovered a supposed petrified body of a ten-foot giant. Soon after, it became a media sensation where hundreds flocked to the site of the excavation. Newell set up a tent over the area and charged visitors a quarter to see the giant.

Of course, this was a hoax that was perpetrated by George Hull, a cigar maker from nearby Binghamton. Hull, who was Newell’s cousin, had planted the fake giant a year before the “discovery”. Hull, a devout atheist, got the idea for the hoax in 1866 when he got into an argument with a Methodist reverend named Mr. Turk over the existence of giants in the Bible while on a business trip in Ackley, Iowa. When he returned to Iowa in June 1868, Hull bought an 11-foot block of stone from a gypsum mine outside of Fort Dodge, Iowa under the assumption that he was going to build a statue of Abraham Lincoln in New York. After it was shipped to New York state by train, Hull commissioned a German stone cutter to sculpt the infamous giant under a pledge of secrecy.

Cottingly Fairies

In 1917, a nine-year-old South African girl named Frances Griffiths was staying at the home of her sixteen-year-old cousin Elsie Wright and her parents in Cottingley, England. Frances was fascinated by the creek behind the Wright house. When asked about her fascination with the creek by her aunt, she replied that she wanted to see the fairies. When her aunt disbelieved, Elsie suggested that they borrow a camera from her father to take a picture of the supposed fairies. When they showed a photograph depicting Frances surrounded by five fairies to her father, he was at first skeptical. After being persuaded by the young girls, however, the elder Wright believed the girls. Although the photographs were kept within the family at first, they were popularized by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was best known as the creator of the “Sherlock Holmes” character. In the 1980s, Griffiths and Wright admitted to the press that the photographs were fake and the “fairies” were nothing more than cutouts. In 1998, the photographs were sold for £21,620 at a Sotheby’s Auction.