IF YOU HAVE ever been fooled by a prank, you’re not alone.
In fact, some of the world’s most elaborate hoaxes have fooled hundreds, thousands, and sometimes millions of people.
From spaghetti trees to alien autopsies, people have been taken in by strange and wonderful tales. We take a look at seven of the most famous.
The Piltdown Man
From 1913 – 1953, a skull found in a gravel pit in Piltdown, East Sussex had experts fooled. They believed that the bone fragments came from the missing link between apes and humans. It transpired, however, that the whole thing was an elaborate hoax, with the bones of an orangutan and human fused together. It wasn’t until an article in Time was published in 1953 that the world was informed of the many untruths around the find. The identity of the hoax artist, however, remains a mystery…
(Michael Stephens/PA Archive/Press Association Images)
Crop circles are one of the major phenomenons that captured the imagination of people worldwide. They initially began appearing in fields in the late 1970s, in intriguing and complex patterns. Some believed they were linked to UFO sightings, and were created by advanced beings not of this earth. But others thought that it was most likely hoaxers that were to blame. In 1991, Doug Bower and Dave Chorley claimed they had began the hoax circles in 1978 and that they created the patterns using a “stomper board” made of wood and rope. The rash of crop circles that appeared after their announcement was put down to copycats. Today, crop patterns are even used to advertise events and films (see above).
(AP/Press Association Images)
Photographer Roger Patterson is pictured above comparing his foot with a cast in Los Angeles on November 3 1967, which he said he made of California’s legendary Bigfoot monster after tracking it in forest country near Eureka, California. A film made by Patterson and Robert Gimlin allegedly showed Bigfoot, who is said to live in forests in the Pacific Northwest region of North America:
But its resemblance to a man in a furry suit led many to think it was faked. There were tales about a similar creature, a ‘Ts’emekwes’, seen by the indigenous people living in the area, but to date, no ‘real’ Bigfoot has been found. The last prominent sighting was in 2007 in the Allegheny National Forest, but was said to have really been a bear with mange. So until a Bigfoot is captured up close, there is always the possibility the 10 foot tall hairy creature exists…
The War of the Worlds
This was a radio drama directed and narrated by Orson Welles (before his Citizen Kane days), broadcast on October 30 1938, and was based on HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds. With its simulated news bulletins, cuts to realistic on-the-spot interviews and infamous lines like “Oh, the humanity!” (which was itself based on a radio report on the Hindenburg disaster), it managed to convince many listeners that aliens had indeed invaded New Jersey. Some were angry about being duped, with a number even suing for mental anguish.
Though it wasn’t intended to have the impact it did, the show went on to inspire more radio hoaxes that also had people fooled – check out the fantastic Radiolab podcast for more on this subject.
Thought spaghetti grew on trees? Well it does. At least, according to a 1957 Panorama broadcast, it does. This hoax fooled people into thinking there was an exceptionally heavy spaghetti harvest in southern Switzerland. The fact it was broadcast on 1 April should have led people to cotton on to the fact this was a likely story, but with spaghetti not being as popular back then, and the respected Richard Dimbleby doing the informative voiceover, many were fooled.
The Cottingley Fairies
In these days of photoshop, digital images and even hologram rappers, it’s easy to scoff at the folks who thought the cardboard fairies above were real. But back in 1917, photography was still in its relative infancy, and not everyone had a camera. So when Elsie Wright (16) and Frances Griffiths (10) took photographs of Elsie and some dancing fairies, not everyone questioned whether they were real. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used the photographs (which were developed by Elsie’s father, an amateur photographer) to illustrate an article on fairies in 1920, and the picture soon became well known. The fact the photos were faked was only admitted in the early 1980s by the women – although Frances still stated that the final photograph (not the one above) was real.
Roswell Alien Autopsy
(Lynne Sladky/AP/Press Association Images)
In 1995, a film surfaced that purported to show the 1947 autopsy of an alien that had died in a UFO crash in New Mexico. The Roswell UFO crash is a story all of its own, but the alleged autopsy helped to give those who believed aliens landed in Roswell something to convince them of its truth (as X Files fans will know). But Ray Santilli, a Londoner who claimed that he had been given the footage, later admitted that the film was a ‘reconstruction’ of an original film he had been given. The happenings inspired the 2006 comedy film, Alien Autopsy.
What are your favourite famous hoaxes? Tell us in the comments below.