Real Eyes Realize Real Lies. The wise lyrics from Pink Floyd and Tupac Shakur are still relevant today.
From the newspaper age to the age of social media, as long as there’s been a vehicle for stories to spread, there’s been hoaxes. It’s never been easier for information, true or false, to spread like wildfire.
Here are 16 examples of hoaxes that fooled people throughout history.
Stories That Weren’t As They Seemed
Hoaxes can be carefully planned or skirt the line of deception. Sometimes there is an agenda behind it; other times, people are just looking to have a little fun.
1. Balloon Boy
Richard and Mayumi Heene said they made a homemade hot air balloon at their home in Fort Collins, Colorado, in October of 2009. They claimed that when they launched the giant UFO-looking balloon, they began to look for their six-year-old son, Falcon, but could not find him anywhere. So they had concluded that he must have climbed into the balloon while they weren’t looking.
Well, for almost an hour, the media and authorities were all over it. We had a constant eye on the sky. The authorities did everything they could to make sure nothing would happen to the balloon. When that moment finally came, much to everyone’s surprise, little Falcon was nowhere to be found. So what happened?
Falcon was eventually found in the couple’s house in the attic. When asked why he didn’t come out when he was called for, Falcon told authorities that his parents had instructed him to stay hidden.
Eventually, it came out that the parents were hoping to catch the media’s eye, land a reality TV show about them on the air, and get money fast. In the end, the parents were convicted of crimes but later pardoned by the governor of Colorado.
2. Mary Toft and the Bunny Births
One of the off-the-wall hoaxes you’ll hear about is Mary Toft giving birth to several animals. Yup, you read that right. The hoax took place across the pond in the UK in 1726. Mary Toft was a servant who went into labor, but no human baby was born that day. So instead, Mary gave birth to a rabbit’s head, cat legs, and nine dead baby rabbits.
As you could imagine, news of a woman giving birth to such things spread pretty quickly. After a basic examination of the animal parts, it was quickly determined that it was impossible that they had developed inside of Ms.Toft. When a porter was caught trying to sneak a rabbit into her room, the jig was really up.
As you might have guessed, Mary had been taking these animal parts, putting them up here…well…um, you know, and then “giving birth” to them. Mary was a poor servant and wanted to gain money with her amazing births.
Believe it or not, some people remember a time without Youtube. Back in 2006, when Youtube was just starting, many people were captivated by the new concept of a vlog (video blog), particularly LonelyGirl15.
In the beginning, the videos were about boys, friends, lame parents, and other typically teenage girl stuff. The “plot” quickly changed to secret cult-like practices within her family, parents disappearing, and a “secret” ceremony prescribed by the cult leaders.
It eventually came out that the vlog was nothing more than a scripted series created by three filmmakers. Furthermore, the characters in the vlog were acting, and none of it was real. The fact that the vlog was a hoax didn’t deter viewers, though, as the series actually became more popular, spawned a few spin-off “shows,” and even won some awards.
Sports, Music and TV Hoaxes
With large legions of fans, it’s not a surprise that the worlds of Sports, Music, and TV have had their fair share of high-profile hoaxes.
4. Manti Teo’s Girlfriend
Hoaxes can take advantage of people from all walks of life, and sports are no exception. For example, back in 2012, we saw Notre Dame Linebacker Manti Teo tricked by online hoaxers.
Teo was having a strong 2012 season and was gaining media attention for being a Heisman Trophy candidate. Teo informed many media members that both his grandmother and his girlfriend had died on September 11th, 2012, and used that as motivation to continue his strong season. His girlfriend was apparently Stanford student Lennay Kekua and had supposedly died after a battle with leukemia.
When reporters started looking into Lennay, what they found didn’t match Teo’s story. In fact, they found out that she didn’t exist at all and never did outside of the internet. When questioned about it, Teo confessed that he had never actually met her in person despite previously saying he did. Teo claimed that he thought people would have thought he was crazy for being in love with someone he had only interacted with online and had never actually met.
Upon further investigation, it was found that Lennay Kekua was actually a family friend, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Ronaiah, a male, would later go on to confess that he had been in love with Teo and used the hoax as a way to act on his feelings.
Teo has since recovered from the hoax, having a moderately successful NFL career with the Chargers and Saints. But, looking back, Teo still claims he was just as surprised and shocked by the fictitious nature of Lennay Kekua when the story was unraveling.
5. Hayden Siddhartha “Sidd” Finch
A Sports Illustrated staffer initially wanted to write an article on April Fools day jokes in sports but was given permission to create his own, and “Sidd” was born.
Hayden Siddhartha “Sidd” Finch was supposedly a rookie pitcher for the New York Mets.“Sidd” was given an incredible background story and superhuman pitching ability. His fastball was clocked at being 168mph and having pinpoint accuracy to boot. Speaking of boots, Finch was also said to only wear one hiker’s boot while pitching and needed zero warm-ups to reach his astonishing velocity.
The Mets decided to play along with Finch, further perpetuating the hoax. The Mets went as far as giving Finch the number 21 and a locker in the clubhouse. Despite the obvious ridiculousness of Finch and his abilities, many fans believe he was for real. Unfortunately for Mets fans, the team announced his retirement on April 2nd, followed by Sports Illustrated announcing it in the April 8th edition and revealing the hoax on April 15th.
6. Taro Tsujimoto
Some hoaxes are meant to be funny, but in the case of Taro Tsujimot, it was meant to stick it to the man. At the time, the National Hockey League draft process was done via telephone and was a prolonged process. Tired of the slow process, then Sabres General Manager Punch Imlach decided to play a trick on the league office to prove a point.
Having already drafted key players in the first few rounds, Imlach then drafted Taro Tsujimto from the Japan Ice Hockey League. Unbeknownst to the league, no such player existed. At the time, the NHL was just starting to draft players from countries other than the US and Canada, so not having much information on a player wasn’t all that uncommon.
Imlach didn’t let on that Tsujimoto was a fake until the NHL had already included his name in several official publications. Imlach even had his fake player included in the official training camp roster that year. The league did not find the joke too funny, but Tsujimoto’s legacy lives on in Buffalo. Fans will chant for him to play during a lop-sided contest, he’s been included in trading card sets and even a video game. And yes, the NHL did eventually stop drafting via the telephone!
7. Paul is Dead
The story goes that Beatles member Paul McCartney died on November 9th, 1966, in a car crash. He was then replaced by someone that looked exactly like him, could sing like him, and play music just like him.
The rumor picked up steam throughout the late ’60s, being perpetuated by fans all around the world. Soon, listeners were “finding” clues in the Beatles lyrics and, through album artwork, to support the idea that he was no longer on this Earth. Rumors somewhat declined after an interview with McCartney was published in Life magazine in late 1969.
The hoax remains a popular one to this day. It’s been relentlessly studied by professionals in many different fields. Similar rumors have spread about other celebrities, but none have the focus and staying power as “Paul is Dead.”
8. The Masked Marauders
In the October 1969 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, a review of an exciting album was published. As their story went, the rock supergroup of Paul McCartney, George Harrison, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, and Bob Dylan recorded the album without their names attached due to contractual agreements.
Rolling Stone hired a lesser-known band to record an album under the name The Masked Marauders to further their hoax. The fake review took enough people that the album hit No. 114 on Billboard’s album chart.
Rolling Stone thought that it was an obvious joke, but eventually, they announced that the band was, in fact, a hoax. Not until after over 100,000 copies of the album had already been sold, of course.
9. De Groet Donor Show (The Great Donor Show)
In 2007, a new reality show hit the airwaves in The Netherlands, featuring a 37-year-old terminally ill woman willing to donate a kidney to one of the twenty-five contestants in need of a transplant. Due to the relatively controversial premise, the show had already received its fair share of criticism before the first episode aired.
During the course of the show, the field was narrowed down to three finalists. Viewers could vote via text message as to who they thought should receive the woman’s kidney. Before viewers found out who would receive the kidney, the show revealed that the woman was an actress, but the contestants were, in fact, in need of kidney transplants. The contestants were in on the hoax, and they agreed to go along with the show to help raise awareness of the need for more organ donors.
10. Space Cadets
Instead of tricking the public, a British show called Space Cadets aimed to have the viewing public in on the hoax the whole time. Contestants thought they were being trained at a Russian military base to take part in a five-day trip into low earth orbit. In reality, the entire show was aimed to be utterly ridiculous, with the contestants never leaving a studio in the UK.
The show’s producers went to great lengths to ensure the hoax would be successful. Contestants were hand-picked using strict criteria to make sure they wouldn’t catch on to the hoax and go along with the ridiculous nature of the show. Elaborate sets were created, and many of the characters, even a few of the contestants, were hired, actors. Show creators even went as far as bringing in Russian products and making sure no British products were around.
Even with its ridiculous nature, the show pulled the wool over the unsuspecting contestant’s eyes, much to many viewers’ surprise. The show concluded with contestants preparing for a “spacewalk,” but when they left the simulator, they were greeted by friends and family on set, revealing they had never actually left England at all.
Don’t Believe Everything You See
With the creation of photo editing tools and broad access to the internet, many hoaxes can come from sheer boredom and Photoshop. There are countless fake photos on the internet, but photo hoaxes have been around even before that.
11. That’s A Lot of Potato
Joseph B. Swan was a well-known potato farmer. In 1895, a picture featuring Swan and a giant potato was taken to promote an upcoming street fair.
Before he knew it, the picture spread across the United States. It even appeared in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!. Tons of requests starting pouring in for Swan to reveal his secret and to grow more giant potatoes. Swan quickly admitted the potato in the photo was nothing more than a wooden carving.
12. Shark Attacks A Helicopter
One of the first photo internet pranks was 2001’s National Geographic Photo of the Year that captured a shark lunging after a person on a low flying helicopter. Many became suspicious when they noticed the uncanny similarities to a scene in the 1966 film Batman, where a shark attacked the caped crusader on a helicopter ladder.
National Geographic quickly announced that the photo was a hoax and not an award winner. While researchers never identified the creator of the image, it was determined to be a combination of Lance Cheung’s photo for the United States Air Force and a Charles Maxwell wildlife photo taken in South Africa.
13. Snowball the Giant Cat
One day a Canadian dad decided to make his daughter laugh by creating a fake photo of himself holding a giant cat. The image was emailed to a few family and friends, but it was forwarded all around the world unbeknownst to him. He only realized what happened with his dad’s joke when the picture was featured on TV shows, newspapers, and magazines.
When interviewed by his local newspaper, he shared that he had no intention of creating a hoax. He never thought anyone would believe the picture was real. Hilariously, the picture reached cult status with cat enthusiasts, and cat shows regularly request his presence as a special guest.
14. Hercules the Giant Dog
One of the best-known online photo hoxes started in 2007. A Photo of Hercules, the Guinness Book of World Record for the biggest dog, seemed to be everywhere on the internet. The photo caption was taken from a real picture of an English Mastiff named Hercules and combined with another picture that’s obviously been photoshopped.
15. Shark Tank Collapses
Image logging into Facebook and reading the news that The Scientific Center’s Shark Tank in Kuwait has collapsed accompanied by this photo of Great White sharks swimming around.
It turns out that Jamie King created the image as a joke in response to flooding at Toronto’s Union Station. He photoshopped an image of a previous flood that took place in the city’s transit center.
In November of 1989, a fake NASA document made its way to the public eye. The document is an apparent record of sex acts astronauts performed to determine which positions were the most effective in zero gravity.
Not being ridiculous enough, the document reported that of the ten positions tested, six required the use of a belt and an inflatable tunnel, and four were contingent on hanging on. Also included in the document was a video record of ten one-hour sessions, including personal notes.
The document has resurfaced time and time again. Each time fooling a new group of discoverers and requiring NASA to debunk it once again.