15 Most Successful Hoaxes That Fooled The World

Our world is a mysterious place and new, exciting discoveries are made almost every day. Sometimes these discoveries shock us and we refuse to believe that they might be real. Other times we believe in something unusual (aliens, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster) and we refuse to let go of our conviction regardless of how little evidence there is to support our belief. It’s difficult to know what is real and what isn’t, even in our age of internet and knowledge at our fingertips. Of course, the fact that humans love to play tricks on each other doesn’t help.

Sometimes these tricks and hoaxes are carried out as a harmless game or a little bit of fun. Take April Fool’s Day for example. It’s probably the only day of the year where trickery is encouraged wholeheartedly. It’s a day for having a little bit of fun. Other times, hoaxes are carried out for commercial gain. People often trick other people in the hopes of attaining some of their wealth or in the hopes of getting rich quickly at other people's expense. Sometimes people play tricks to gain popularity. Of course, when their trickery is discovered their popularity immediately plummets and they are left looking like a fool. Hoaxes can also be carried out as an act of revenge. Or just as a little bit of fun in times of boredom. Countless hoaxes have been carried out in the history of mankind. Some of them have been extremely successful.


15 Balloon Boy

The world was shocked when it tuned in to the news on television on October 15th, 2009, and learned that a six-year-old boy named Falcon Heene had been trapped inside a silver, saucer-shaped balloon that was now floating freely through the sky. The balloon incident supposedly started off as an experiment by Falcon’s dad. The balloon was not supposed to take off. After a few hours of floating around, the balloon landed at Denver International Airport. However, the boy was not in the balloon and the public feared that he had probably fallen out somewhere en route to the airport. However, shortly after it turned out that the whole incident was in actual fact a hoax carried out by Falcon’s parents. Their motive had been simple: they wanted to start their own reality TV.

14 The Cottingley Fairies


The Cottingley Fairies hoax concerned five photographs that were taken by 16-year-old Elsie Wright and her 9-year-old cousin Frances Griffiths in 1917. The photographs supposedly featured the girls with a bunch of fairies. Elsie’s father, a photographer, dismissed the photographs as fake. According to him, the fairies were nothing more than cardboard cut-outs. But Elsie’s mother was of different opinion. And she wasn't the only one. In 1918, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used the photographs to illustrate his story on fairies he had written for a magazine. Doyle supposedly claimed the pictures were authentic. The public’s opinion was divided: some claimed the pictures were fake while others believed that they were genuine. Either way, the public’s imagination was captured. Later on in life, both Elsie and Frances admitted that four of the photographs were fake. However, they claimed that the fifth and last photograph of the fairies was real.

13 Charging An iPod With An Onion

In 2007, the DIY YouTube channel HouseholdHacker posted a video that showed how to charge an iPod using only the beverage Gatorade and an onion. The video went viral and received millions of views. But there is one problem to the video: it’s actually impossible to charge an iPod with an onion and Gatorade. An onion soaked in Gatorade doesn’t actually generate electricity. And sticking a USB cable into an onion doesn’t seem as effective as sticking it into a USB port. Many people took this hoax to be true and no doubt tried charging their iPods with Gatorade soaked onions. The youtube channel MythBusters debunked the video but their video was far less popular than that of HouseholdHacker and received less than 200,000 views.

12 The Loch Ness Monster "Surgeon Photo"


The legend of the Loch Ness monster began in 1933 when a new road was constructed near the Loch and a monster sighting was reported. The Inverness Courier published the story and captured the imagination of the public.

Various people had tried to find evidence that the monster existed, but to no avail. A famous hunter, Marmaduke Wetherell was publicly humiliated for trying to fake the monster’s footprints. Finally, a highly respected surgeon, Colonel Robert Wilson, came forward with a photograph of the monster (see photo above). Wilson claimed he took the photo in 1934 when he was driving on the new road beside the Loch. He noticed something moving in the water and stopped to take a picture.

Wilson’s photo has always been seen as proof that the Loch Ness monster exists. But for some reason, Wilson did not want to have his name associated with the famous picture and thus it came to be known simply as “Surgeon’s photograph”. Finally, in 1994 a man named Christian Spurling confessed to making a serpent model with Wilson and Wetherell. Apparently, Wetherell was so angry for his public shaming that he had decided to fool everyone in revenge.

11 Kittens In Jars

Bonsai is the Japanese art of growing tiny trees by constantly pruning their roots and branches. Bonsai are popular plants to keep at home and in offices due to their aesthetic appeal. Could the bonsai method be applied to other things?

In 2000, a website named was born and it claimed that the bonsai method could be applied to growing kittens. Supposedly, all one had to do was seal a kitten inside a jar. The kitten would be fed and given water through a tube but as it grew, it would grow in the shape of the container it was in, hence turning into a ‘Bonsai kitten’.

Almost immediately, animal rights activists began complaining about violence against cats, demanding that the site be shut down. The website turned out to be a hoax carried out by a group of students. During the early days of the hoax the students went by the alias of Dr. Michael Wong Chang.

10 The Fiji Mermaid


In 1842 an English gentleman and scholar Dr. J. Griffin came to New York City with a peculiar creature in his possession – a real mermaid. The mermaid was supposedly caught beside the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific, hence the name ‘Fiji Mermaid’.

Articles about the mermaid began appearing in various newspapers throughout the city making the public extremely anxious to see it. Dr. Griffin exhibited the mermaid at Concert Hall on Broadway where he also gave a lecture on natural history. His lecture was a bit strange. For example, he claimed that mermaids must exist because all creatures on land have their counterparts in the sea, such as horses (sea-horses) and lions (sea-lions). So there must also be sea-humans! The mermaid was eventually moved to American Museum and later sent on a tour of the country.

However, after a while it came to light that the mermaid was nothing more than a hoax. The supposed mermaid didn’t even resemble a mermaid (a young, beautiful woman) but instead looked like a monkey with the tail of a fish. Plus, it turned out that Dr. J. Griffin was not a scholar but a fraud. The Fiji mermaid had been made by fishermen in Japan and the East Indies by stitching the body of a monkey to the tail of a fish. Often, these creatures were used for religious ceremonies.

9 The Cardiff Giant

In 1869, workers who were in the process of digging a well behind the barn of a farmer named William Newell in Cardiff, New York came upon something strange. It was a huge, stone man who was later dubbed the Cardiff Giant. People soon learned about the mysterious stone man and began making trips to Newell’s land to see it. The Cardiff Giant was so popular that Newell began charging those who wanted to see it 50 cents.

People didn’t really know what to think of the mysterious Cardiff Giant. Some thought he was a petrified man – one of those giants mentioned in the Bible. Others thought it was a statue carved in the 17th century by a Jesuit missionary. In reality, the Cardiff Giant was neither. It was simply a hoax created by George Hull. Hull decided to create the Cardiff Giant after an argument with a Reverend who claimed that the Bible should be taken literally. Hull disagreed strongly and decided to both teach the Reverend a lesson and make some money. The hoax cost Hull $2,600. He later sold the statue for $37,500 to a group of businessmen.


8 Pacific Northwest Tree Dwelling Octopus


An interesting hoax that actually seems believable (but isn’t!) is that of the Pacific Northwest tree dwelling octopus, created in 1998. Tree octopus supposedly live in Washington State’s Olympic National Forest. Their early years, as well as their mating years, are supposedly spent in the water of Puget Sound. Later, however, they move upwards onto trees. The octopuses eight tentacles are used for swinging from branch to branch and for catching prey such as insects. It was claimed that the Tree Dwelling Octopus is on its way to becoming extinct due to pollution and hunting. As a result, the ‘Save The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus’ organization has been set up to try and protect the rare creatures. The organization urged concerned individuals to write about the issue to their representatives in congress.

7 Alien Autopsy

It has been said that in the summer of 1947, a flying saucer had crashed somewhere near Roswell in New Mexico. Rumors then spread that an alien had been salvaged from the wreckage and that an autopsy on its body had been performed. But it wasn’t until 1995 that someone came forward claiming that they had the footage of the autopsy.

The man who supposedly had the footage was a British music and video producer named Ray Santilli. Santilli said he had bought the footage off a retired military cameraman who was tasked with filming the autopsy and who later stole the footage. Santilli claimed he paid $100,000 for it. The TV special Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction? hosted by Jonathan Frakes was actually based on the footage Santilli supposedly acquired. The footage was extremely popular but most critics dismissed it as a fake. In 2006, Santilli came clean saying that the footage was indeed a fake. However, he insisted that real alien autopsy footage existed but it was such bad quality that Santilli had to re-shoot it.

6 The Beatles "Paul Is Dead"


In 1969 a rumor was started that Paul McCartney, Beatles singer and bassist, was dead. In fact, it was said that Paul had died three years ago in a car crash. The remaining Beatles, fearing that their popularity would drop without Paul, replaced Paul with a man named William Campbell. Campbell had supposedly won a Paul McCartney look-alike contest in Edinburgh. But to let their true fans know that Paul was dead the Beatles planted clues in their albums. So hardcore Beatles fans, known as “cluesters” began their quest for hidden clues. And they found hundreds of them!

Magazines and newspapers wrote articles speculating whether Paul was really dead. Paul’s supposed death was even discussed on NBC news. Many believed the rumor to be true, especially because Paul refused to come out publicly and deny it. But then again, Paul was on holidays so one can understand his reluctance. However, LIFE magazine visited Paul’s country house and took his picture, thus debunking the rumor. But to this day some people believe that Paul died in 1966.

5 The Great Moon Hoax

The Great Moon Hoax was carried out in 1835. The hoax consisted of six articles that appeared in the New York newspaper ‘The Sun’. The articles claimed that new civilization had been discovered on the moon. Supposedly, the moon was home to a number of mysterious creatures including unicorns and bat-like winged humanoids. The shocking discovery was supposedly made by the famous astronomer Sir John Herschel who used a huge telescope. According to the articles, the telescope was eventually destroyed by the sun. Of course, the story was a hoax. It is said that it was published by ‘The Sun’ so as to increase newspaper sales (which it did). Herschel claimed he had no idea his name was used in the articles.

4 I, Libertine Book


Jean Shepherd was the host of a late radio night show in the 1950s. Shepherd termed those who listened to his programme as “night people” and considered them non-conformists. One day Shepherd stopped by a bookstore in search for a particular title. He couldn’t find it and the clerk insisted that the book did not exist because it failed to appear on any publisher’s list.

Shepherd was inspired by this incident and decided to pull a hoax on “day people” (with the help of his “night people” of course). Shepherd asked his listeners to stop by their nearest bookstore and ask for the book I, Libertine written by Frederick R. Ewing, a retired Royal Navy Commander whose niche was 18th century erotica.

Of course, neither the book nor the author existed. But Shepherd’s listeners flooded bookstores, requesting the book. Soon bookstores started to contact publishing houses asking for the book. Libraries also started to place orders for the book. A student wrote a paper on the non-existent book and received a B+. A gossip columnist said she’d had lunch with the author. New York Times Book Review wrote about the book in the newly published book section. But the book didn’t exist!

3 The Woman Who Gave Birth To Rabbits

Mary Toft was an Englishwoman who successfully conned doctors into believing that she had given birth to rabbits. The story goes like this: in 1726 Toft was pregnant but after she sighted a rabbit, she suffered a miscarriage. Interestingly, she still gave birth to a few rabbits. She then contacted the local surgeon John Howard who confirmed that she was giving birth to rabbits. Or rather, rabbit parts. Nathaniel St. Andre, the surgeon of King George I was then sent to Toft’s house to carry out an investigation. He also confirmed that Toft was giving birth to animal parts. Unconvinced, the King sent another surgeon named Cyriacus Ahlers. The latter remained unconvinced of Toft’s ability to give birth to rabbits. Toft was thus sent to London where she underwent thorough examination. She did not give birth to any more rabbits and eventually confessed to her hoax. But the reputation of a number of surgeons had been ruined for good.

2 BBC's Spaghetti Tree


On April Fool’s day in 1957, BBC current-affair program Panorama broadcast a video of a Swiss family picking spaghetti from the family spaghetti-tree and placing the spaghetti into baskets. The hoax may seem silly to us now, but at the time, few British people knew much about spaghetti or how it was made. According to the video, the spaghetti crop had been extremely successful that year due to two factors: mild winter and the “virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil”. The public response was huge: the BBC received hundreds of phone calls from viewers who wanted to know how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. Supposedly, the BBC replied with “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”

1 Naked Came The Stranger

Naked Came the Stranger was a book published in 1969 by Penelope Ashe, “a demure Long Island housewife who thought she could write as well as J. Susann.” 20,000 copies of the book were sold and the book had spent a total of 13 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Except that the book was not written by Penelope Ashe. In fact, Penelope Ashe doesn't even exist.

Naked Came the Stranger was actually written by a bunch of reporters at Long Island Newsday who wanted to prove that the public loves trashy, poorly written novels. Naked Came the Stranger focused on a suburban woman’s sexual adventures and each chapter was written by a different reporter. This meant that the story was deliberately inconsistent, thus proving the point that the general public loves to read trash. The sister of one reporter was asked to pose as Penelope Ashe. She met with the publisher and posed for pictures. When the hoax came to light, it made international news.

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