HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA, CANADA — No walls. No artifacts. Not even a gift shop. The Museum of Hoaxes exists exclusively as an online collection of some of history's most entertaining lies.
Born as research notes for a doctoral dissertation, the Museum is a celebration of gullibility. In order to clearly define the criteria for the featured exhibits, the webmaster first sets forth his definition of the term, "Hoax" and differentiates the label from similar classifications such as Fraud, (think the Canadian mining scandal, Bre-X gold) Urban Legends, ("Paul is Dead") and simple, honest mistakes (Disco). The origins of the word are also touched upon (with an apparent connection to "hocus pocus").
The main collection can be browsed by Date (the earliest entry dates to 750 A.D., though it actually qualifies as a fraud) or Category. The latter option lists examples under such headings as Archaeology, (Piltdown Man) Historical, (the Hitler Diaries) and TV, Radio, Movies, and Plays - with such classics as The War of the Worlds and the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. ( April Fool's pranks have a section all their own.) Below the main index, the Museum also offers a monthly Newsletter as well as current Hoaxes in the News, hoax Photographs and Websites, and the 'take it if you dare' Gullibility Test. (So, did Thomas Crapper really invent the toilet?)
With nothing but text and relatively few images, this site is a blissfully fast page-loader, and with content like this, you won't need bells and whistles to keep you entertained. A few more examples of the exceptional deceptions featured here include:
-Mary Toft, who, in 1726, convinced 'men of science' that she was giving birth to rabbits
-The New York Sun's 1835 announcement of the discovery of life on the moon. Life which included bison, blue unicorns, and spherical, amphibious creatures that rolled across the moon's beaches. (Oh, and some fire-wielding biped beavers...and winged humans.)
-Princess Caraboo - the cobbler's daughter from Devonshire, England, who in 1817 passed herself off as a West Indies princess to avoid being sent to the workhouse.
And if you're tempted to believe that no one could be so easily fooled today, (least of all, skeptical, investigative, journalist-types) the Museum also holds two hoaxes of recent vintage that were so baldfaced that they must have even amazed the perpetrators when they worked.
Witness the year 2000, 15th Annual New York City April Fool's Day Parade, (yes, April Fool's Day Parade) which drew television news crews from CNN and a New York Fox affiliate to the non-event. And, 20 years earlier in January 1980, no less an institution than the New York Times was duped into printing the obituary of Alan Abel - an infamous hoaxer who, strictly speaking, wasn't actually dead.
The Museum has more than one hundred such examples of man's insincerity to man. I encountered a few broken links, and in some cases, (such as the Sokal Hoax) the entries are sparse, but there is always enough information to feed into a Web search engine, if one's curiosity is sufficiently aroused. And the next time you're feeling incredibly stupid about some bad decision making, it always helps to know there are people who actually fell for "Hong Kong Powdered Water."
The Museum of Hoaxes can be found at http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/. Trust me.