The 1835 Moon Hoax

Lifted from historybuff.com:

Every History of American journalistic hoaxing properly begins with the celebrated moon hoax which "made" the New York Sun of Benjamin Day. It consisted of a series of articles, allegedly reprinted from the nonexistent Edinburgh Journal of Science, relating to the discovery of life on the moon by Sir John Herschel, eminent British astronomer, who some time before had gone to the Cape of Good Hope to try out a new type of powerful telescope.

On August 25, the Sun ran four columns describing what Sir John had been able to see, looking at the moon through his telescope. So fascinating were the descriptions of trees and vegetation, oceans and beaches, bison and goats, cranes and pelicans that the whole town was talking even before the fourth installment appeared on August 28, 1835, with the master revelation of all: the discovery of furry, winged men resembling bats. The narration was printed as follows:

We counted three parties of these creatures, of twelve, nine and fifteen in each, walking erect towards a small wood... Certainly they were like human beings, for their wings had now disappeared and their attitude in walking was both erect and dignified... About half of the first party had passed beyond our canvas; but of all the others we had perfectly distinct and deliberate view. They averaged four feet in height, were covered, except on the face, with short and glossy copper-colored hair, and had wings composed of a thin membrane, without hair, lying snugly upon their backs from the top of the shoulders to the calves of their legs. The face, which was of a yellowish color, was an improvement upon that of the large orangutan... so much so that but for their long wings they would look as well on a parade ground as some of the old cockney militia.

The hair of the head was a darker color than that of the body, closely curled but apparently not woolly, and arranged in two circles over the temples of the forehead. Their feet could only be seen as they were alternately lifted in walking; but from what we could see of them in so transient a view they appeared thin and very protuberant at the heel...We could perceive that their wings possessed great expansion and were similar in structure of those of the bat, being a semitransparent membrane expanded in curvilinear divisions by means of straight radii, united at the back by dorsal integuments. But what astonished us most was the circumstance of this membrane being continued from the shoulders to the legs, united all the way down, though gradually decreasing in width. The wings seemed completely under the command of volition, for those of the creatures whom we saw bathing in the water spread them instantly to their full width, waved them as ducks do theirs to shake off the water, and then as instantly closed them again in a compact form.

Later stories told of the Temple of the Moon, constructed of sapphire, with a roof of yellow resembling gold. There were pillars seventy feet high and six feet thick supporting the roof of the temple. More man-bats were discovered and readers were awaiting more astounding details, but the Sun told them the telescope had, unfortunately, been left facing the east and the Sun's rays, concentrated through the lenses, burned a hole "15 feet in circumference" entirely through the reflecting chamber, putting the observatory out of commission.

After the hoax was exposed, people were generally amused. It did not seem to lessen interest in the Sun, which never lost its increased circulation.

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