John Moore/Getty Images
Weld Country sheriff's deputies search for Falcon Heene, 6, before learning he had been found alive October 15, 2009 southeast of Ft. Collins, Colorado. Falcon, 6, was found hiding in the attic of his home.
Hoaxes have long been a part of history, from the ancient Greeks to modern day. In celebration of April Fool's Day, count down with us some of the greatest moments of trickery known to man.
The Trojan Horse
Whether you believe the tale Virgil tells in "The Aenied" is fact or fiction, the Trojan Horse still stands as one of the greatest hoaxes known to history, real or literary. Legend has it that the Greeks, in a longstanding war against the Trojans, built a giant (and hollow) wooden horse and presented it to their rivals. After the Trojans willingly brought the peace offering into their fortified city, an army of Greeks burst out of the statue and effectively crushed the opposition, using what’s now considered to be one of the oldest tricks in the book.
Photos by Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Getty Im
"The War of the Worlds" Broadcast
On Halloween night, 1938, a radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ 1898 science fiction novel "The War of the Worlds" had people convinced that aliens were invading the United States. The broadcast was orchestrated by the famous Orson Welles (pictured above, answering questions from the press the following day). Much of the show was in an “emergency bulletin” format. Those who tuned in mid-broadcast didn't recognize that they had stumbled upon a fictional show and instead thought they had tuned in just in time to hear emergency announcements that aliens were invading. Welles claimed he hadn't foreseen the hysteria. The event is still commemorated to this day in Grover’s Mill, N.J. (home to the “invasion”) by a stone monument.
The Piltdown Man
The Piltdown Man is literally the definition of hoax. In 1912, Charles Dawson and Arthur Smith Woodward unearthed a strange set of fossils in Sussex, England. These fragments would be pieced together to form the "Piltdown Man" skull and were famously hailed as proof of the "missing link" between humans and apes, according to the British Natural History Museum, which uses the incident as a prime example of "bad science." It would take 40 years, and the invention of better scientific dating, for the skull to be revealed as a fake. To this day, no one (or no group of individuals) has been identified as the mastermind behind the Piltdown Man hoax, although there have been theories.
In the midst of WWII, on June 4, 1944, the U.S. Navy captured the German submarine U-505 and kept it and its surviving crew members a secret. The Allied forces hoped to use the materials and code books found aboard the sub against the Nazis without the opposition knowing they had an upper hand. And it worked. U-505 was towed to Bermuda. The 58 Nazi soldiers captured during the raid were kept in relative isolation and not allowed to send letters from their imprisonment. The German army considered them dead, even sending notice to their families, according to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, where the submarine currently is on exhibit to the public. The survivors were eventually released at the end of the war.
Heene Family Video Released to Press/YouTube
Perhaps once of history's most recent hoaxes, the plight of a young boy, Falcon Heene, supposedly launched (accidentally of course) into the Colorado skies in his family's UFO-like balloon, captured widespread media attention on Oct. 15, 2009. Heene would later be found safe and sound, hiding in his family's home. In a news interview the next day, young Falcon Heene would also accidentally mention it "was for the show," revealing the hoax. His parents, Richard and Mayumi Heene, admitted to orchestrating the entire incident for the publicity. They were fined and had to serve jail time.
Charismatic Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o may have just sealed his place in the history books, not for his impressive victories on the field, but for being involved in (knowingly or not) a widespread hoax involving a dying girlfriend who, it turns out, never existed.
In interviews last year, Te'o spoke about the personal obstacles and tragedies he'd overcome on his way to football excellence — most notably the deaths of his beloved grandmother and his girlfriend and love of his life, Lennay Kekua, within the same day. Te'o talked about the pain of losing both so close to him, as well as Kekua's emotional struggle — and finally losing battle — with leukemia. Though Te'o never met Kekua, the pair communicated mainly through e-mails and text messages.
Information is contradictory and details remain murky: Was Te'o in on the hoax, capitalizing on a crowd-pleasing sympathetic rags-to-riches story? Or was he himself the victim of a cruel hoax by someone sharing her (or his) fictional but emotionally moving life story? Or does the truth lie somewhere in between?
There are of course many different types of hoaxes. For example author James Frey wrote a 2003 novel about drug addiction recovery, claiming it was a memoir; homeowners in Amityville, N.Y., created a hoax in 1977 by claiming that their house was haunted by demons; and in 1996 physicist Alan Sokal submitted a gibberish article that was accepted and published in "Social Text," a respected cultural studies journal. [Haunted? 10 Most Famous Ghosts]
A hoax that costs money, embarrassment, or inconvenience may be merely a nuisance. But some of the most damaging and outrageous hoaxes are those that manipulate people's emotions and outrage the world. Here are a few of the most outlandish.
Flight of the Balloon Boy
In 2009 a 6-year-old boy named Falcon Heene was said to be in grave danger as he floated through Colorado skies in a silvery weather balloon created by his inventor father. His family claimed that he had climbed aboard the homemade balloon and launched, triggering a nationwide police search and rescue mission. It turned out that Heene, who became known as balloon boy, was in fact safe at home, and the family was suspected of staging the event in hopes of getting a reality TV show.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion
Perhaps the most malicious religious hoax in history, "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion" is a book supposedly revealing a secret Jewish conspiracy to take over the world. It first appeared in Russia in 1905, and though the book has been completely discredited as a forgery, it is still in print and remains widely circulated. Many people have endorsed this religious hoax, including actor Mel Gibson, Adolf Hitler, and automaker Henry Ford, who in 1920 paid to have a half-million copies of the book published. [Religious Mysteries: 8 Alleged Relics of Jesus]
The Tawana Brawley Attack
In 1987 America was riveted by the tragic news story of a young black girl named Tawana Brawley, who said she had been gang-raped by six white men, including several police officers. Rev. Al Sharpton and others fanned racial tensions and accused police of a cover-up. The following year, after an extensive investigation (and revelations about contradictions in Brawley's story), a grand jury concluded that the girl had hoaxed the incident. A New York prosecutor successfully sued both Brawley and Sharpton for defamation in a case whose racial legacy remains today.
The Innocence of Muslims
The trailer for the 2012 film "Innocence of Muslims" led to riots over its depiction of the prophet Muhammad as a womanizer, child molester and criminal. Several Americans were killed in protests linked to the film. To date it's not clear that the finished film actually exists, though a trailer for it does (it appeared on YouTube, sparking the riots). The producer hoaxed the actors and crew, later dubbing inflammatory lines that insulted Islam over their real dialogue. Whether or not the infamous anti-Muslim film exists, many around the world were led to believe it did, and people died because of it.
The Satanic Panic
"Satan's Underground: The Extraordinary Story of One Woman's Escape" was a 1991 memoir written by a woman named Lauren Stratford, in which she described her first-hand experience inside a Satanic cult. Stratford's book included horrific depictions of baby-killing rituals, pornography, torture, rape and other abuse. Stratford claimed to have been continually physically and sexually abused by her parents and forced into prostitution. The book became a bestseller, and was instrumental in fueling the "Satanic panic" hysteria that swept across America in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Yet the story was discovered to be a complete hoax. Stratford was actually a fake name used by a woman named Laurel Rose Willson, and none of her claims were true; every sensational detail was made up. Stratford later changed her name and began claiming to be a Jewish Holocaust survivor.
This article originally appeared on LiveScience.com.
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