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Great Moon Hoax of 1835: An Early Example of Fake News

Thelma is an award winning non-fiction writer who enjoys writing about people and events in American history.

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Astonishing Reports of Life Discovered on the Moon

In the summer of 1835, rumors of life on the moon were running rampant around the world. Reports included details of herds of bison, blue unicorns, tail-less beavers and goats. The topography was said to include oceans, trees, beaches, mountains and great temples made of sapphire with roofs of gold. The most astonishing and frightening of all were the details of furry bat-like humanoids with large wings on their backs. All of this was observed through an amazing invention of a huge telescope located in Cape Town, South Africa. It had a lens that was 4 feet in diameter, a tube that was forty feet long and a magnifying power of 6,000 times.

These far-fetched accounts of moon life were not just silly rumors. They were actual reports from the prestigious New York Sun newspaper. A series of columns, which ran over the course of 6 days, outlined the astonishing discoveries of Sir John Herschel, a famous British astronomer.

Video About the Moon Hoax of 1835

Author of the Story

The articles were published under the name of Dr. Andrew Grant, supposedly a travelling companion of Sir John. It was later determined they were authored by a journalist for the New York Sun, Richard Adams Locke.

The newspaper was struggling for circulation and the number of readers skyrocketed to 19,360 by the time installment number 4 was printed. That was the largest circulation of any newspaper in the world at the time.

People Around the World Were in a Frenzy

The fourth column described the humanoids that were viewed through the powerful telescope as being about 4 feet tall with copper colored hair covering all of their bodies except their faces and they had wings on their backs from the shoulders to the calves of their legs.

The fifth and sixth installments reported on the existence of a building made of sapphire with a roof of gold called the Temple of the Moon.

The founding of this new civilization created an overnight frenzy around the world. Some were panic stricken while others looked upon it as an opportunity. It has been said a Springfield, Massachusetts missionary society made plans to send missionaries to the moon to convert and civilize the lunar bat men. Who knows how they planned to get there!

The Fake News Became Known as The Great Moon Hoax

Readers of the Sun waited anxiously for more installments of the coverage of the "New Civilization" and the "Moon People". The world faced extreme disappointment when it was reported the telescope had been left facing an easterly direction and the sun's rays coming through the lens created a fire which destroyed the telescope!

It quickly became apparent the whole story had been a hoax of huge proportions when astronomer Sir John Herschel came forward to deny his involvement in any research concerning moon life.

Edgar Allan Poe's Involvement with the Hoax

Edgar Allan Poe bitterly complained the Sun had stolen the moon hoax idea from his story, The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall, a book about a hot air balloon ride to the moon with identical descriptions of moon life. Locke had access to the information as Poe was working at the Sun at the same time as Locke.

Poe was a master of writing fiction in a way to make preposterous circumstances seem completely true as demonstrated in his balloon story. That is why it is generally believed the plagiarism theory is true.

The Truth About Life on the Moon

We know now that the moon is an airless, dead rock but in the 1800's, very little was known about the moon. The idea of life there was very exciting and believable.

However, it wasn't long before readers began to suspect the story was a hoax and just a ruse to sell more newspapers. On September 16, 1835, the New York Sun said there was a "possibility" the story wasn't true but they didn't admit it was a hoax. Unbelievably, their circulation did not suffer and the newspaper never lost the new readers it gained during the "Great Moon Hoax". Mission accomplished!


175 Years after the Great Moon Hoax

From an editorial in the New York Sun on August 10, 2010, the 175th anniversary of the hoax:

"So let us just say that one of the things a long newspaper life has taught us about corrections is that, obligatory as they may be when the truth is out, one doesn't want to rush into them. For the moment, let us just say that we’re aware of the claim there are no lunar man-bats, neither on the moon nor here. Rest assured that we’re looking into it. You can check back in this space in 25 years."

I will check the New York Sun on August 10, 2035 to see if they finally admit to the hoax. I plan to still be around on that date but it remains to be seen if the New York Sun will still be in publication.

© 2011 Thelma Raker Coffone

Please Share Your Comments on "Life Discovered on the Moon"

Alan from West Georgia on May 29, 2014:

Another very interesting hub. I wonder if this was sort of the 'birth' of the supermarket tabloid. It certainly has become a very popular form of modern media.

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on May 25, 2014:

manatita44 thank you for reading my article and taking the time to respond to it.

manatita44 from london on May 25, 2014:

Very funny article.

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on July 13, 2012:

jpcmc I agree with you completely. Thanks for reading my hub and for your comments!

JP Carlos from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on July 12, 2012:

I enjoyed the hub. It's really fascinating how people can come up with these things. I'll stick to focusing on problems and on our planet first before worrying about bat people from the moon. :)

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on December 04, 2011:

family2010 and stephaniedas thanks to you both for your nice comments. It is amazing that this story has been around for years and most people aren't aware of it. Thanks for taking the time to read my hubs and to follow me!

Stephanie Das from Miami, US on December 03, 2011:

This is so funny! I'd never heard of this! Goes down as one of the best hoaxes ever. Great hub!

family2010 on November 07, 2011:

Thanks again for this interesting hub.

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on September 21, 2011:

Sakesare thanks for taking the time to read my hub and post your comments. Thanks also for the vote UP...that's always nice to receive.

sakesare on September 21, 2011:

Quite informative stuff here. I have really been waiting since my childhood for the possibility of new world on moon. Getting to a new place is always exciting and even more when its not earth...:) I am being a bit kiddish here...:) Nice hub TheImac voting up..

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on September 13, 2011:

Frogyfish thanks for the nice comments and taking the time to read my hub!

frogyfish from Central United States of America on September 11, 2011:

My goodness, never heard of this before! Will have to pass your info around....fun read!

Mark E Park on August 29, 2011:

Must be one of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers ;-)

Nice story...thanks for sharing it!

Thelma Raker Coffone (author) from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA on August 29, 2011:

Movie Master, as always, I appreciate your feedback. I had never heard about this until I was reseaching another hub and just stumbled upon it. I thought probably other people didn't know about it either and decided to share.

Movie Master from United Kingdom on August 29, 2011:

What a fasinating read Thelma, I loved it thanks for sharing.