Great Moon Hoax of 1835: An Early Example of Fake News
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, , 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. The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall
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!
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.
Had you heard of this "moon hoax" prior to reading this article?
Do you believe there is life on the moon?
© 2011 Thelma Raker Coffone