Yesterday, I wrote about how our Moon is wobbling and it is affecting coastal flooding. It might have sounded like a hoax, but it is true. However, there was a big Moon hoax that started on August 25, 1835. The Sun newspaper in New York City printed a series of articles describing scientific findings about the Moon. They said the information came from the Edinburgh Journal of Science. The information was recounted by Dr. Andrew Grant, a colleague of the famous astronomer Sir John Herschel.
The articles described the flora and fauna of the moon, the beings that lived there and the temples where they lived. Those lunar folks were said to “average 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 on their backs.” All of this information was seen by an observatory at the Cape of Good Hope.
Of course, it was all a lie. No Dr. Grant, no observatory, no beings. But people believed this. Surprising? Well, people believed Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast about a hundred years later and thought aliens had landed in New Jersey. You don’t expect to read satire or find hoaxes in a newspaper or hear them on radio. People today sometimes see a tweet or link to a story from the satiric The Onion and react or pass it on as true.
Copies of the The Sun sold out and the series was getting reprinted all over the country and the world. The man behind all this was Richard Adams Locke, an editor at The Sun. He claimed for a while that he hadn’t intended for anyone to believe the tales and that when he wanted to go public with the hoax but the owner of the paper wouldn’t do it and it was many years before this ridiculous fake news was fully debunked. I suspect people had sopped believing it long before that, but who knows for sure.Edgar Allen Poe claimed the idea was plagiarized from a satire he’d written just a few weeks earlier about a man who made his way to the moon by hot air balloon.