For as long as mankind has existed, there have been those among us with the tendency to be deviant trolls. It’s human nature, after all. There’s nothing like a healthy dose of scepticism in modern society, but people of the past were made red in the face by their utter gullibility. These instances are most fascinating because of what they reveal about the lifecycle of a lie and how a demure seed can dramatically grow into a full-blown hoax.
The Cottingley Fairies
This stunt involved a series of five photographs taken by two young cousins in 1917 near a picturesque stream in Cottingley, England. That was exactly one hundred years ago. The images depicted the girls posing with miniaturised cardboard cut-outs of fairies and were an immediate sensation, even duping Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who is the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Ironically, a character that is known for his proficiency with observation and logical reasoning. But fairies definitely exist, right!? He viewed the black and white photos as undeniable proof. It wasn't until 1983 that the two culprits finally admitted they had falsified the supposed evidence.
The Spaghetti Tree
In 1957, a BBC news program convinced viewers that spaghetti actually grew on trees. Despite it being aired on April 1, they were flooded with phone calls the next day from people who were keen to grow their own noodles. Keeping up with the deception, the BBC simply instructed them to “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”
Beringer's Lying Stones
In the year 1725, a professor named Johann Beringer was Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Germany's University of Würzburg. In addition to this, he was allegedly an unbearable douche-canoe of a colleague. You know the type. This motivated two of his work associates to play a large-scale prank on him by embedding phony fossils in places the scientist was known to excavate.
These were not simply a handful of rocks, but thousands of stones buried over a timeframe of months. Way more impressive than inserting office supplies into jelly or covering a cubicle in aluminium foil. The pieces of limestone were carved into the shape of various animals and even featured Hebrew symbols denoting religious iconography that made Beringer consider divine origins a possibility.
He was on the verge of publishing a book about his discoveries when the prank’s perpetrators confessed. Beringer’s beliefs were so solidified that he refused to be swayed. Ultimately, it doomed all three of their careers in the field, which is equal parts sad and hilarious.
The Unbeatable Chess Playing Turk
The Turk was a fake chess-playing machine that existed in the late 18th century and traversed the globe for an astounding 84 years. It dominated thousands of human players during this time. The kicker is, it actually had no knowledge of how to play chess. To make up for the machine’s fabricated talent, a human chess expert would conceal themselves inside the attached table and operate the pieces using magnets and levers. It’s too bad the contraption was destroyed by fire in 1854, otherwise it could’ve gone up against IBM’s Deep Blue.
Theodore Hook was the pioneer of tricksters. In 1810, the lad made a bet with his friend that he could make any homestead in London into the most gossiped about address in seven days. He achieved this by sending out thousands of letters on behalf of the oblivious Mrs Tottenham who resided at 54 Berners Street.
Throughout the entire day, the unsuspecting residents had to send away twelve chimney sweeps, numerous wedding cakes, over a dozen piano deliveries, priests, lawyers and even dignitaries to name a few. The locale eventually became so clogged with pandemonium that every available officer of the law was tasked with disbanding the disorderly commotion. Meanwhile, Hook sat across from the address with his friend watching the bafflement unfold and managed to evade detection for being the responsible party.