Humans have a knack for the sensational, unthinkable and unimaginable. We’ve always been fascinated, terrified and inspired by unusual things – aliens, giants, cyclops… the list goes on and on.
Every so often, a bit of evidence crops up that something awful, previously thought to be not real, may actually be real and is coming to eat our children – or something to that effect. Some have actually been real, but the overwhelming majority of this ‘evidence’ (usually in the form of a grainy photo or some unintelligible sound) turns out to be a hoax – a hysteria-inducing hoax, mind you.
In this article, we list the top horror hoaxes that shook the world.
1. War of the Worlds Broadcast
It was the eve of Halloween in the year 1938 when CBS Radio listeners received the shock of their lives. A news update interrupted the dance music program reporting that a series of odd explosions had taken place near the planet Mars. Soon after, a seemingly unrelated news update, again interrupted the program, reporting that an unidentified object had fallen from the sky in a farm in New Jersey. A third and final interruption followed, frantically reporting that Martians had climbed out of the unusual object that had landed on the New Jersey farm, and were using ray guns to obliterate everything in their path. People panicked. Some made plans to flee, some locked themselves in bunkers, some armed themselves with weapons. This was it. The war of the worlds had begun…
Except it hadn’t
It was actually a dramatic radio adaptation of the famous novel ‘War of The Worlds’ by H. G. Wells, narrated by none other than Orson Welles, who later famously directed ‘Citizen Kane’, one of the most critically acclaimed films in the history of American cinema. There were two warnings that this was actually a radio show and not real life, but that didn’t stop the American public from going into a hysterical frenzy.
It was a tribute to how realistic and well-crafted the entire production was that media outlets and newspapers were crowded with angry listeners outraged on how the CBS allowed for such a thing to be broadcasted. It was that night that sealed Welles’ fame as a dramatist.
2. Alien Autopsy Footage
It was the proof all UFO conspiracy theorists were desperately hoping for. Finally, something they could point at to show that they weren’t crazy and full of crap. The footage in question refers to a 17-minute video depicting a (presumably) female alien being autopsied, following the UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico.
Ray Santilli was the man behind it all, releasing the footage in 1995, almost 40 years later. Supposedly, the alien was retrieved from the Roswell UFO crash site by the military and was autopsied. Santilli finally decided to release the footage after receiving it from a military cameraman who wished to stay anonymous. The autopsy video was broadcasted on August 28th, 1995, in a dedicated program called ‘Fact or Fiction: Alien Autopsy’. Ratings went through the roof – and it was broadcasted again a couple of times. Almost immediately, the skeptics were out in full force, claiming the entire thing was a hoax.
And they were right. About 9 months after the original broadcasting of the ‘Alien Autopsy’ footage, Ray Santilli was featured on a TV documentary, hosted by well-known TV presenter Eamonn Holmes, called ‘Eamonn Investigates: Alien Autopsy’. Santilli finally admitted that the footage was not entirely genuine – it was a ‘reconstruction’ of the footage that Santilli had seen in 1992. But the original tape had deteriorated due to heat and humidity, and Santilli took it upon himself to recreate the footage he saw with a fake alien.
A British comedy was released in 2006, detailing the events surrounding the original film and Santilli in a humorous fashion.
3. The Cardiff Giant
One of the most famous hoaxes in American and world history, the Cardiff Giant was a discovery made in Cardiff, New York by a group of workers digging a barn way back in 1869.
The petrified body of a 10-foot ‘giant’ generated so much excitement among people and attracted people by the boatload. William Newell was in charge of the ‘giant’ exhibition, and was charging people 25 cents – later raised to 50 cents because of the sheer number of people who visited the exhibition.
Scholars and geologists doubted the authenticity of the claims that a giant had been found, claiming there was no actual reason for any worker to be digging a well in that specific area.
Despite other preachers’ attempts at defending the giant’s authenticity, the whole thing turned out to be a hoax, or as a Yale paleontologist put it, ‘a most definite humbug’.
The story began with a tobacco shop owner by the name of George Hull. Hull, a proud atheist, supposedly got the idea after getting into an argument with a Methodist church regarding Genesis 6:4, which suggests that Giants once roamed the Earth. Hull hired a guy in Fort Dodge, Iowa to carve out a massive block of gypsum with the needed proportions, telling him he needed it for a Lincoln monument. After shipping it off to Chicago, Hull then hired a German stonecutter, who was sworn into secrecy, to carve the block into a figure with the features of a man. Using different materials, the ‘giant’ was stained as to look as old and weathered as possible. It was then that Hull transported the ‘giant’ by railroad to his cousin, our friend William Newell.
Eventually, after making a ton of money off of the poor, gullible people of America, Hull admitted to the whole thing being a hoax from the start. The Giant of Cardiff is still on display in the Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, New York.
4. Witch Trial at Mount Holly
On October 22, 1730, the Pennsylvania Gazette ran a now infamous article written by Benjamin Franklin, detailing the trials of two people accused of witchcraft in Mount Holly near Burlington, New Jersey. This was very compelling and exciting, but not unheard of – the notorious Salem Witch Trials had taken place around 40 years earlier.
According to the article, a man and a woman were being accused of practicing witchcraft. This was manifested in “making their neighbors’ sheep dance in an uncommon manner, causing hogs to talk and sing Psalms to the great terror and amazement of the King’s good and peaceable subjects.” That was the how they said “evil people were wreaking havoc” in the olden days.
More than 300 people had reportedly gathered to witness the trial take place. The two people (a man and a woman) accused were asked to undergo a pair of tests, which will determine whether or not they were witches doing Satan’s bidding. Eager to prove that they were not, in fact, witches in cahoots with the devil, the accused man and woman agreed, with the condition that two of the accusers join them in the tests, which they agreed to do.
In the first test, the accused would be weighed against a Bible. If they are found to be lighter than the Bible, then they are considered witches. The four people were weighed against a heavy Bible, and all four were heavier. They passed the first test. The second test is where things got a bit more interesting. They would be thrown into a body of water; if they float instead of sink, then that is considered evidence as to them practicing witchcraft.
The four people were stripped down (although the women were allowed to keep their shifts on) and thrown into the water. The male accuser began to sink, while the other three (female accuser, female accused and male accused) floated. Immediately, the female accuser began to panic, asking to be dunked in to prove that she will in fact sink. The accused male also panicked, claiming that if he was in fact a witch, then it was beyond his knowledge. After much deliberation, the crowd decided to retest the accused more when the weather was warmer. The accused would be stripped down naked and tested again.
This article made for a very compelling reading, and would’ve been considered remarkable had it been true. Except it most certainly wasn’t. First of all, if it was true, it would undoubtedly be reported by some other source as well. Secondly, the Pennsylvania Gazette was owned and published by Benjamin Franklin, who was known for his satirical pieces. The piece was likely intended as a parody of the Puritans and their beliefs. Despite this and the many inconsistencies in the writing, many people believed that another witch hunt was about to begin and had begun to brace themselves.
The list goes on…
The list doesn’t end there. The tale of the Cottingley Fairies (a photograph featuring two-dimensional cutouts of Tinkerbell-like fairies which were featured in an article by none other than famous author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, prompting people all over the world to believe in the existence of fairies), Hitler’s diaries (a secret diary supposedly penned by one of history’s worst dictators, Adolf Hitler) and the Piltdown Man (supposedly the skull of evolution’s missing link between man and ape, but DNA testing proved it belonged to an orangutan) all belong in the list of history’s most famous hoaxes.
Why the list is so long is another interesting point to discuss. Perhaps people’s lives are so dull that they are willing to immediately believe anything slightly unorthodox. Maybe these hoaxes were actually quite realistic for their time and people were right to panic. Or maybe common sense isn’t as common as the name might suggest. Whatever it is, these hoaxes just keep on coming, and many unfortunate and gullible people continue to fall for them every single day.