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30 MIN READ TIME

NEWSPAPER HOAXES

It’s a lot of trouble to make money selling tickets to see fake fossil monsters. Albert Koch had to find real fossils, spend money creating and promoting his bogus exhibits, and run the risk that skeptical fossil experts would ruin it all before he could make back his investment.

But selling fake news stories—why, that’s the easiest thing in the world. Cheap, too! Just invent a juicy yarn people want to read. The temptation to make stuff up causes all mammer of media mischief. Outrageous newspaper hoaxes were especially common during the 1800s, when communication by sailing ship made it very difficult to check whether news stories were true. In 1835, for example, the New York Sun newspaper announced that bat-people, blue unicorns, and other bizarre lifeforms had been discovered on the Moon. (See JUNIOR SKEPTIC #56 for that tale.) In 1874, the New York World published an extremely gruesome hoax about a man-eating tree in Madagascar. (See JUNIOR SKEPTIC #59.)

The tree-monster was not first fake news story to appear in the World. Just a year earlier, the same paper told readers that mammoths still exist! Under the headline “Remarkable Discovery of Living Prehistoric Animals,” the World spun a tale of the adventures of a character named Cheriton Batchmatchnik. After escaping from a Siberian prison mine, he stumbled through the frozen wilderness for weeks. He was lost and starving. Eventually Cheriton followed a wildlife trail through remote mountain passes. The trail led him into a vast, unknown valley. It was a “green, placid and cheerful” land of “succulent herbs and grasses,” untouched and teeming with wildlife. And what wildlife! Cheriton soon discovered a herd of living mammoths! “The animal was nocturnal in its habits,” hiding in “caves or forests by day, and feeding at night or early morning.”

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Editor’s Letter
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Michelle E. Ainsworth holds an MA in history. She enjoys
SPECIAL SECTION CLASSIC SKEPTICISM
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TO SOMEONE WITH BIOLOGICAL TRAINING, ONE OF THE MOST irritating
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LAST JUNE, THE LONG AWAITED SEQUEL INDEPENDENCE Day: Resurgence opened
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The Cancer-care Industry’s Marketing Is Among the Most Deceptive on the Consumer Landscape
One of the Most Fundamental Sources of Error in Human Judgment
Thinking Critically about Public Discourse
REVIEWS
A review of three books about the Salem Witch Trials
A Review of The Faith of Christopher Hitchens by Larry Taunton
JUNIOR SKEPTIC
Welcome back to the curious tale of mammoths and mastodons!
We ended Part One with a wonderful scene from 200
With new fossil discoveries and Cuvier’s research, it was becoming
Rembrandt Peale was mistaken about his carnivorous mastodon with the
At the same time that new fossil discoveries were revealing
The first few decades of the 1800s brought a wealth
People who read newspapers during the 1800s found tall tales
We’ve come a long way since the days when mammoth