Recently, a letter (or rant, as per the magazine) to Wired Magazine, noted a newspaper hoax from 1835, in which one Richard Adams Locke

duped the literate Western world into believing there were man-bats, unicorns, and upright beavers inhabiting the moon.

Appetite whetted, I’ve looked for more. Locke wrote a book about the matter, available free here.  As described in more detail here by the Center for History and New Media (website here),

In late August of 1835, readers of the New-York Sun encountered an incredible story in its pages. The newspaper was among the inexpensive “penny press” that began publication during the 1830s and drew a large new readership with lower prices and a more narrative style of journalism than earlier newspapers. The Sun reported that the British astronomer Sir John Herschel had created a telescope “of vast dimensions and an entirely new principle” that enabled him to see life on the moon. In a series spread over six days, the Sun provided an exhaustively detailed description of Herschel’s telescope and its extraterrestrial discoveries. Although it was derided by other newspapers as a hoax, the Sun never admitted that the moon story was untrue.

This description of these “penny press” publications sounds something like some blogging on the internet (present serious blogging and company excepted, of course!).  For next to nothing, we can be told “facts” that others might deride, but which the posters need not defend.


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