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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Great Moments in 19th Century Journalism.

Would you believe in a race of bat-people living on the Moon? What about unicorns and beavers that walked upright like humans? According to New York Sun, it was all true!

On this date in 1835, the Sun embarked on of the great episodes of old timey journalism. The fledgling paper published the first of a series of six articles about the incredible discoveries about the Moon made by Sir John Herschel, one of the most famous astronomers of the time, with his new high-powered telescope in South Africa. Hershcel and his telescope were real (he used it to catalog hundreds of stars and name several of the moons of Saturn and Uranus) but all the fabulous tales of lunar life were completely fabricated by the Sun. But people believed it enough to boost the paper's circulation and for the stories to be picked up and reprinted in newspapers around the world.

You can read more details about the hoax at Wikipedia, the Museum of Hoaxes or HistoryBuff.com.

And what about the New York Sun? With the boost in publicity from the Great Moon Hoax, it would go on to become one of the leading papers in the United States. It would publish a few other hoaxes, most notably Edgar Allan Poe's "balloon hoax," but it was also the home of Francis Church's famous "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus" editorial. The Sun hired one of the first full-time female editors in the industry and eventually won several Pulitzers. One of its city editors even gave us the famous journalism dictum about men biting dogs. The paper folded in 1966.