Newspaper Hoax Creatures on the Moon
In New York in the 1830's newspaper readers were astounded by the descriptions of life on the Moon.
Readers of the New York Sun were astonished by the headlines in August, 1835. Life had been discovered on the moon. British scientist Sir. John Herschel had sent back reports from her observatory on the Cape of Good Hope.
Noted astronomer Hershel had used his new 24 foot telescope to gaze on the surface of the moon. The device could magnify objects over 40,000 times and yielded never before seen details.
According to the article the moon surface was covered with great forests and plains, deep rivers with wonderful white sand beaches. There were wonderful creatures populating this landscape: beavers that could walk upright and lived in huts and had the ability to use fire.
The story was first broke in the paper on August 25 and more details were added in later editions. The printed copies quickly sold out and the presses had to run 10 hours a day to keep up with demand.
Engraving from Newspaper
On August 28, the paper printed the information that the public most eagerly wanted. There were humans on the moon!!! Hershel classified the creatures as Verspertilio-homos or man-bats. They were about 4 feet tall, covered with copper colored hair, except on their faces, and had wings that went from the top of their shoulders to their calves. The creatures faces were capable of human expression and they had a dignified walk.
Sir Hershel stated that the creatures “ are doubtless innocent and happy creatures, notwithstanding some of their amusements would but ill comport with our terrestrial notions of decorum.”
Sir John states that “We had no opportunity to see them actually at work. So far as we could judge, they spend their happy hours in collecting fruits in the woods, eating through the skies, bathing and loitering about upon the summits of precipices.”
Sun newspaper logo
The Sun was the only newspaper with the exclusive information from the eminent scientist. The information had originally been printed in the Edinburgh Journal of Science and was reprinted with their permission. Other New York papers quickly started writing about the creatures, mostly without mentioning that it was a Sun exclusive. Life on the moon had been talked about by many before this and some had thought it was just a matter of time before there was proof.
Most accepted the information without skepticism. Dennison Olmsted and Elias Loomis believed in the story but wanted to see the mathematical calculations that the reporter had mentioned in passing in one of the stories. But they were rebuffed by reporter Richard Locke who told them that the figures were unavailable.
Richard Locke could not have shown them any calculations, but maybe he could have explained where the information really came from. Locke had combined some facts, Hershel was an astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope, and a lot of his own imagination to create the fantastic story. He did this with the permission of his publisher, who needed to increase the circulation of his struggling New York daily.
A friend of Locke worked for another newspaper that wanted to reprint the story. To save the friend embarrassment he confessed to the hoax. The friend turned around hand told his employers, the Journal of Commerce, and that paper exposed the hoax. The Sun didn’t confess until mid September. They did not apologize and they were no consequences for them. Even Sir Herschel thought the whole matter very amusing. He stated (genuinely this time) that “he could never hope to live up to the fame thus gratuitously heaped upon him.”