On August 25th of 1835, an event took place that came to be known as the Great Moon Hoax. A newspaper called the New York Sun printed a series of six articles, in which it claimed that there were bat winged creatures living on the moon. The articles were said to have been reprinted from the Edinburgh Journal of Science. The byline was a pen name, Dr. Andrew Grant, who claimed to be associated with Sir John Herschel, who was a famous astronomer at the time.
In reality (for a change) Herschel had recently traveled to South Africa, to set up an observatory with a powerful new telescope. This gave Dr. Andrew Grant the opportunity to describe John Herschel finding evidence of life on the moon. Said life included unicorns, two legged beavers, and furry humanoids with wings like bats, who built temples across the moon's cratered landscape. The articles also described the geography of the moon as being replete with giant amethyst crystals and heavy vegetation, rushing waterfalls, and of course the temples built by those bat winged humanoid creatures. Drawings were provided, as photographs had not yet been invented.
The New York Sun was one of the papers from the “penny press,” which offered cheaper prices and a massive stretching of the word journalism, but appealed to a more mainstream audience. In other words, the New York Sun was an early 19th century tabloid magazine of the kind found at the supermarket checkout stands of today.
From the day the first moon hoax article was released, people sucked up the latest “news,” and readership skyrocketed for the New York Sun. There are still people today who think everything they read is true, and never bother to do any fact checking. So who can blame these early 19th century folks who had never even seen tabloid news?
Truth be told, the Edinburgh Journal of Science had ceased to exist years earlier, and Grant was merely a fictional character. The articles were most likely penned by Richard Adams Locke, a Cambridge graduate who worked for the New York Sun at that time. The articles may have been meant as a satire, to poke fun at earlier, serious attempts to envision extraterrestrial life. One writer, Thomas Dick, was convinced that the moon had 4.2 billion inhabitants. Thomas Dick's books were consistent best sellers. People simply failed to “get” the satire, and took these outrageous stories to be true.
Even a committee of Yale University scientists traveled all the way to New York in search of those “original” articles in the Edinburgh Journal. New York Sun employees sent the Yale team back and forth between offices, until finally they returned to New Haven empty handed, without finding out about the hoax.
On September 16th of 1835, the New York Sun editors admitted that the articles had been a hoax. However, people found this vaguely amusing, and continued to buy the New York Sun. The Sun stayed in print until 1950.
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