The Eiffel Tower Scam
One of the most talented con artists who ever lived was Victor Lustig.
Lustig's master con began one spring day when he was reading a newspaper. An article discussed the problems the city was having maintaining the Eiffel Tower. Even keeping it painted was an expensive chore, and the tower was becoming somewhat run down.
Lustig adopted the persona of a government official, and had a forger produce fake government stationery for him. Lustig then sent six scrap metal dealers an invitation to attend a confidential meeting to discuss a possible business deal.
There, Lustig introduced himself as the deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Posts and Telegraphs. He explained that the dealers had been selected on the basis of their good reputations as honest businessmen, and then dropped his bombshell. Lustig told the group that the upkeep on the Eiffel Tower was so outrageous that the city could not maintain it any longer, and wanted to sell it for scrap.
Due to the certain public outcry, he went on, the matter was to be kept secret until all the details were thought out. Lustig said that he had been given the responsibility to select the dealer to carry out the task.
Back on the ground, Lustig asked for bids to be submitted the next day, and reminded them that the matter was a state secret. In reality, Lustig already knew he would accept the bid from one dealer, Andre Poisson. Poisson who was insecure, feeling he was not in the inner circles of the Parisian business community, and thought that obtaining the Eiffel Tower deal would put him in the big league. Lustig had quickly sensed Poisson's eagerness.
To deal with the suspicious Poisson, Lustig arranged another meeting, and then "confessed". As a government minister, Lustig said, he did not make enough money to pursue the lifestyle he enjoyed, and needed to find ways to supplement his income. This meant that his dealings needed certain discretion.
So Lustig not only received the funds for the Eiffel Tower, he also got a bribe on top of that. Lustig and his personal secretary, an American conman named Dan Collins, hastily took a train for Vienna with a suitcase full of cash. He knew the instant that Poisson called the government ministries to ask for further information the whole fraud would be revealed and the law would intervene.
A month later, Lustig returned to Paris, selected six more scrap dealers, and tried to sell the Eiffel Tower once more. This time, the mark went to the police before Lustig managed to close the deal, but Lustig still managed to evade arrest.
The Catholic Pope that turned out to be a woman
John Anglicus, a ninth century Englishman, travelled to Rome, became a Cardinal, and when Pope Leo IV died in 853 A.D., he was unanimously elected pope. As Pope John VIII, he ruled for two years, until 855 A.D. However, while riding one day from St. Peter's to the Lateran, he had to stop by the side of the road and, to the astonishment of everyone, gave birth to a child. It turned out that Pope John VIII was really a woman. In other words, Pope John was really Pope Joan.
According to legend, upon discovering the Pope's true gender, the people of Rome tied her feet together and dragged her behind a horse while stoning her, until she died. Another legend has it that she was sent to a faraway convent to repent her sins and that the child she bore grew up to become the Bishop of Ostia. It is not known whether the story of Pope Joan is true.
The "Chess Machine" that fooled Napoleon
The Turk was a famous hoax which purported to be a chess-playing automaton first constructed and unveiled in 1769 by Wolfgang von Kempelen. He first exhibited the Turk at the court of Austrian Empress Maria Theresa in 1770, and later took it on a tour of Europe for several years during the 1780s. The Turk defeated prominent world-figures, such as Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin.
The cabinet had doors that opened to reveal internal clockwork mechanisms, and when activated the mechanism appeared to be able to play a strong game of chess against a human opponent. However, the cabinet was a cleverly constructed illusion that allowed a chess master to hide inside and operate the mannequin. Consequently, it won most games.
The buying of the Catholic Church by Microsoft
In 1994 a press release began circulating around the internet claiming that Microsoft had bought the Catholic church. The release quoted Bill Gates saying that he considered religion to be a growth market and that, "The combined resources of Microsoft and the Catholic Church will allow us to make religion easier and more fun for a broader range of people." Under the terms of the deal, Microsoft would acquire exclusive electronic rights to the Bible and would make the sacraments available online.
Microsoft had to issue a formal denial of the release on December 16, 1994. This was the first internet hoax to reach a mass audience using the internet. The authors of these hoaxes remain unknown.
The Martian invasion that frightened the World
The War of the Worlds, is a radio adaptation by Orson Welles based upon H. G. Wells' classic novel, was performed by Mercury Theatre on the Air as a Halloween special on October 30, 1938. The live broadcast reportedly frightened many listeners into believing that an actual Martian invasion was in progress. It has been called the "single greatest media hoax of all time", although it was not intended to be one.
Contemporary newspapers reported panic ensued, with people fleeing the area, and others thinking they could smell the poison gas or could see the flashes of the fighting in the distance. Several people reportedly rushed to the "scene" of the events in New Jersey to see if they could catch a glimpse of the unfolding events, including a few astronomers from Princeton University who went looking for the "meteorite" that had supposedly fallen near their school.
It is sometimes said that the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was first received in skepticism as a consequence of the radio performance. Amazingly enough, the drama has been rewritten to apply to other locations and rebroadcast, with similar results:
- A 1944 broadcast in Santiago, Chile caused panic, including mobilization of troops by the governor.
- A February 12, 1949 broadcast in Quito, Ecuador panicked tens of thousands. Some listeners, enraged at the deception, set fire to the radio station and the offices of El Comercio, the capital's leading newspaper, killing twenty people.
The Jewish master plan to dominate the World
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a text purporting to describe a plan to achieve global domination by Jews. Following its first publication in 1903 in the Russian Empire, numerous independent investigations have demonstrated that the document is a hoax; notably, a series of articles printed in The Times of London in 1921 revealed that much of the material was directly plagiarized from earlier works of political satire unrelated to Jews.
In Russia, it helped to the idea that the Bolshevik movement was a Jewish conspiracy for world domination. On WWII, The Protocols became a part of the Nazi propaganda effort to justify persecution of the Jews. It was made required reading for German students.
Today, many Arab governments funded new printings of the Protocols, and taught them in their schools as historical fact. In Syria, The Protocols is currently a best-seller, and government-controlled television channels occasionally broadcast mini-series concerning the Protocols.
Idaho, the US state with a made-up name
Idaho it's perhaps the only state to be named as the result of a hoax. When a name was being selected for new territory, eccentric lobbyist George M. Willing suggested "Idaho," which he claimed was a Native American term meaning "gem of the mountains".
It was later revealed Willing had made up the name himself, and the original Idaho territory was re-named Colorado because of it. Eventually the controversy was forgotten, and modern-day Idaho was given the made-up name when the Idaho Territory was formally created in 1863.
The Alien Autopsy footage from Roswell UFO crash
On 5 May 1995, Ray Santilli, a London-based film producer, presented for the first time his alleged "Alien Autopsy" footage to media representatives and UFO researchers. The body was suggested to belong to one of the aliens picked from the supposed Roswell UFO crash site in 1947. The footage became world-known inmediatly.
he debate on whether the autopsied body is a very realistic mannequin, a girl with a genetic disorder (such as progeria or Turner's syndrome), or a real alien is still going on. Pathologists have also questioned the techniques being used in the supposed autopsy. Ironically, the best evidence against the film comes from one of the background details. On one wall of the autopsy room, there is a type of warning sign that was not produced until 1967, two decades after the alleged event.
Fox TV produced a programme debunking the video as a hoax a couple of years later and, in 2006, a British comedy movie called "Alien Autopsy" was released, on the subject of Santilli faking the autopsy footage, who was apparently involved in the movie's production, which if so would suggest that the autopsy footage was indeed faked.
The fossil that embarrassed British Paleontology
The so-called Piltdown Man was fragments of a skull and jaw bone found in 1912 from a gravel pit at Piltdown in the English county of Sussex. The fragments were claimed by experts of the day to be the fossilised remains of a hitherto unknown form of early man.
From the British Museum's reconstruction of the skull, it was proposed that Piltdown man represented an evolutionary missing link between ape and man, since the combination of a human-like cranium with an ape-like jaw tended to support the notion then prevailing in England that human evolution was brain-led.
In 1953, 41 years later, the Piltdown man was finally exposed as a composite forgery: it consisted of a human skull of medieval age, the 500-year-old lower jaw of a Sarawak orangutan and chimpanzee fossil teeth. The identity of the Piltdown forger remains unknown.
The Surgeon's Photo of the Loch Ness Monster
Ancient Scottish legends spoke of a giant sea monster that lived in the waters of Loch Ness. In 1934, Colonel Robert Wilson, a highly respectable British surgeon, said that he noticed something moving in the water and took a picture of it. The resulting image showed the slender neck of a serpent rising out of the Loch. The photo came to be known simply as "The Surgeon's Photo" and for decades it was considered to be the best evidence of the monster.
It wasn't until 1994, when Christian Spurling, before his death at the age of 90, confessed his involvement in a plot, that included Wetherell and Colonel Wilson, to create the famous photo. Apparently Wetherell's motive was revenge, since he was humiliated years earlier when the supposed monster's footprints he found were nothing but dried hippo's footsteps.
Hitler's secret diary
On April 22, 1983 the German magazine Der Stern announced that it had made the greatest Nazi memorabilia find of all time: a diary kept by Adolf Hitler himself. And this was not just one thin journal.
The magazine had paid 10 million German marks ($6 million at that time) for the sixty small books as well as two "special issues" about Rudolf Hess' flight to the United Kingdom, covering the period from 1932 to 1945.
However, within two weeks, the Hitler Diaries were revealed as being "grotesquely plump fakes" made on modern paper using modern ink and full of historical inaccuracies, the most obvious of which might have been the fact that the monogram on the title page read 'FH' instead of 'AH' (for Adolf Hitler). The diaries were actually written by Konrad Kujau, a notorious Stuttgart forger of Hitler's works, who was sentenced to 42 months in prison.
World Jump Day
World Jump Day was an event scheduled for July 20, 2006 at 11:39.13 UTC, at which time the organization claimed to have 600 million people from the western hemisphere jump simultaneously. They claimed this would move the Earth out of its orbit, and into a new one, one that would not cause global warming. The site was a hoax, an art installation by Torsten Lauschmann (claiming to be a Professor Hans Peter Niesward from the Institute for Gravitational Physics in Munich), and in no way serious. The German student association Lambda-Omega-Lambda provides the computer sciences for this project (programming, as well as server hosting).
The jdbgmgr.exe virus hoax
The jdbgmgr.exe virus hoax involved an e-mail spam in 2002 that advised computer users to delete a file named jdbgmgr.exe because it was a computer virus. jdbgmgr.exe, which had a little teddy bear-like icon (The Microsoft Bear), was actually a valid Microsoft Windows file, the Debugger Registrar for Java (also known as Java Debug Manager, hence jdbgmgr).
Featuring so odd an icon among normally dull system icons had an unexpected counterpoint: an email hoax warning users that this is a virus that somehow came into your computer and should be deleted. This hoax has taken many forms and is always very popular among non-expert users that find this icon very suspect.
The email has taken many forms, including saying its purpose was to warn Hotmail users of a virus spreading via MSN Messenger, or even to alert about a possible virus in the orkut web community. All say that it was not detected by McAfee or Norton AntiVirus, which is obviously true.