To say that we, as a human
race, can be a gullible bunch may be met with rebuttal and dismissiveness.
However when you take in to account some of the hoaxes that have been
thrown upon us, and the large number of people who wholeheartedly
believe without question, the argument stands. And there is no finer
example than the Great Moon Hoax of 1835.
According to the
Museum of Hoaxes, It all started
in the early summer of 1835
when Benjamin Day, founder of The Sun, a New York newspaper
considered a serious source of news much like the New York Times and
the Herald Tribune, met Richard Adams Locke, who claimed to be a
Cambridge educated reporter. Locke was
working for another penny paper covering a sensational trial when Day
approached him to cover the same for him. Locke agreed to provide The
Sun a series of articles, as long as his name wouldn't appear as their
author since he was employed elsewhere.
Locke's articles on the trial were so
popular with Sun readers that Benjamin Day published them in a pamphlet
which sold thousands of copies. Realizing he could make good money from
long stories republished in pamphlets, Day set about getting Locke to
write more serial articles, and around the same time, hired Locke as
co-editor of The Sun. Locke wasted no time in coming up with the idea of
an astronomical satire detailing the discovery of life on the moon.
On August 25, 1835, The Sun published the
first of six articles titled "Great Astronomical Discoveries Lately
Made by Sir John Herschel, L.L.D.F.R.S.&c, At the Cape of Good Hope
[From Supplement to the Edinburgh Journal of Science]". Herschel
was a renowned British astronomer, and the article began with his
discovery, through a super telescope, of planets in other solar systems, vast
dimensions, and the claim that he had solved or corrected nearly every
leading problem of mathematical astronomy. Then, as if a side
note, the article proclaimed that Herschel had discovered life on the
moon. Herschel wouldn't know about the article until much later, but the
publication caused excitement throughout America and Europe.
Complete with purported excerpts from the
Edinburgh Journal of Science, the articles built the story around the
scientists creation of a new telescope so powerful it could study
insects on the moon. Then the series took readers through many fanciful
accounts, including the discovery of trees, oceans and beaches. And of
course, life on the moon, like Bison, goats, and even bat-like winged
humanoids who built temples. The author credited for the articles was a
fictitious Dr. Andrew Grant, who was reported to be a former student of
Sir William Herschel, discoverer of the plant Uranus, and John
Herschel's father. It was written that Grant was now the traveling
companion of John Herschel, and that the series was in conjunction with
a more scientific account submitted by Herschel to the Royal Society.
The story spread like wildfire, with
other notable newspapers and magazines giving extensive coverage.
Meanwhile The Sun was making money, immediately selling the series in a
pamphlet along with various lithographic prints showing artists depictions
of scenes, commissioned from Wall Street lithographers Norris & Baker.
It has been said that 60,000 of the pamphlets sold, but only 16 exist
today as collectors items.
While there were plenty of skeptics in
the media, looking into accounts of people who lived at the time it is
apparent that the majority of the public accepted the reality of life on
the moon... initially. That quickly changed however as more and more
credible newspapers took the articles to task. Regardless of being
called out as hoax, The Sun wasn't phased, with many praising it as a
clever joke. In fact, The Sun would continue its successful publishing