Bizarre Hoaxes That Fooled Everyone

Did any of these fool you?

Do you consider yourself someone who is hard to fool? Some savvy tricksters have succeeded at pulling the wool over our collective eyes quite a few times in history. Let’s take a look back at some incredible hoaxes that have both fooled and delighted people throughout the years.

The Spaghetti-Tree Hoax

Black and white photo of a woman picking spaghetti from the famous spaghetti tree.

The spaghetti-tree hoax left millions of people feeling suspicious about the news long before the term “fake news” was popular. The spaghetti-tree hoax dates back to April Fools’ Day 1957. The perpetrator was none other than a BBC program called “Panorama.”

It’s important to add just a little bit of context before we condemn the people of Great Britain for being such easy fools. Spaghetti was actually relatively unknown by people in Great Britain when the spaghetti-tree hoax was perpetrated. This can seem hard to believe when most of us know spaghetti to be such a staple dish. However, most people living in Great Britain in 1957 had never enjoyed a spaghetti meal. The general population was mostly unaware of the fact that spaghetti was made from a mixture of wheat flour and water.

How did the spaghetti-tree hoax go down? The “Panorama” program showed a family living somewhere in Switzerland harvesting long, stringy “fruit” from the spaghetti tree on their property. Families in Great Britain bought into the story almost universally without question! The program reached more than 7 million homes at air time. That accounted for roughly half of all of the homes in Great Britain at the time. Many people called into the station the following day to ask for tips on how to cultivate their own spaghetti trees. The helpful folks at the BBC were happy to instruct them to place a “sprig” of spaghetti inside a can of tomato sauce to get things sprouting!

Bizarre Hoaxes – Apollo 20

Do you remember the day Apollo 20 launched? Yes, that was definitely a trick question. There was no Apollo 20 mission. However, many people still believe that this was an actual NASA endeavor to this day. Blame it on a fast-traveling hoax that began on YouTube more than a decade ago.

The tale of the Apollo 20 hoax in a nutshell is that there is a series of YouTube videos documenting evidence of an “extraterrestrial” civilization on the far side of the moon that was supposedly discovered during a NASA mission called Apollo 20. In April of 2007, a user under the moniker of “retiredafb” began uploading a series of short videos to YouTube detailing the Apollo 20 mission.

Each video clip contained startling, paranoia-inducing snippets depicting the Apollo 20 mission. This includes a launch scene, footage of a man named William Rutledge supposedly walking on the moon, images of the ruins of what is assumed to be an alien ship and images of what appears to be an alien city. The highlight of the footage features the body of a hibernating female alien.

The frenzy over the Apollo 20 videos spiked when a man named William Rutledge detailed his participation in the Apollo 20 mission during an interview with Luca Scantanburlo. Rutlidge claimed to be an American astronaut who retired to Rwanda following his time as the commander of the top-secret Apollo 20 mission. Here’s a quick rundown of the big reveals from the interview:

  • Apollo 20 was launched in August of 1976 out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara, California.
  • The mission was conducted as a joint partnership between the United States and Soviet Union.
  • Rutlidge and his crew landed near the Guyot crater.
  • Remains of a moon civilization were discovered not far from the landing site.
  • A hibernating female humanoid was brought back home with the crew for study.

What’s at the bottom of this hoax? The truth is that the world really isn’t sure. In fact, people who are inclined to believe in conspiracies may not be able to fully rule this one out as a hoax. It was believed for a while that a French artist named Thierry Speth was behind the hoax. Speth did supposedly publish a confession on his website at one point. However, all records of Speth’s website and confession have since been wiped from the Internet.

What makes matters even more interesting is the fact that the Apollo 20 hoax is still being carried out to some degree. New videos featuring information regarding the lunar mission pop up on YouTube every so often. This means that someone out there is still keeping the hoax alive. One thing that continues to give the Apollo 20 hoax life is the fact that Apollo 20 actually was a real mission at one point. It just happened to be cancelled due to funding issues before it was ever planned or launched. The same thing happened to Apollo 18 and Apollo 19. The last lunar mission launched by NASA was Apollo 17 in 1972. Of course, that’s just what’s on the official record.

The Maggie Murphy Hoax

A black and white photo of a man carrying the infamous Maggie Murphy oversized fake potato.

Something very curious came from the ground in Loveland, Colorado, in 1895. That thing just happened to be a giant potato if you believe this next story. This is one of the more harmless hoaxes on the record books. However, it’s still pretty satisfying. A man named W.L. Thorndyke created a doctored image depicting a farmer named Joseph B. Swan holding an enormous potato up over his shoulder in the late 1800s. The photo quickly did the 1800s equivalent of “going viral” in a matter of weeks. The photo’s odyssey began in an issue of the Loveland Reporter. The potato was reported to weigh more than 86 pounds and measure in at more than 3 feet! The potato became so popular that it was even given a name! Yes, Maggie Murphy was a spud sensation across America even though she was never real.

W.L. Thorndyke was inundated with requests for pieces of Maggie Murphy because people wanted to try to grow their own oversized potatoes. Others simply requested seeds. The pressure of keeping up the hoax proved to be too much for Thorndyke. He eventually admitted that Maggie Murphy was a hoax he had baked up!

Bizarre Hoaxes – The Legend of Lucy Lightfoot

The Legend of Lucy Lightfoot is one of many bizarre hoaxes that fooled everyone.

June 13 of 1831 was a strange day on the Isle of Wight. The sky overhead experienced a near total eclipse of the sun for nearly 30 minutes. A violent thunderstorm also rolled into the island to flood the green pastures and damage crops. What was most interesting of all was that a young girl named Lucy was missing by the time it was all over.

According to a tale told by the Vicar of St. Olave’s, Lucy Lightfoot was a girl who supposedly went missing on June 13 of 1831 on the Isle of Wight. Her horse was found tied to the old gate at St. Olave’s Church in the wake of the day’s violent storm. Lucy’s parents searched for her for two years before finally moving away. The plot thickened quite a bit after that.

What is notable is that a wooden effigy of a knight by the name of Edward Estur was found shattered in the vicinity of Lucy’s alleged disappearance. This was notable because documents listing English knights recruited by Peter I of Cyprus in 1363 name none other than Sir Edward Estur. What’s more, the knight was noted as being accompanied by a girl named Lucy in his travels. This lead the local townsfolk to believe that a knight from the 14th century had somehow slipped through time, via the storm, and taken Lucy back to his time. Many believed that the historical documents mentioning Lucy had been retroactively changed due to the timeslip and now featured their missing Lucy in the documents.

However, the Vicar of St. Olave’s admitted to having fabricated the entire story in the 1960s. There never was a Lucy Lightfoot who went missing on a mysterious day on the Isle of Wight. However, this is one of the hoaxes that fans of time travel still cling to today.

Bizarre Hoaxes – The Great Donor Show

The Great Donor Show was a hoax that fooled an entire country.

This next hoax was what we might call twisted for a good cause. “The Great Donor Show” was broadcast in the Netherlands in June of 2007. However, its plot was like nothing that had been aired before. The show introduced the audience to a terminally ill 37-year-old woman who was planning to donate a kidney to one of 25 people in need. Viewers were encouraged to send their “votes” in by text message and effectively decide who should receive the transplant and who shouldn’t. The understanding was that all of the profits made by the texts would go to the Dutch Kidney Foundation.

Such a high-stakes premise drew immediate criticism. However, it was soon revealed that all was not as it seemed. The terminally ill woman was actually an actress who was in perfectly good health. However, the final three contestants in the show were truly patients in need of kidneys. All three were “in on the scheme” and fully aware of what was happening during their participation. What’s more, they were willing to help because the purpose of this reality show was to demonstrate the great need for organ donations in the Netherlands.

Was this ethically questionable hoax a success? More than 12,000 viewers actually contacted the network looking to fill out donor forms just hours after the program had aired! Another 50,000 donor forms were requested in the days that followed. A total of 7,300 new donors had been formally registered on the Dutch donor registry within a month of the program’s airing. This might be one of the rare hoaxes that actually made the world a better place.