A little over 54 years ago the first man was launched into space. 46 years ago humanity has hit the next milestone – first man on the moon. The 20th century has been very productive in terms of space exploration – but humanity has long been fascinated by celestial bodies, giving them outlandish attributes. While scientific examination of stars, planets and the closest extra-terrestrial body – the Moon – was progressing, it didn’t immediately dispel their magical nature. In fact, it only gave pseudo-scientific grounds to various wild theories. One of the most notable examples is the so-called “Great Moon Hoax”.
In a series of six articles which the New York Sun began publishing August 25, 1835, it was described how Sir John Herschel supposedly had made startling discoveries of Earth’s satellite. The first article provided a lengthy introduction and an in-depth description of Herschel’s telescope, which, supposedly, had made possible to see Moon with incredible detail. The second article, published the following day, sheds light on what the astronomer saw:
It was a lofty chain of obelisk-shaped, or very slender pyramids, standing in irregular groups, each composed of about thirty or forty spires, every one of which was perfectly square, and as accurately truncated as the finest specimens of Cornish crystal… they were monstrous amethysts, of a diluted claret color, glowing in the intensest light of the sun!
But that wasn’t the most ground-breaking discovery:
…We beheld continuous herds of brown quadrupeds, having all the external characteristics of the bison, but more diminutive than any species of the bos genus in our natural history… The next animal perceived would be classed on earth as a monster. It was of a bluish lead color, about the size of a goat, with a head and beard like him, and a single horn, slightly inclined forward from the perpendicular.
Animals on the Moon!As we now know for sure, this was a hoax. At the time, though, the announcement of discovery of extraterrestrial life caused enormous excitement which exceeded the regular readership of the New York Sun and spread across America and Europe. Supposedly the Sun’s circulation increased dramatically as a result of this hoax – and what’s important, it didn’t decline after Richard Adams Locke, a reporter for The Sun, admitted to the hoax. Thus the New York Sun was established as a successful paper for years to come.
Dr Herschel, the astronomer in the article, reportedly wasn’t mad that his name was used for the story and was initially amused by the hoax, admitting that his own real observations could never be as exciting. His amusement didn’t last long as people kept believing that his “findings” were actually true.
The Hoax itself wasn’t perhaps the greatest trick. Edgar Allan Poe believed the article was based on his own Moon hoax, published just a few months before the articles in The Sun. Poe accused Locke of stealing his story and effectively stealing his thunder. The author served his revenge cold by getting another fake article published in the same newspaper – The Balloon-Hoax, which detailed a trip across the Atlantic Ocean in just three days in a gas balloon. Richard Adams Locke was Poe's editor on this article, and, despite his suspicions, still allowed the hoax to be published.