Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods
F for Fraud
The New York Sun's 'Great Moon Hoax'
The New York Sun's 'Great Moon Hoax'
"All the news that's fit to fabricate" should have been the motto of The Sun, a scrappy publication that first appeared in 1833. When The Sun was first published, New York City hosted no less than eleven daily papers, each with distinct politics. To call attention to the paper, in 1835 the editors approved and published a six-part special, reportedly gleaned from The Edinburgh Courant, describing the moon's rich and wonderful life (pictured). According to The Sun, Sir John Herschel, one of the most prominent astronomers of the early 19th century, had developed a telescope that revealed a moon populated by bat-winged humans, beavers that walked upright, bison, unicorns and more.

Although John Herschel was a famous astronomer, the series was obviously a fabrication. The hoax worked, though. During the series run and for quite awhile thereafter, circulation numbers for The Sun soared, making it one of the most widely-read publications in the glutted New York media market. Even after the stories were revealed as fraudulent — several weeks later — the paper's circulation numbers remained high. The Sun shuttered its doors in 1950, 115 years after it reported life on the moon.
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