April Fools' Special: History's Hoaxes

By John Roach
for National Geographic News
April 1, 2003

At first glance, the headlines sound plausible: Shark leaps from ocean to attack a hovering helicopter. Mild winter brings Swiss a bumper spaghetti crop. Taco Bell Corporation purchases Liberty Bell from U.S. Government. Alabama legislature votes to change the value of the mathematical constant pi. But they are all lies.

Happy April Fools' Day. In celebration of the day, National Geographic News has compiled a listing of some of the greatest hoaxes in history. They are the lies, darned lies, and whoppers that have been perpetrated on the gullible and unsuspecting, probably since humans evolved the art of speech.

Internet Hoaxes

The Internet has given birth to a rise in popularity and proliferation of hoaxes. E-mail inboxes are bombarded on an almost daily basis with messages warning of terrible computer viruses that cause users to delete benign chunks of data from their hard drives, or of credit card scams that entice the naive to give all their personal information, including passwords and bank account, to identity thieves. Other e-mails make users gasp with incredulity and awe, which is where this list begins.

Shark "Photo of the Year"

National Geographic's Web site was deluged with hundreds of queries a day when an e-mail containing a photo of a shark leaping out of the water to attack a helicopter began flooding inboxes around the world in August 2001. The email claims the photo is National Geographic's "Photo of the Year."

National Geographic replied that the photo is a fake and sent out its sleuths to track down the source. They found that the image was spliced together from a U.S. Air Force photo taken near San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge by Lance Cheung and a photo of a breaching great white shark taken by South African photographer Charles Maxwell, but the person responsible for making the composite image has never been identified.

Maxwell, who has worked for National Geographic several times, is not thrilled that an image from his Web site was taken and manipulated in this fashion, but told National Geographic News that he'd "like to make contact with the person who did this—not to get him or her into trouble, but because it's a lot of fun and it is a good job."

The e-mail containing the hoax reads:

AND YOU THINK YOUR [sic] HAVING A BAD DAY AT WORK!!

Although this looks like a picture taken from a Hollywood movie, it is in fact a real photo, taken near the South African coast during a military exercise by the British Navy.

Continued on Next Page >>


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