Hometown Tales Podcast

Monday, January 10, 2005

History Bluff

Erroneous stories … Lack of journalistic integrity … Lying. CBS News was recently busted for telling a lie during this last heated election maelstrom. Journalists printed an “inaccuracy” (which is bad) and many people fell for it (which is worse).

If a newspaper’s masthead reads “Newark Star-Ledger”, “San Francisco Chronicler” … who we kidding? If there was a paper named the “Lubbock Bullshitter” people will usually believe it no matter how unbelievable the story.

Nothing new.

From the “Dallas Morning News”, April 1897, written by reporter E. E. Haydon:

"About 6 o'clock this morning the early risers of Aurora [Texas] were astonished at the sudden appearance of the airship which has been sailing around the country. It was traveling due north and much nearer the earth than before. Evidently some of the machinery was out of order, for it was making a speed of only ten or twelve miles an hour, and gradually settling toward the earth. It sailed over the public square and when it reached the north part of town it collided with the tower of Judge Proctor's windmill and went into pieces with a terrific explosion, scattering debris over several acres of ground, wrecking the windmill and water tank and destroying the judge's flower garden.

The pilot of the ship is supposed to have been the only one aboard and, while his remains were badly disfigured, enough of the original has been picked up to show that he was not an inhabitant of this world. Mr. T.J. Weems, the U.S. Army Signal Service officer at this place and an authority on astronomy gives it as his opinion that the pilot was a native of the planet Mars.

Papers found on his person -- evidently the records of his travels -- are written in some unknown hieroglyphics and cannot be deciphered. This ship was too badly wrecked to form any conclusion as to its construction or motive power. It was built of an unknown metal, resembling somewhat a mixture of aluminum and silver, and it must have weighed several tons. The town is today full of people who are viewing the wreckage and gathering specimens of strange metal from the debris.

The pilot's funeral will take place tomorrow."

Completely apocryphal. Yet, people believed it. When Associated Press reporters arrived the next day to investigate, they were thrilled to meet dozens of eyewitnesses. Lending credence to the famous P.T. Barnum quote, “There’s a sucker born every minute ... and a liar every second.”

For more hoaxes in journalism check out...

btw, that part about P.T. barnum saying "... and a liar every second." I added that.