Random Posts

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Batmen of the Moon

     Many of today's news stories are lies, but that's nothing new. Just read about the time Upton Sinclair was coaxed into running for governor of California in 1934. HERE
     Back in 1835 the New York newspaper, The Sun, featured the Great Moon Hoax when they fooled readers into thinking that life had been discovered on the moon using a special new telescope. 
     Like many fake news stories today, its author, Richard Adams Locke, intended the articles to be satire, but people then, like now, thought it was real.

     The purpose was two fold. First, to increase the paper's circulation and secondly ridicule some of the theories that had recently been published. Locke was mocking scientists who believed extraterrestrial life. For instance, in 1824, Franz von Paula Gruithuisen, professor of Astronomy at Munich University, had published a paper claiming he had observed various shades of color on the moon's surface which he claimed were climate and vegetation zones. He also observed lines and geometrical shapes which he felt indicated the existence of walls, roads, fortifications, and cities. 
     Locke was particularly mocking the Scottish minister and writer Thomas Dick. Dick (1774 – 1857), was a British church minister, science teacher and writer, known for his works on astronomy and practical philosophy, combining science and Christianity, and arguing for a harmony between the two. Dick had computed that the Solar System contained over 21.9 trillion inhabitants. In fact, the Moon alone, by his count, would contain 4.2 billion inhabitants. His writings were enormously popular in the United States, his fans including intellectual luminaries such as Ralph Waldo Emerson. 
      To make his story more believable Locke mixed some real details with fake details to make the story more convincing, even to quoting a real astronomer named Sir John Herschel who was making observations from the Cape of Good Hope at the time of publication. And the newspaper he mentioned, the Edinburgh Journal of Science had really existed but it had stopped publication by August 1835. 
     The upcoming story was advertised with great fanfare on August 21, 1835, as an upcoming feature and the first part of six was published four days later on August 25. The articles described fantastic animals on the Moon, including bison, goats, unicorns, bipedal tail-less beavers and bat-like winged humanoids ("Vespertilio-homo") who built temples. There were trees, oceans and beaches. These discoveries were supposedly made with an immense telescope of an entirely new principle. 
     Of course there were skeptics. Two scientists from Yale tried to find the Edinburgh Journal of Science in Yale’s library, but were unsuccessful. So, they traveled to The Sun’s office in New York, where they were told that the original article was still at the printers. 
     The author of the narrative was ostensibly Dr. Andrew Grant, the traveling companion and secretary of Sir John Herschel, but Grant was fictitious.  According to the story, observations were discontinued when the Sun caused the telescope's lens to set fire to the observatory. 
     According to the account, “The weight of this ponderous lens was 14,826 pounds or nearly seven tons after being polished; and its estimated magnifying power 42,000 times. It was therefore presumed to be capable of representing objects in our lunar satellite of little more than eighteen inches in diameter, providing its focal image of them could be rendered distinct by the transfusion of article light.” 
     The hoax described many fascinating findings: beautiful basaltic formations, cliffs, great oceans, and lunar forests. It also described many animals, one similar to a bison, and another that resembled a goat: 

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. The female was destitute of horn and beard, but had a much longer tail. It was gregarious, and chiefly abounded on the acclivitous glades of the woods. In elegance of symmetry it rivaled the antelope, and like him it seemed an agile sprightly creature, running with great speed, and springing from the green turf with all the unaccountable antics of a young lamb or kitten. This beautiful creature afforded us the most exquisite amusement. 

     The hoax was a great success. The Sun's circulation increased dramatically and the series was not discovered to be a hoax for several weeks after its publication and, even then, the newspaper did not issue a retraction. 
     Sir John Herschel was initially amused, but became annoyed later when he had to answer questions from people who believed the hoax was serious. 
     Edgar Allan Poe claimed the story was a plagiarism of his earlier work The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall. His editor at the time was Richard Adams Locke!   Poe had published his own Moon hoax in late June 1835, two months before the similar Locke hoax, in the Southern Literary Messenger and the story was reprinted in the New York Transcript on September 2–5, 1835, under the headline "Lunar Discoveries, Extraordinary Aerial Voyage by Baron Hans Pfaall." 
     In Poe's version, Pfaal went to the moon in a hot-air balloon and lived there for five years with the Lunarians and even sent one back to earth. But, his hoax was not all that successful; it was too obviously satirical and comical. The hoax, as well as Poe's Hans Pfaall, are mentioned by characters in Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon

You can read all six articles HERE

No comments:

Post a Comment