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Hoaxes are an interesting phenomenon. Some, like the endless photographs of Bigfoot that all look like a man in a gorilla and/or bear suit, are perpetrated for fame. Others, however, are fueled by pure revenge, designed to make a specific person or group of people look incredibly stupid because of some perceived slight against the perpetrator -- sort of like that time you called Timmy Brown's house and told him his parents had been killed in a helicopter crash because he wouldn't let you borrow his copy of Battletoads for the weekend.

5
Jonathan Swift Pranks A Guy By Spending A Year Pretending He's Dead

Francis Bindon

Back in the early 18th century, if you wanted to get the latest dirt on stuff such as who was going to kick the bucket or have the biggest crop that year, you consulted an almanac, which was kind of like the astrology section of your newspaper, except it was the size of the entire newspaper. Old-timey people didn't believe in doing superstition half-assed. And in England, the big cheese of almanacs was John Partridge, who achieved great success -- even though he wasn't really any more adept at guessing the future than a turnip.

But, Partridge's habit of dissing the Church of England attracted the ire of novelist Jonathan Swift, who was also a priest and who somewhat rightfully took issue with Partridge's right to call the Church out for bullshit when Partridge was an astrologer and not a theologian.

sergeyussr/iStock/Getty Images
"Venus in Capricorn's moon says rain is imminent and God is bullshit."

So, Swift decided to stick it to the guy by posing as an astrologer himself and predicting Partridge's death, just to see what would happen. He adopted the pseudonym "Isaac Bickerstaff," presumably because no one would suspect the authenticity of an astrologer with the most English name in recorded history, and published his own astrological almanac in 1708 that predicted Partridge would die from a "raging fever" at exactly 11 p.m. on March 29, just seconds after a one-hour block of Night Court on WGN.

The public couldn't discern Swift's prank from any of the other crap that was being peddled at the time, so they ate it up. Of course, Partridge failed to even come down with the sniffles on the day of his predicted death, but that didn't stop Isaac "Star-Crusher" Bickerstaff from releasing a eulogy announcing Partridge's demise, referring to the departed astrologer as "a cobbler, starmonger, and quack."

Beba73/iStock/Getty Images
The fact that it was written in sarcastic verse apparently wasn't a tip-off.

The next day, Swift published a pamphlet detailing all of "Bickerstaff's" predictions that had come true as described, including Partridge's death among them. This would be the same thing as a major news source erroneously reporting the death of some famous celebrity, say Dr. Oz, and, rather than running a retraction, they just keep vehemently insisting that Dr. Oz is dead and eventually include the piece on their Top 10 Stories of the Year list.

And the thing is, since this was several centuries before Twitter or even the telephone, the slow-moving nature of information was what enabled Swift's hoax to gain so much traction. While Partridge scrambled to rush the release of his new almanac to prove that he was totally still alive and still publishing his own equally untrue predictions, everyone else already assumed he was dead, and mourners flooded to his home to inquire about funeral arrangements. This presumably led to much horrified confusion when an exasperated and sleep-deprived Partridge answered the door in his dressing gown. Swift kept the joke going for an entire year before finally revealing himself as Isaac Bickerstaff and admitting he'd made the whole thing up, just to fuck with John Partridge.

Charles Jervas
"Remember the part where your whole family thought you were dead? Good times."

4
A High-Brow Biographer Tricks His Rival Into Publishing A Coded Insult

Macmillan

Back in 2004, two authors named Bevis Hillier and A.N. Wilson were both working on separate biographies of English poet Sir John Betjeman. You probably don't know any of those names, but, in the literary world, Hillier and Wilson were the equivalent of "Hulk Hogan" and "Macho Man" Randy Savage, and their rivalry had hit a fever pitch.

Hillier had already published two volumes of his biographical opus about Sir John Betjeman, because apparently compiling Betjeman's life takes almost as long as Betjeman actually lived. Hillier was working on a third volume (which all the Betjemaniacs were anxiously anticipating), but became furiously pissed that his rival, Wilson, was generating so much hype for his own version of the biography, which one newspaper was describing as "the big one."

Arrow
"The preview chapter took up a whole shelf. Four out of four stars."

In addition to getting more media attention, Wilson had made a hobby of shitting all over Hillier's work, publishing extremely negative reviews of his Betjeman biographies. Of Hillier's second volume, Wilson said, "Some reviewers would say it is badly written, but the trouble is, it isn't really written at all. It is hurled together." He later wrote a newspaper article attacking Hillier himself, calling him an "old bachelor, smock-clad like a pauper in the reign of Henry VIII, with so little in his life that he has to worry his sad old head about a book review." Because when literary biographers get into a shit fight, they have to do it as Britishly as possible.

Hillier decided that those professorially phrased insults were the final straw, so he decided to play a little prank to destroy Wilson's reputation. Using the pseudonym of Eve De Harben (anagram for "Ever Been Had"), he wrote to Wilson, claiming to be in the possession of a previously unknown love letter written by Betjeman. Wilson enthusiastically took the bait, excited to have exclusive access to an authentic Betjeman work that asshole Hillier had never seen, and he included the bogus letter in his book. The problem for Wilson was that the letter was a forgery made by a Betjeman expert -- Hillier knew exactly what to do in order to fool him. Not only that, but the piece de resistance of Hillier's prank was that the fake letter was an acrostic -- reading down, the first letter of every line spelled out "A N Wilson is a shit." That's varsity shade Hillier was throwing.

John Murray
"You come at the king, you best not miss."

When Hillier finally took credit for the prank, Wilson did his best to appear a good sport and said, "Of course, I saw the funny side." The letter was quietly deleted from later editions of Wilson's book, while Wilson himself presumably tracked down each original copy to tear the letter out with his angry, screaming teeth.

Matt Cardy/Getty Images News/Getty Images
And the fight over the final copy continues today, with both of Wilson's fans going back and forth on eBay indefinitely.

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3
A 19th-Century Journalist Trolls Two Powerful Groups With One Fake Tell-All

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The Catholic Church and the Freemasons have always had a pretty solid hate-boner for each other and have spent hundreds of years basically re-enacting a Looney Tunes sketch wherein Bugs and Daffy irreverently accuse each other, back-and-forth, of consuming the flesh of innocents to conjure the Dark Lord Satan. French journalist Leo Taxil, who had been in trouble before for mocking the Church, thought the drama was entertaining enough that he decided to embark upon an elaborate trolling campaign so spectacular that it still tricks people to this day.

First, he publicly announced his conversion to Catholicism and apologized for his infractions against the Church. Then, he began to publish a series of books exposing the terrifying truth behind Freemasonry, packed full of bogus "insider information" about their secret Satanic rituals and gory sacrifices. The Catholic Church loved him, heavily promoting his books and praising the lengths he had gone to expose the truth, while the Freemasons were left stammering in confusion. This is understandable, considering that Taxil had sprained his elbow while pulling every single sentence of his expose directly out of his ass.

Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images
"Thank you." - Dan Brown

Twelve years into his prank, which is only slightly less time than Hugh Jackman has been making X-Men movies, Taxil called a press conference, during which he announced to the world that everything he had written was 100 percent thunderous bullshit. He presumably hired an orchestra to play sad tuba noises to accompany this announcement.

People from both sides of the Catholic/Freemason feud were understandably upset -- the Church was angry they had been tricked, while the Freemasons felt they had been the target of a decade-long smear campaign centered around the baseless accusations of a man who was just publishing lies he thought were hilarious. Despite the fact that Taxil publicly confessed his hoax, people still publish books to this day that "expose" the devil worship in Freemasonry, citing Taxil's admittedly fake books as sources, which is a phenomenon the editors of The Onion are familiar with.

The Onion
Any real fan would know Satan doesn't like purple.

2
A Basketball Coach Invents A Star Player To Troll Sports Commentators

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Sports talk shows routinely feature so-called "insider experts" who are supposed to be the foremost authority on their chosen sport, providing keen insight and sharp commentary on every decision the leagues make. However, these experts oftentimes know just as much about sports as they do about the Battle Of Agincourt. Renowned college basketball coach Bobby Knight had a suspicion that many insiders were talking out of their collective ass and, in 1992, decided to put his hypothesis to the test.

Knight was coaching the Indiana Hoosiers at the time and, while appearing as a guest on a sports show, mentioned how excited he was about Ivan Renko, a new player from Yugoslavia who had just agreed to play for Indiana. Renko, a powerhouse with a height of 6 feet and 8 inches, was supposedly the sensation of Eastern Europe, much like Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV, and, according to Knight, would surely become a similar force within college basketball. The only problem was that Ivan Renko was about as real as Garfield the cat, only slightly less so, because at least Garfield has been in movies. Ivan Renko flat-out didn't exist.

20th Century Fox
As much as we all wish the opposite to be true.

Nevertheless, thanks to a glowing endorsement from Bobby Knight, Renko became big news. In fairness, some sports writers were able to figure out that Knight was trying to make them all look like assholes, others admitted that they'd never heard of this new Yugoslavian player. Still, other commentators, however, had no problem chipping in with their two cents on Ivan Renko. Some thought he was an outstanding player. Others thought he was overrated. A few of them even claimed to have seen footage of Renko in action, which is like saying you've seen a video of Jesus playing a game of HORSE against Bigfoot.

The thing is, anyone who had some basic understanding of college basketball should have been able to spot the turd in the punch bowl from a mile away. For starters, Indiana had no open scholarships at that time, so there's no way they could've picked up some star Yugoslavian player, even if Renko had existed. Furthermore, NCAA rules forbade coaches from talking about recruits until they signed a letter of intent, so Knight singing Renko's praises on TV and radio should have been a giant red flag.

Todd Warshaw/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Or, maybe, no one actually gives a shit about the names of college basketball players.

What's arguably worse is that Knight's prank revealed that sports commentators apparently don't know much about the world in general, let alone college basketball -- Yugoslavia was a country that had ceased to exist months earlier after splitting into several different nations, igniting the Yugoslav wars and producing exactly zero college prospects that year. It is entirely possible that Knight himself was unaware of this when he concocted his hoax, but, nonetheless, you would think at least one sports broadcaster would've seen that shit on the news.

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1
A British Loyalist Writes A Book Claiming America Is Full Of Zealots And Morons

Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Company

Once the Revolutionary War broke out, it became less socially acceptable for people to walk around the American colonies proudly declaring their affection for the King of England. One such loyalist was Connecticut reverend Samuel Peters, who met such intense pressure over his controversial "Britain is awesome" views that he was forced to return to England, where such sentiment was generally considered more acceptable. He was essentially Adam Baldwin in The Patriot, if Adam Baldwin had written a book instead of burning a bunch of people in a church.

His expulsion left Peters with a thirst for vengeance against the colonies -- Connecticut in particular. So, he got back at his former neighbors by anonymously publishing a book called A General History Of Connecticut, in which he painted his former home state as a puritanical hellhole. It is unclear whether he included a chapter about the World Wrestling Entertainment headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut, but it is our responsibility to assume that he did.

World Wrestling Entertainment
"The town mayor, Papa Shango, can be seen regularly performing exorcisms
and/or headlocks in front of city hall."

See, everyone in England already thought that the colonies were full of backward religious fanatics, so Peters didn't have to try very hard to convince anyone. In his book, Peters detailed a bunch of oppressive "blue laws," which he claimed had been observed in Connecticut for years. Among the supposed laws were mandatory page-boy bowl haircuts, standing bans on running (unless you were trying to make it to church on time), and automatic imprisonment for any unmarried couple who dared to live in the same house.

According to Peters, breaking these laws resulted in severe punishments such as tongue-burning, ear-removal, and death, should any of those previous lessons fail to stick. The people of England found the revelations shocking yet totally believable, because, at the time, everyone in Britain was hungry for anecdotes about how bugshit crazy the Colonists were. It wasn't until the book made it to America itself that anyone caught on to the fact that this guy basically pulled everything out of his ass.

Gilbert Stuart
"He's gonna have to pull my foot out of it if he ever comes back here. Believe that."

Yeah, that's something to keep in mind after you've read the 20th story this month about, say, how childlike and ridiculous the Chinese are. The British didn't believe Peters because of the quality of his evidence (he had none); they believed him because, deep down, we all want to think our little group is an island in an ocean of cartoonish simpletons.

These aren't the only ridiculous jokes people fell for -- like the discovery of Hitler's diaries. Check out that and more in 7 Outrageous Hoaxes That Actually Worked and 5 Outrageous Archaeological Hoaxes That Fooled The Experts.

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