5 Iconic Photos From History (That Are Totally Fake)

When you think about it, we put a lot of trust in historians. Major decisions about how we view the past are made on the advice of an elite handful of nerds with particularly fancy book collections. Of course, they're working from documents that we can all look at with our own two eyes, and we know we can trust those because Al Gore didn't invent fake news until 1999. Or did he?

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5
The Photo Of Teddy Roosevelt Riding A Moose Was Fake

It's arguable that historians went back in time and invented the concept of legends just so we'd know what to call Teddy Roosevelt. And that's understandable, considering that perhaps the most iconic image we have of the man shows him riding a moose over a river. Who else has the nerve to look at a hulking battle-deer and think "I shall put that between my legs"? No one! ... And he didn't either. We fell for this one too, but alas, it is not real. Can you blame us for wanting to believe?

Underwood & Underwood/New York TribuneThough as difficult as it is for us to accept, it must be a staggering loss for moose everywhere.

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The image was created in 1912, when Roosevelt was running for president as the nominee for the Bull Moose Party. It was published in The New York Tribune to mock him and the other presidential candidates. A triptych portrayed each of them mounted on the symbolic animals of their respective parties, "racing" to the White House.

Underwood & Underwood/New York TribuneNo offense to Teddy, but the winner was clearly going to be the donkey. Those things can run.

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Related: 6 Ridiculous History Myths (You Probably Think Are True)

4
One Of The First Astronauts To Orbit The Earth Was Erased

You know how it goes on space missions: Just you and your boys, alone on a ship, with nothing to do until you reach Mars or whatever. It can get a little rowdy. Well, one astronaut got so rowdy that his government denied he was on the mission. Which kinda sucked for him, because this was the first team of astronauts to complete a full orbit of Earth. You might have partied in your day, but have you ever partied so hard that you got censored out of the historical record?

Soviet Space ProgramWe've all been there. You've had a few drinks, everyone is having a good time, and somebody starts passing around an Orb of Nullification ...

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Grigoriy Nelyubov did. After getting dismissed from the Soviet space program for "drunk and disorderly conduct" and being deemed an unfit role model for youths in the '60s, all records of his involvement in the program were purged, including his presence in the above photo of the legendary group of astronauts. It's possible that there was a deeper conspiracy afoot and the "drunk and disorderly" charge was fabricated to get rid of a thorn in the government's side -- it certainly wouldn't be the first time Soviet Russia "disappeared" someone -- and his suicide just a few years later seems to hint at larger troubles. But come on. Look at this guy.

Soviet Space ProgramThere's no way he doesn't have a fun nickname.

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We prefer to think he Stifler'd his way out of history.

Related: 24 Famous Photos You Won't Believe Were Fake

3
Some Pictures Of Paris Commune Killings Were Staged

After France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, Paris was kind of a wreck. Anti-royalists declared the city an independent commune and put up barricades, and Versailles troops responded with force. Things were bad. They didn't really need to look worse. But a portrait photographer named Ernest Eugene Appert decided they did.

Ernest Eugene AppertPretty chill posture for someone facing down a firing squad.

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The series of photos Appert released in the weeks following the incidents, titled "The Crimes of the Commune," were completely staged. He had a bunch of actors come in to stand like they were being executed or doing the executing, then pasted the appropriate heads and backgrounds in.

Ernest Eugene AppertThough if he was aiming for belivability, he might have had the front row duck rather than stand with rifles jammed in the backs of their heads.

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The Commune did indeed execute some hostages. There was no need for fabrication. It just wasn't quite as bad as some people wanted it to be, and if you want to properly smear your enemies, you gotta get the lighting right, you know?

Related: 4 Fake News Stories That Made The Media Look Like Dumbasses

2
The Lung-Powered Flying Machine That Shocked The World

This photo, purportedly showing a revolutionary flying machine powered by blowing into a device strapped to one's chest, was published by a German newspaper in 1934. We know that year and location makes you nervous, but it was actually an April Fool's prank.

Berliner Illustrirte ZeitungHave at him, fellas. You'll get that roadrunner for sure this time.

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Then it was picked up across the pond, and there was instant pandemonium. Most of America's top newsrooms -- including The New York Times and Chicago Herald & Examiner -- took the article for a true story, telling their audiences that they could soon fly on their own power as long as they didn't mind looking like tools.

There are a few reasons they didn't get the joke, and not (just) because Americans are dumb. This was pre-internet, when you couldn't click on a link, look at the date, and realize you've been April Fooled. When the photo was disseminated by the International News Photo agency, it wasn't identified as a joke, and Americans didn't realize it was published on April Fool's Day. INP also confused details of the story which made clear it was a joke, like the pilot's name being a German pun and the fact that the device was reported to rely on the combustion of carbon dioxide, which isn't very combustible. Although those details wouldn't have been very helpful if you didn't speak German or know chemistry anyway. Sorry, we're not nerds, Germany.

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Related: 5 Easy Ways To Spot A B.S. News Story On The Internet

1
Ulysses S. Grant Stole Hearts After The Civil War With A Fake Photo

The Civil War was the bloodiest battle fought on U.S. soil, but America being America, some people's chief concern was "How can I get rich off this?" As such, photographers stormed the fields alongside soldiers, certain that the images they took could maybe buy them a modest condo one day.

One of those images is titled "General Grant At City Point." It shows the Union general posing proudly atop a horse, looking totally unfazed after one of the Civil War's fiercest battles, while POWs are dragged across a Union encampment. It's been hung in town halls and museums since 1902, making women swoon and giving men patriotic boners.

Library of CongressIt's a photo that's moistened so many petticoats it's a wonder it didn't come bundled with a "Caution: Wet Floor" sign.

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And it never happened. Likely assembled by L.C. Hardy, who made good business for himself in the early 20th century producing photos of historic veterans looking a tad more heroic than they really were, it's a composite of three different images taken of three different scenes at three different times during the war. The only part of that image that really is Grant is his head, which explains why, after such a stirring victory, he just looks vaguely constipated.

Library of CongressAnd let's face it, probably a little drunk.

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The irony is that if its purpose was to make Grant look powerful, it doesn't do its job very well. William B. Becker, creator of the online American Museum of Photography, points out that the general's men aren't paying him much attention and respect, just kind of milling around in the background and ignoring him, almost as if he wasn't there. On the Library of Congress website, it is noted that Major General Alexander McDowell McCook, the man on the horse upon whose body Grant's head is pasted, was rather more "stout around the middle" than Grant was. Moral of the story: Don't become a figure whom future people will want to deify, because they might end up making you look fat and disrespected instead.

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For more, check out The Fake Military Operation That Won WW2:


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