8 Unbelievable Media Hoaxes In History

1The deejay who created demand for a book that didn't exist

During the 1950s, a late night DJ, Jean Shepherd, came up with the idea for a hoax novel on his radio show. After a visit to a bookstore that showed him that most people in the publishing business would blindly follow wherever the right kind of popular opinion led, Shepherd decided to get a book talked about so much that it made the bestseller list. The catch? It had to be a book that never existed.

The book in question, I, Libertine, was "authored" by a man named Frederick Ewing. Shepherd's listeners went into stores asking for it; bookstore owners began making inquiries, and the hoax was helped along by Shepherd's contacts in the media, who claimed to have interviewed the author. Demand for I, Libertine grew.

When news of the hoax broke, the head of Ballantine Books decided to capitalize on the publicity. He contacted Shepherd and novelist Theodore Sturgeon to create the real I, Libertine. Shepherd outlined the story; Sturgeon wrote the book, and Ewing is still listed as the lead author on its Amazon's listing more than a half-century later.

2The news story that had people believing spaghetti grew on trees

On April 1, 1957, some European newsmen concocted what is now known as the"spaghetti tree" hoax.

A three-minute news story about a family in southern Switzerland harvesting noodles from spaghetti trees aired on Panorama, a BBC current affairs program. 8 million people watched as they gathered a bumper spaghetti harvest "after a mild winter and the virtual disappearance of the dreaded spaghetti weevil." After the segment had aired, thousands jammed the phone lines of the BBC asking how to grow their own spaghetti trees.

In defense of viewers, the show was broadcast at a time when spaghetti was not widely eaten in the UK, and many people were unaware that pasta is made from flour and water. The report also had an air of legitimacy because of the serious voiceover provided by Richard Dimbleby, a respected broadcaster. But we have to wonder—did no one pay attention to the date?

3The dictator whose diaries turned out to be forgeries

In 1983, the German newsweekly Stern bought what they believed were 60 volumes of journals written by Adolf Hitler for 9.3 million Deutsche Marks (about $5.5 million).

A Stern staff reporter, Gerd Heidemann, procured the journals from a mysterious Dr. Fischer, who claimed they had been recovered from an aircraft crash carrying Hitler's personal effects near Dresden in April 1945. ("Fischer" did his homework—there WAS indeed a plane crash carrying Hitler's belongings.)

The diaries passed three separate handwriting tests, but Stern, fearing the contents of the books would leak, never showed them to any WWII experts. The German Federal Archives soon exposed the diaries as fakes which were riddled with historical inaccuracies and printed with ink on paper that wasn't available when Hitler was alive. Heads rolled at Stern, the Sunday Times and Newsweek (the latter two reprinted portions of the diaries).

The diaries themselves were the work of notorious forger Konrad Kujau. He and Heidemann went to trial and were sentenced to 42 months in prison for forgery and embezzlement.

4Wikipedia deletes the page of a show that probably never existed

The Wikipedia page for a 1960's TV show called Magic Mansion is in line to be deleted because there is simply no proof the show ever even existed.

The supposed show was short-lived (it aired for 2 1/2 years, allegedly) and was broadcast only on the Armed Force's internal television network. It was created by an Air Force Staff Sergeant as a bit of family-friendly entertainment for those living on army bases, and was a magic/ventriloquism show set in a large, winding mansion.

A Wiki editor emailed the U.S. Armed Forces Radio and Television Service for any information they had on the show but came up with nothing. The editor was then pointed in the direction of the National Archives and also appears to have hit a wall there as well. Ultimately, Wikipedia decided the show wasn't notable enough to merit an entry, so they gave it the boot with the mystery still unsolved. If anyone knows anything about Magic Mansion, please let us know!

5The obscure soul singer covering David Bowie classics

In 2012, three videos of an obscure soul singer covering David Bowie classics hit the web. The clips feature a faceless record collector taking what he describes as a "hard to find" vinyl copy of Milky Edwards and the Chamberlings out of its sleeve and placing it on his record player. The Chamberlings versions of "Moonage Daydream," "Starman," and "Soul Love" are bar none the best covers we've heard of these classics. YouTube commenter also agree: "Awesome! Sounds like this has come from another dimension. Somewhere out there is a black David Bowie with a successful soul music career!" raved one new convert, while another summed up the rest of the posts with a simple: "I want this!"

However, the consensus among the soul and funk fanatics is that the Milky Edwards album is indeed a hoax. Collectors argue the recordings feel "treated" rather than authentic, and the cover art was in a style that would have fallen out of fashion by the mid-1970s. One sleuth has also spotted a modern font on the cover—Mojo Standard. Check out Milky's "Moonage Daydream" cover below:

6The "death" of the first ever movie star

In cinema's first 15 years, no actors, directors, producers or screenwriters were ever credited on screen. Despite the number of eager fans asking studios for the names behind the familiar faces, the Edison Trust cartel that controlled the film industry feared that actors would demand more money if their identities werre revealed.

A leading—but anonymous—lady in nearly 250 silent films, Florence Lawrence was known only as the "Biograph Girl" (for her work with the studio of the same name), a name given to her by the public and news media. In 1910, she was lured away from Biograph by Carl Laemmle, who was then head of the Independent Motion Picture Company (IMP).

Once Lawrence signed with IMP, Laemmle issued a press release that said his star had been killed in a streetcar accident. With it, he published her photograph and her name, revealing her identity to the public for the first time.

Within a short amount of time, Laemmle then revealed that Lawrence was, in fact, alive and well. “We Nail a Lie” declared the IMP advertisement, which blamed rival studios for the deception of its own creation and announced that not only was Lawrence alive but that she would star in IMP's next film.

When Lawrence made an appearance in St. Louis the following month to confirm that she was alive and well, a throng of people formed around her—the hoax made Lawrence a full-fledged star.

7The supergroup that was actually the brainchild of two Rolling Stone writers

It was rumored to be the greatest rock record of all time performed by the ultimate supergroup. In 1969, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, and Bob Dylan recorded a super-secret album together as The Masked Marauders. But it never really happened—it was all a hoax.

Greil Marcus, author and former Rolling Stone reviews editor, created the Masked Marauders by reviewing their (then) non-existent album. He wanted to parody the trend of overwhelmingly gushing reviews such bands garnered. Rolling Stone hyped the Masked Marauders as the "record of the year" and the fake review created a real demand. So, Marcus and Rolling Stone colleague Langdon Winner wrote some songs, hired friends from Berkeley's Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band to record them, and signed a deal with Warner Brothers. The album sold more than 100,000 copies and spent twelve weeks on the Billboard charts.

Does it sound anything like the supergroup in question? You be the judge:

8The phony news report that declared Belgium was splitting in two

In 2006, Belgians reacted with widespread alarm to news that their country had been split in two only to find out later that it was all a hoax.

Public television station RTBF ran a bogus report saying the Dutch-speaking half of the nation had declared independence. The French-language channel interrupted regular programming to announce that Dutch-speaking Flanders had unilaterally declared independence and that Belgium as a country had ceased to exist. It showed "live" pictures of cheering crowds holding the Flemish flag, massive traffic jams leading to the Brussels airport, and traffic stuck at the new "border."

RTBF's website crashed as alarmed viewers sought more information. 2,600 calls were made to a telephone number given out during the spoof.

"Our intention was to show Belgian viewers the intensity of the issue of the future of Belgium and the real possibility of Belgium no longer being a country in a few months," Yves Thiran, head of news at RTBF, told the BBC.