For centuries, the Moon, Sun and outer space captured the imagination of mankind. Some societies saw their gods in the stars while others worshipped the Sun and Moon as deities. To the ancient Egyptians, the Ra was the god of the Sun, Khonsu was the god of the moon and Nut was the goddess of the sky and stars.
The imaginations of mankind also ran rampant with ideas of strange creatures, plants and beings existing on the moon and planets. Science fiction authors began feeding those imaginations with their writings and broadcasts.
In 1869, Jules Verne first English copy of From the Earth to the Moon was published.
In 1897, H.G. Welles published his first copy of The War of the Worlds introducing the idea of a warring civilization on Mars attacking the Earth.
In 1928, American author Philip Francis Nowlan published his first story, Armageddon – 2419 A.D. in an issue of Amazing Stories. While you may not recognize the name of the author or the article, you should recognize his epic hero Anthony ‘Buck’ Rogers.
There have been scores of additional science fiction written about life elsewhere in the solar system and in outer space, but none captured the attention of the general population as two famous science fiction hoaxes.
On Halloween night, October 30, 1938, actor Orson Welles took to the radio airways and began broadcasting a live dramatic version of H.G. Welles War of the Worlds. The broadcast was made to sound like it was really happening and as the program travelled over the radio airwaves, millions of people began to panic and fear that we were really being attacked by Martians. It was a brilliant dramatization and if you’ve never listened to it, I would highly recommend doing so and remember, this was before television was popular and most Americans relied on the radio and newspapers for their news. I truly believe that Orson Welles was fantastic and should be in some hall of fame somewhere for pulling one of the greatest sci fi hoaxes of the time.
But did you know there was another sci fi hoax that took place over 100 years before the Orson Welles radio broadcast?
On this day, August 25, 1835, the first of a series of articles appeared in the New York Sun, a newly launched cheaper ‘penny press.’ The first article was titled:
GREAT ASTRONOMICAL DISCOVERIES
BY SIR JOHN HERSCHEL, L.L.D. F.R.S. &c.
At the Cape of Good Hope
[From Supplement to the Edinburgh Journal of Science]
The article described how Herschell, a famous British astronomer, had traveled to South Africa to set up a new very powerful telescope with which Dr. Andrew Grant discovered tons of life on the Moon. The article described lush vegetation, unicorns, beavers with only two legs and furry bat-like winged humanoids.
The public ate up the stories and copies of the New York Sun sold like hotcakes. What the public wasn’t aware of is that the Edinburgh Journal of Science had stopped publication years before. There was no Dr. Andrew Grant and no one had discovered life on the moon.
Even a number of scientists of the day went into a frenzy trying to track down the Journal and Grant, only to eventually find out it was all a hoax. It is believed that the article was written by Richard Adams Locke, a staff reporter for the New York Sun. His series of articles have become known as the Great Moon Hoax. Ironically, when the public learned that the stories of life on the Moon were not true, sales of the New York Sun did not drop significantly.
Sources for the above includes: The Great Moon Hoax; The Great Moon Hoax of 1835 (Text); The Great Moon Hoax; The Great Moon Hoax Was Simply a Sign of Its Time; Chronological Bibliography: H. G. Wells; The Infamous “War of the Worlds” Radio Broadcast Was a Magnificent Fluke; Nowlan, Philip Francis; Jules Verne List of Publications