Moon Tales: When the Moon saved the Sun - New York 1835

The year was 1835 and the New York Sun newspaper made an astonishing announcement: There was Life on the Moon! The article went on to say that the well respected English astronomer Sir. John Herschel had taken a large telescope with him to the Cape of Good Hope in 1833 and had discovered the lunar lifeforms. Reportedly, Herschel had published his findings in the Edinburgh Journal of Science and now the story was coming to the Sun!

Over a series of article in the Sun, reporter Richard A. Locke told how Herschel, using a powerful telescope that could magnify objects 42,000 times, had observed and described 16 species of animals, 38 species of trees, and 76 species of plants, including vast fields of poppies. The animals included horned bears, two footed beavers with no tails, elk, reindeerlike creatures, and buffalo, the latter of which had fleshy hoods over their eyes to protect them from the extremes of light and dark. Locke also described 60 foot high amethysts and a sapphire temple!

But most incredible of all, was Herschel's discovery of bat-like humanoids. This fantastic race of beings were four feet in stature, with yellow skin, copper hair and wings! Their faces were "a slight improvement upon that of a large orangoutang." The bat beings flew around and seemed intelligent, judging from their facial expressions and the way they communicated with each other.

Needless to say, the public was thrilled and circulation skyrocketed! And, this was just what Locke had intended, the whole thing had been planned to save the declining newspaper from demise. Locke had taken a few partial truths, stretched them beyond recognition and added generous helpings of sensationalism. It was, after all, true that Herschel was using a new, high powered telescope, although it was thousands of times less powerful than what Locke described. There also did exist an Edinburgh Journal of Science, but it had ceased publication in 1833. Every thing else came straight from Locke's imagination!

For a time, Locke's scheming worked. This was not a time when communications were quick and Locke's claims could not easily be verified. Amazingly enough, Locke had believers on both sides of the Atlantic, and even the New York Times was taken in. And when the articles were printed as a pamphlet, 60,000 sold instantly. An enthusiastic preacher told his flock that soon they would be selling bibles to the Moon inhabitants!

But Locke could not go forever unchallenged. Challenge came by way of a group of professors from Yale University, who showed up at Locke's office unannounced one day demanding to see Herschel's reports. Of course there were no reports, but Locke was a quick thinker. He graciously apologized and told the good professors that the report had been sent to the printer. Not to be swayed from their goal, the good professors invited Locke to take them to the printer. Thus, the great chase began.

Locke hurried ahead to the printer he had named to the professors. A quick word, an exchange of money and when the professors arrived the printer also graciously apologized and said he had sent the reports on to another printer. While this apology and song was going on, Locke ran to the next printer and, after another quick word and cash exchange, etc etc. The chase went on all over New York. Finally, running out of options (and likely printers,) Locke was forced to admit that he had no report.

The Sun confessed to the hoax on September 16, in the same edition that Locke announced his resignation. Good stories die hard though, and the moon life forms lived on in varying degrees for some time. About 3 months later, Sir John Herschel himself heard about the story. In true British fashion, Herschel was gracious about the hoax but vigorously denied the claims.

The StarrySkies Lunar Eclipse Pages
Total Lunar Eclipse: Second Moon Show of the Year takes place November 8
What is a Lunar Eclipse
Why we don't have a Lunar Eclipse every month
Eclipse Facts
Rating a lunar eclipse - the Danjon Scale
Photographing a Lunar Eclipse
Myths and Lore about Lunar Eclipses
The Lunar Eclipse that Saved Christopher Columbus
Moon Facts
Moonstats - Lunar Vital Statistics
Why we see only one side of the Moon - librations
Lunar Phases
Moon Tales: The Night the Moon fell - 1939 Springfield, Missouri
Moon Tales: When the Moon saved the Sun - New York 1835
Moon Trees - Have you got one in Your Town?
Multimedia Moon - Images and Video clips of the Moon
3D Moon - Catch the Moon in 3D (note: you will need 3D glasses)

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