The Unexplained: The Mysterious Moon Hoax

The lithograph of an illustration printed in the New York Sun depicting creatures living on the moon and throughout the universe. Photo via Wikipedia Commons.

The fabulous illustrations in The Sun explained what had been seen through a sophisticated telescope and discovered by an esteemed astronomer.

There was a fabulous lithograph published in 1835 in The Sun, a New York newspaper.  In the lithograph are all sorts of creatures, not seen on earth.  There are man-bats flying about (Vespertillo homo) flying about in a bizarre landscape.  Birds with triangular heads amble about.  Large tailless beavers walk upright.  Unicorns and bison roam the terrain.

You can see some of the handiwork of the man-bats, who were experts at building temples.  All of these beasts were believed to be inhabitants of our moon.  Not only were these exceptional creatures, but it also seems they had established an advanced civilization, as could be seen from some of their elaborate structures.

The fabulous lithograph was an illustration that accompanied the first of six articles in The Sun explaining what had been seen through the sophisticated telescope and discovered by esteemed astronomer Sir John Herschel at the Cape of Good Hope observatory.

Sara Marie Hogg

The six articles are otherwise known as The Great Moon Hoax and they were ferreted-out reprints published earlier in The Edinburgh Courant.

The huge mystery is this:  Who wrote the six articles?  The articles of the astronomical discoveries made by John Herschel were narrated in the articles by his assistant and traveling companion, Andrew Grant.

There was no Andrew Grant.  He was a writing device created by an unknown writer.

Another convenient writing device appeared:  the device was the destruction of the marvelous telescope in an accident.  The sunlight turned the lenses in the telescope into a burning device that burned up the telescope, all of the important astronomical documents, and the observatory, itself.  All went up in flames.  Thus, further observations of what was happening on the moon would not be possible.

It has long been thought that a reporter named Richard Locke had dreamed up the whole hoax and authored the original articles.  There is a debate as to whether two other people had assisted in the hoax.  We will probably never know the answer, but Lock is the most likely candidate and he admitted authorship at one point.

The purpose of the hoax was this—to sell more copies of The Sun.  That it did.  There was an additional purpose.  Locke wanted to make fun of all of the other outlandish tales circulating about creatures from other worlds existing practically on our doorstep.

Several well-known people had been writing tales about the subject matter.  One of the writers was a respected German astronomer who had described nonsensical lunar inhabitants and bands of color on the moon that indicated various types of growing vegetation.  He embellished that he had discovered buildings, and city engineering as seen through giant lenses.

Locke was satirizing his tales and also the tales of an American, the Reverend Thomas Dick, who was very popular for his writings.  The Reverend had even calculated the exact number of alien inhabitants in the solar system and the exact number of alien inhabitants on the moon.

The hoax made The Sun a financial success.  When the hoax was discovered, The Sun did not retract the articles. This did cause problems for John Herschel.  At first, he was amused by it all, but he found himself having to fend off bothersome questions wherever he went and he grew more and more annoyed.

The Sun did run into another big problem for publishing the articles.   They were charged with plagiarism by a very famous writer, Edgar Allan Poe.  Poe had published his own moon hoax in The Southern Literary Messenger a few months prior—Hans Phaall—A TaleThe New York Transcript reprinted Poe’s tale in September.  In Poe’s story, Hans Phaall spent five years on the moon and sent a Lunarian back to earth.

The six articles in The Sun were more entertaining, less serious, and the writer that was presumed to be Locke had upstaged the master, Edgar Allan Poe—that in itself is bizarre.

In Jules Verne’s From Earth to Moon, he refers to Poe’s story and to The Sun hoax.  They are mentioned by his characters.

It seems the possibility of aliens from other worlds has captured our fascination for a long, long, time.

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of such mysteries as The Scavenger’s Song. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.

Sara Marie Hogg

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