Column

History’s Mysteries: The Great Moon Hoax of 1835

In August 1835, the New York Sun newspaper published the first of a series of articles about fantastic discoveries on the moon. These articles were purported to be reprinted from the prestigious Edinburgh Journal of Science. The author, a Dr. Andrew Grant, was introduced as a close colleague of Sir John Hershel, preeminent astronomer of that time.

Grant claimed that Hershel had discovered evidence of new life on the moon, including unicorns; two-legged beavers; bluish, single-horned goats; and furry, flying bat-like humanoids. There were trees and oceans and beaches and a chain of pyramids.

With the publication of these articles, circulation of the New York Sun exploded until it was the largest-circulating newspaper on the planet. The excitement of these discoveries motivated a committee of Yale University scientists to travel to New York to follow up on the story.

However, as details emerged, it was revealed that, first of all, the Edinburgh Journal had stopped publication a number of years earlier, so it could not have published the moon story.

Grant was none other than Sun reporter Richard Adams Locke, who a year later confessed that he was the author of the hoax.

Interestingly, writer Edgar Allen Poe claimed that the moon hoax was plagiarized from a story he previously wrote about a man who traveled to the moon and brought back a Lunarian. He told the newspaper, “Nevermore.”

• Professor James Pinkerton is a retired educator who loves to share the mystery in our history. He can be reached at pinkertonjames1914 @gmail.com.

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