The Great Moon Hoax
The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tas.)
Date: January 21, 1837
Page Number: 1
Sir John Herschel went to the Cape of Good Hope at the end of the year 1684, as his most favourable position for making his long-meditated observations on the moon. The instruments he took with him were on the most stupendous scale, and he was liberally supplied with all the money requisite for the undertaking. We may observe that his object glass weighed nearly seven tons, and that its magnifying power was 42,000 times. Every thing I else was in proportion. On the 10th of January, 1835, he began operations, of which a sketch has just been published, preparatory to the publication of all the scientific details. If this book tell truth Sir John certainly has seen wonders. The first thing that met the view of the observers, was a shearing pile of basaltic rock, of a greenish brown color, covered with a dark red flower, like the rose poppy. To this succeeded verdant declivities, lemon forests, billowing waters, gloomy caverns, splendid scenery, spreading lakes, boiling volcanoes, and so forth. At last came a vision of animals, and then of human creatures :—
"We at length approached the level opening to the lake, where the valley narrows to a mile in width, and displays scenery on both sides picturesque and romantic beyond the powers of prose description. Imagination borne on the wings of poetry, could alone gather similes to pourtray the wild sublimity of this landscape, where dark behemoth crags, stood over the brows of lofty precipices, as if rampant in the sky ; and forests seemed suspended in mid air. On the eastern side there was one soaring crag, crested with trees, which hung over in a curve like three-fourths of a gothic arch, and being of a rich crimson color, its effect was most strange upon minds unaccustomed to the association of such grandeur with such beauty. But whilst we were gazing upon them in a perspective of astonishment, we were literally thrilled with perfect astonishment to perceive four successive flocks of large winged creatures, wholly unlike any kind of birds, descend with a slow even motion from the cliffs of the western ride, and alight upon the plain. They were first noticed by Dr. Herschel, who exclaimed, 'Now, gentlemen, my theories against your proofs, which you have often found a pretty even bet ; I was confident that if ever we found beings in human shape, it would be in this longitude, and that they would be provided by their Creator with some extraordinary powers of locomotion ; first exchange for my number D.' The lens being soon introduced, gave us a line half mile distance ; and we counted three parties of these creatures, of 12, 9, and 15 in each, walking erect towards a small wood in the base of the eastern precipices. Certainly they were like human beings, for their wings had now disappeared, and, their attitude in walking was quite erect and dignified. Having observed them at this distance for sone minutes, we introduced lens H z. which brought them to the apparent proximity of eighty yards ; the highest clear magnitude we possessed uutil the latter end of March, when we effected an improvement in the gas burners. About half of the first party had passed beyond our canvass, but of all the others we had a perfectly distinct and deliberate view. They averaged four feet in height, were covered except on the face, with a short and glossy copper-coloured hair, and had wings composed of a thin membrane without hair, lying snugly on their backs, from the top of the shoulders to the calves of the legs. The face, which was of a yellowish flesh color, was a slight improvement up on that of the ourang outang, being more open and intelligent in its expression, and having much greater expansion of forehead. The mouth, how- ever, was very prominent, though somewhat relieved by a thick beard upon the lower jaw, and by lips far more human than those of any species of the simia genus. In general symmetry of body and limbs they were infinitely superior to the ourang-outang, so much so, that but for the long wings, Lieutenant Drummond said they would look at well on a parade-ground as some of the old cockney militia ! The hair on the head was a darker color than the body, closely curled, but apparently not woolly, and arranged in two curious semi circles over the temples and forehead. Their feet could only be seen as they were alternately lifted up in walking ; but, from what we could see of them in so transient a view, they appeared thin, and very protuberant at the heel. "Whilst passing across the canvas, and whenever we afterwards saw them, these creatures were evidently engaged in conversation ; their gesticulation, more particularly the varied action of their hands and arms, appeared impassionate and emphatic. We hence inferred that they were rational beings, and although not perhaps of so high an order as others which we discovered, the next month, on the shores of the Bay of Rainbows, that they were capable of producing works of art and contrivance. The next view we obtained of them was still more favorable. It was on the borders of a little lake, or expanded stream, which we then for the first time perceived running down the valley to a large lake, and having on its eastern margin a large wood. Some of these creatures had crossed this water, and were lying like spread eagles on the skirts of the wood. We could then perceive that their wings possessed great expansion, and were similar in structure to those of the bat, being a semi-transparent membrane, expanded in curvilineal divisions by means of straight radii, united at the back by the dorsal integuments. But what astonished us very much was the circumstance of the membrane being continued from the shoulders to the legs, united all the way down, though gradually decreasing in width. The wings seemed completely under the command of volition, for those of the creatures whom we saw bathing in the water, spread them instantly their full width, waved them as ducks do theirs to shake off the water, and then as instantly closed them again in a compact form. Our further observations of the habits of these creatures, which were of both sexes, led to results so very remarkable, that I prefer they should first be laid before the public in Dr. Herschel's own work, where I have reason to know they are fully and faithfully stated, however incredulously they may be received * * * The three families then almost simultaneously spread their wings, and were lost in the dark confines of the canvas, before we had time to breathe from our paralysing astonishment. We scientifically denominated them the Vespertilio homo, or man-bat ; and they are doubtless innocent and happy creatures. The Valley itself we call the Ruby Colosseum, in compliment to its stupendous southern boundary, the six miles sweep of red precipices 2000 feet high. And the night, or rather morning being far admitted, we postponed our tour to Petavius (No. 20), another opportunity. We wait with such impatience for the further accounts from Sir JoHn Herschel.— STANDARD.
"The Great Moon Hoax" refers to a series of six articles that were published in the New York Sun beginning on August 25, 1835, about the supposed discovery of life and even civilization on the Moon. The discoveries were falsely attributed to Sir John Herschel, perhaps the best-known astronomer of his time.
According to legend, the New York Sun's circulation increased dramatically because of the hoax and remained permanently greater than before, thereby establishing the New York Sun as a successful paper. However, the degree to which the hoax increased the paper's circulation has certainly been exaggerated in popular accounts of the event. It was not discovered to be a hoax for several weeks after its publication and, even then, the newspaper did not issue a retraction.
Herschel was initially amused by the hoax, noting that his own real observations could never be as exciting. He became annoyed later when he had to answer questions from people who believed the hoax was serious.