A hoax, according to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, is a trick or fraud, “something accepted or established by fraud or fabrication,” an untruth made to masquerade as fact.
One of the most imaginative of hoaxes—in fact, a series of hoaxes—was the brainchild of Louis T. Stone, who at his death in 1933 was the managing editor of the Winsted (Conn.) Evening Citizen. As a neophyte reporter just before the turn of the 20th century, Stone bolstered his income by acting as a stringer for newspapers in New York, sending in routine news of northwestern Connecticut. He soon learned, however, that ordinary news stories did not intrigue the editors of big city newspapers, and he resolved to do something about it.
The first hoax of “The Winsted Liar,” as Stone came to be called, was the story of a wild man roaming through the Connecticut woods, a story which produced a week of frenzied search and frantic journalism. The story drew so much attention that one New York newspaper sent its own reporter to investigate. And Stone gleefully set about expanding his new career. Some of the other subjects of stories filed by Stone included:
- a patriotic hen that laid a red, white, and blue egg on July 4
- a cat with a cleft palate that learned to whistle Yankee Doodle
- three trout that burrowed underground from Highland Lake to Stone’s own brook, returning each New Year’s Day
- a modest cow owned by two old maids that refused to allow a man to milk her
- a man who painted a spider on his bald head to keep away flies
- a maternal bulldog that sat on hen’s eggs
- a farmer who plucked his hens with a vacuum cleaner
Who believed these incredible stories? Apparently everyone who read them. Eventually editors cast a wary eye on anything submitted by Stone.