I just released a new Top 11 video, this time one covering historic paranormal frauds. While I have witnessed some truly remarkable paranormal activity, there have been a number of people throughout the years that have created their own paranormal or supernatural hoax in order to fool the masses. While this list I’ve compiled isn’t nowhere near complete, it is at least a compelling selection spanning hundreds (sometimes thousands) of years to consider worthy of the Top 11 historic paranormal frauds. Below is the video to accompany this blog article:
The Cottingly Fairies were a series of photographs taken in 1917 and 1920 by cousins Frances Griffith and Elsie Wright depicting them playing with fairies. The 1920 photos were actually commissioned by an unaware Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame. While blatantly fraudulent to our modern eye, photographic experts of the day declared the photos genuine and the hoax continued on for decades. It wasn’t until 1981 that Elsie finally admitted that the fairies were paper cutouts of sketches she had drawn inspired by Princess Mary’s Gift Book.
Rudolph Fentz was a time traveler, appearing out of the blue in 1950 dressed in 19th Century garb in New York City’s Time Square, freaked out, and ran into traffic where he was accidentally killed by a car. Money in his pocket was from the 1800s and business cards identifying him were confirmed by the widow of Ralph Fentz Jr. who stated that her father-in-law vanished without a trace in 1876. This tale was popular for decades, especially in Europe’s paranormal circles, but that makes sense considering the truth. This tale was actually a story in a 1951 science fiction anthology, but was reprinted two years later as a “true story” in a booklet describing “proof” of a fourth dimension, which found its way to Europe where it took a strong hold.
Peter Popoff was a faith healer during the 1980s who had a penchant for announcing the home addresses and specific illnesses of audience members, and was raking in millions while doing it. He was revealed as a fraud when it was discovered he was using a wireless ear receiver to be fed the information.
During the 1860s, William Mumler rose to fame as a spirit photographer, the first of which was a self portrait which also contained the image of a young girl who looked eerily similar to his cousin who had passed away. As the photo made the rounds his popularity grew, and throughout his career he imaged some 500 spirit photos for clients, including one of Mary Todd Lincoln depicting her husband, President Abraham Lincoln, behind her. Mumler was taken to court for fraud and ruining the reputation of photographers, the prosecution showing that the effect could easily be achieved using double negatives. But he was acquitted based on the defense that his clients truly believed the images in the photos were of their deceased loved ones. Nevertheless, his work to this day is considered fraudulent.
Billed by Fox television in 1995 as real autopsy footage shot just after the infamous Roswell UFO crash, Alien Autopsy was aired insinuating that everything that was shown was, in fact, real. And while the look and feel of the footage appeared real, it was far from it. Under the guise of “recreations”, the footage was actually shot in a London flat with two alien dummy bodies containing sheep brains in raspberry jam, chicken entrails, and knuckle joints.
The Tedsworth Drummer has made two appearances in history. The first was in 1661 at the home of John Monpesson in Wiltshire, England who claimed an angry drumming spirit had invaded his home after he’d had a drummer’s drum confiscated for collecting money under false pretenses.The case became famous throughout England and the drummer was also charged with the crime of employing an evil spirit, but many have pointed that no one was ever allowed to inspect the cellar of Monpesson’s home, the drumming almost always happened at night, and an investigation sanctioned by the King revealed nothing. The second appearance was in Philadelphia in 1730 through a letter to the Pennsylvania Gazette which claimed two local Reverends had recently encountered an angry, drum-beating ghost being “not a whit less obstreperous than the Tedsworth Tympanist.” Most believe the letter, and a second follow up defending the Reverends, were part of an extended hoax by Benjamin Franklin, who was the publisher.
The real horror at Amityville was the murder of six members of the DeFeo family in 1974. A best-selling book and a series of movies sensationalized the paranormal horror story told by the Lutz’s who moved in afterward, which continues to be discounted, but remains popular even after lawyer William Weber admitted to knowing the book was a hoax and he helped create the horror story with the Lutz’s over many bottles of wine.
Uri Geller became famous in the 1970s for his mind-reading tricks and mind-powered spoon bending, swearing that he had true psychic powers to make these things happen and became a huge sensation. He was then outed in front of millions on The Johnny Carson Show when Johnny (who just happened to be a former magician) made sure Geller did not bring his own props and presented him a table full of spoons and other objects for him to manipulate. Geller stalled and went silent, ultimately fleeing the situation by claiming he didn’t feel strong that night.
The Salem Witch trials are the most tragic on this list since it involved the execution of 20 people, mostly women, in and around Salem, Massachusetts in the 1690s. It started when a group of young girls claimed to be possessed by the devil and accused several local women of witchcraft then put on a display of spams, screams, and contortions in court. Mass hysteria spread throughout the area and up to 150 women, men, and children were actually accused over several months. One theory proposes that the delusions, vomiting, and muscle spasms may have been an effect of the fungus ergot.
The Fox sisters were sensationalized through newspapers accounts in the mid-1800s and, later, PT Barnum who made them national celebrities as the modern Spiritualism movement when they displayed that they could communicate with spirits through rapping sounds on a table. They cultivated a large following which still exists to this day, while the Society for Psychical Research worked to expose them as frauds. Finally, in 1888, Margaret Fox confessed to the fraud in a signed letter that she and her two sisters sought to terrify their mother when they were children and developed the method for making the noises, which is what they employed during their seances.
During the very beginning of Christianity, Simon was traveling the countryside and claiming to be the great power of God through his magic arts. He was baptized into Christianity, but as he continued to witness the miracles performed by the apostles he offered them money and demanded he be shown how to produce their magic so he could enhance his “powers”, his show. He was rebuked by Peter and became a nemesis to the apostles. The apocrypha contains accounts of Simon Magus rising in power and seeking to win the favor of Emperor Nero, which was ultimately thwarted. Writers of the early church universally represent him as the first heretic and the “Father of Heresies.” A fraud.