Today in History – August 25, 1835 – The “Great Moon Hoax” begins.

25 August 1835The New York Sun begins to publish a six-story series about life on the celestial body. Supposedly, John Herschel, one of the great astronomers of the time, is credited with discovering life on the moon.

A lithograph of the hoax’s “ruby amphitheater”, as printed in The Sun.

“The articles described animals on the Moon, including bison, goats, unicorns, bipedal tail-less beavers and bat-like winged humanoids (“Vespertilio-homo”) who built temples. There were trees, oceans and beaches. These discoveries were supposedly made with “an immense telescope of an entirely new principle”.

The author of the narrative was ostensibly Dr. Andrew Grant, the traveling companion and amanuensis of Sir John Herschel, but Grant was fictitious.

…in 1824, Franz von Paula Gruithuisen, professor of Astronomy at Munich University, had published a paper titled “Discovery of Many Distinct Traces of Lunar Inhabitants, Especially of One of Their Colossal Buildings”. Gruithuisen claimed to have observed various shades of color on the lunar surface, which he correlated with climate and vegetation zones. He also observed lines and geometrical shapes, which he felt indicated the existence of walls, roads, fortifications, and cities.

However, a more direct object of Locke’s satire was Rev. Thomas Dick, who was known as “The Christian Philosopher” after the title of his first book. Dick had computed that the Solar System contained 21,891,974,404,480 (21.9 trillion) inhabitants. In fact, the Moon alone, by his count, would contain 4,200,000,000 inhabitants. His writings were enormously popular in the United States; intellectual Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of his fans.

Portrait of a man-bat (“Vespertilio-homo”), from an edition of the Moon series published in Naples.

The hoax appears in later literature such as Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon.

Not sure how Neil Armstrong would have reacted if he came face to face with one of these.


Source: Wikipedia

Scroll to Top