On this day on August 25, 1835, the first of a series of six articles was published in The Sun, a New York newspaper, about the supposed discovery of life and even civilization on the Moon. The discoveries were falsely attributed to Sir John Herschel, one of the best-known astronomers of that time.
The articles described fantastic 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 travelling companion and amanuensis of Sir John Herschel, but Grant was fictitious.
Eventually, the authors announced that the observations had been terminated by the destruction of the telescope, by means of the Sun causing the lens to act as a “burning glass,” setting fire to the observatory.
According to legend, The Sun’s circulation increased dramatically because of the hoax and remained permanently greater than before, thereby establishing The 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.
Source: Wikipedia contributors, “Great Moon Hoax,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia