Archive for the ‘Mills’ Category

The Real Last American Pirate

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Now the truth can be told.

The students in this course created a hoax called the Last American Pirate — the story of one student’s (her name is Jane Browning) attempt to find out as much as possible about a man named Edward Owens who was, supposedly, a pirate in Virginia in the late nineteenth century.

The hoax launched during the first week of December and between then and now more than 1,200 unique visitors came to the hoax website. Almost 200 visited Jane Browning’s YouTube channel. A few bloggers — most notably one at USAToday — picked up the story. The Wikipedia entry on our pirate was edited by several people not in the class — mostly to fix issues with the Wikipedia syntax.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on the class in its Friday, December 19, 2008 edition [premium access only, alas].

If you are at all outraged or offended by this hoax, please go to the hoax website where you can read the class mea culpa. You can also download a copy of the syllabus for the course from this website or from the hoax website if you want to know more about the class.

The Case of the Missing Memoirs

Friday, September 26th, 2008

Because we’ll be reading the history of the “Hitler Diaries” for next week, I thought I would tell you a story I know well of a missing autobiography/memoir that I tried to track down once upon a time.

When I was an MA student back in the 1980s I wrote my thesis on the diplomatic mission of an American named Ambrose Dudley Mann to Hungary in 1848. When the Civil War began, Mann (a Virginian) chose the Confederacy and became a Confederate diplomat in Europe. After the war he was an “irreconcilable” who refused to return to the United States, lived out his life in Paris, and died there. His obituary in various American newspapers said he was preparing his memoirs for publication at the time of his death. I couldn’t find his memoirs in print [See Google Books for works by him], so at first I assumed they didn’t exist.

Then I found an obituary for his son, who was a judge in Chicago. His son’s obituary said that just prior to Judge Mann’s death, he had been to Paris, where he had helped his father complete the editing of the memoirs, the manuscripts of which he had brought back with him to Chicago.

Ah ha! They do exist. But where?

Using the tricks of the geneaologist, I looked up Judge Mann’s will in the Cook County (Chicago) Courthouse. The will said that all of Judge Mann’s worldly effects had been bequeathed to his wife Minerva Meyers Mann. I then asked for a copy of her will, only to find out that her will had been destroyed in a fire at the Courthouse annex where it was stored.

A dead end.

That was in 1988 that I ran into the dead end. Since that time, the Internet has appeared and I’ve tried various tricks to see if I can unearth the missing memoirs. I’ve posted to geneaological society websites, I’ve written to people who count old Ambrose in their family trees. About once a year I do a Google search on him just in case someone has come up with something.

I’m just positive that the missing memoirs are sitting in a trunk in someone’s attic somewhere just waiting for me (or you) to find them. Whoever does find them will have an instant book contract, if only because any book about the Civil War finds a contract.

My experiences with this particular document helps me sympathize with those trying to authenticate the Hitler Diaries. Given all the chaos at the end of the war in Europe, it’s quite possible that a set of diaries, even Hitler’s, were lost, only to be found at some later date.

Swiss Spaghetti Harvest

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Hello. I hope you all enjoyed your day off. Here is the actual video of the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest we heard about in class…

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up!

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Over the weekend my wife and I were in State College, PA for a wedding. We stayed in the University’s conference center hotel and with us in the hotel were lots of youngish people, mostly with lots of piercings, interesting hair choices, and plenty of visible body ink–and most wearing black, black, and black. At one point we were riding down the elevator with a group of them–all of whom were wearing conference badges–and my wife asked what group they were with.

One of the young women promptly pulled out a business card and said “We’re here for the paranormal conference.” She was the “Case Manager for Myths and Urban Legends” at Long Island Paranormal Investigators. If we hadn’t been rushing off to the wedding, I would have told her that just the day before my students and I had been discussing myths and urban legends in class.

What do you think? Should we invite her to Fairfax?

Assignment for Friday

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

For Friday’s class, I want you to write a brief analysis of the Rocket Car story from Wired. As yourself (a) why does this story work, (b) why doesn’t it work, (c) what are the critical elements in convincing you that it is the true story or a made up one, and finally (d) what we as a class should learn from this story. Post your analysis in the blog before class on Friday so everyone else will have a chance to read and think about what you had to say before class.

Hoaxes that can get you fired…

Friday, September 5th, 2008

One of the issues we’ll have to wrestle with this semester is where is the line between funny and not funny, between an excellent joke and an unethical or immoral act, between something that won’t get us into trouble and something that will. By way of cautionary tales, here are two examples of hoaxes that could get you in trouble:

The most recent Bigfoot Hoax.

Congressional Candidate Fakes Wildnerness Survival

In the Bigfoot example, the problem is that one of the hoaxer was a sheriff’s deputy and so, as an officer of the court, needed to be above suspicions of being a lier. We’ll see if his bosses can take a joke or not. In the case of Gary Dodds, the problem was that the search and rescue effort mounted to find him after he disappeared in a snow squall cost close to $20,000, so he effectively defrauded the state of New Hampshire (and so went to jail). Oops.

And for those of you who are die hard Bigfoot fans (you know you are), a neighbor of mine in Manassas recently made an incredibly campy movie starring a Bigfoot with a bad attitude who disrupts some college students’ plans for a weekend of beer and other things in a mountain cabin. If you want to watch a movie that is an example of what can be done with a $30,000 budget (he actually sold it to a distributor for a profit…no kidding), then check out Holler Creek Canyon. It’s bad, but if you’re a Bigfoot fan, how can you pass it up? Just don’t buy a copy. You’d be sorry. [Trailer]

YouTube Hoaxes

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

Here are links to the YouTube Hoaxes I mentioned in class yesterday:

Little Loca

Lonely Girl — and a Wired magazine story on Lonely Girl.

As with every hoax we’ve discussed so far, why do you think these two worked so well?

Other People’s Hoax Ideas

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

Word about our course is wandering around the history blogosphere and has resulted in some suggestions for further study from other historians:

Five Hoaxes that Fooled the World

Six More Hoaxes that Fooled the World

Some of these are in our other readings, but not all…

Google Hoaxes

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

Hi all. I hope you had a great weekend. Here is a link to the Wikipedia page that details Google’s various hoaxes over the years. Some of these turned into real news events and so can be instructive for us. See you tomorrow.

Some of the places/people mentioned in the article

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Here are links to some of the people and/or organizations mentioned in the article from GQ.

Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University

Man stung by stingray and newspaper article on it

Animal Behavior Abstracts

Chickens attack children in California

Chickens and storks in Stubienko, Poland

Monkeys and infanticide (Note it says The Times, January 1, 2004. I haven’t checked that yet, but you can.)

Elephants raping rhinos [a little graphic] (see discussion at snopes.com for debunking)

Gay Bradshaw

Elephants attack humans

Leopards invade Mumbai

Washingtonpost.com expose on the article

Someone copying this article into their myspace blog without attribution (which gets it to show up in Google text searches)