The Real Last American Pirate

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.

crazzy sport

October 14th, 2008

I was thinking about egg throwing, than I went online and there was/is an egg throwing championship in England along with many other events dealing with eggs. Whether it’s true or not it is worth looking at the website,regarding methods for selling an uncommon sport. 

The World Egg throwing Federation 


Research Paper on Hoaxes

October 9th, 2008

I found this online and thought it was interesting- it’s actually more about virus hoaxes, but it still definitely applies to what we’re talking about. It was presented at the 7th Virus Bulletin International Conference in 1997- looks at a number of reasons hoaxes fool people.

Cottingley Fairy Pictures

October 6th, 2008

We talked about this in class today- The full page on the hoax can be found at the Museum of Hoaxes page.

The First Cottingley Fairy Picture, taken in 1917. 10-year-old Frances Griffiths in the garden with the fairies.

The second Cottingley Fairy Picture, taken in 1917. 16-year-old Elsie Wright in the garden with a gnome.

The second Cottingley Fairy Picture, taken in 1917. 16-year-old Elsie Wright in the garden with a gnome.

The third Cottingley Fairy Picture, taken in 1920. Frances with a leaping fairy.

The third Cottingley Fairy Picture, taken in 1920. Frances with a leaping fairy.

The fourth Cottingley Fairy Picture. Elsie with a fairy.

The fourth Cottingley Fairy Picture, taken in 1920. Elsie with a fairy.

The fifth Cottingley Fairy Picture, taken in 1920. Elsie and Frances insisted later (in 1981) that this was the only photo they had not faked.

The fifth Cottingley Fairy Picture, taken in 1920. Elsie and Frances insisted later (in 1981) that this was the only photo they had not faked.

There are further descriptions of the photographs on the link above. Enjoy!



October 6th, 2008

aka sandals, thongs, and originally JANDALS.

Jandals were created by Morris Yock, but this is a disputed fact as it may also have been John Cowie, in New Zealand in 1957.

Who knew? Who would care to look this tid-bit information up? Does it really matter?

Well, apparently someone did their homework to find out who owned the copyrights for jandals. I wanted to look it up because Professor Kelly and I were thinking about everyday items that probably very few people are likely to know the origins of or think to dispute the information if told, but could possibly get passed around. And the most important thing from this story is that the originator is disputed! So, in all actuality, it could be anyone still. (if you catch my drift..)

Because I was curious

September 29th, 2008

After I apparently, although unintentionally, annoyed and insulted the members of the Long Island Paranormal Society, and Mills told us that they shouldn’t have been able to find the blog because he turned off the search capabilities of google, I decided to try and figure out how they found us.

So I decided to make friends with google and begin searching around. I started out with my name, because I knew from other classes that had gone digital in one way or another, that I would gather few hits and I just wanted to see if the class blog would pop up on these hits. No such luck.

Then I started looking for the Long Island Paranormal Society, thinking maybe they had googled themselves and found out that we were talking about them. Without quotes around the name there was a lot of hits but nothing that involved us. With quotes the hits were limited to two pages and still there was nothing.

So then I searched the blog its self, (the reference Mills makes to the class pops up towards the beginning) with out the quotes buried somewhere deep into the results of google, ( I don’t remember what page) I got a hit. When I put it in quotes it was on the first page, the eighth hit, was a link to us,

But what I can’t figure out is how they found this comment, on this blog. Because they would not have found the blog by looking for Mills and they would not have found it by looking for themselves, they didn’t know I was writing about them so they would not have found it by looking for me. I even tried to figure out if maybe they had searched something like, “You can’t make this stuff up.” Still nothing. I’m nosey, I want to know how they found us. I don’t know if anyone else is interested in this, but if someone has a suggestion of something else I should search, or if someone else searches something that results in some hits please let me know.

The Case of the Missing Memoirs

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

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!

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?

Rocket Car

September 11th, 2008

Why the story works:

On the first page he admits that it sounds a little off the wall and crazy. “I’m sure this sounds pretty ridiculous” He’s telling the reader that the story sounds absurd but bare with him and he will explain how everything flows together.

He admits that he’s not a rocket scientist, car expert or has must interest in urban legends. He’s careful on how he writes the story and how he builds the story up gradually. He talks about being a biology teacher, how he found the story on the internet and why he decided to write his version.

To make his story sound more believable he finds flaws in the Darwin’s version. He points the flaws out in his story about how Darwin’s version wouldn’t work or just plain stupid to even attempt “What strikes me as incredible silly about the Darwin Award version of the story is that the pilot chose to test his vehicle on a road with a c curve in it”.

The background information was very thorough. He’s extremely careful to include everything (plus more) to make the story plausible. He talks about his father owning a scrap yard and how they obtained their materials “we lived near a major US Army storage facility, a lot of the scrap my father bought and sold came from government auctions . . . Of course I’m telling you this because it’s how I managed to get hold of the JATO bottle we used for our rocket car” (how convenient). He also went in great depths about his friends that helped him build the rocket car and why he decided to choose them. “Jimmy and I met in the third grade and were best friends for most of our growing up . . . Jimmy went to college to study ‘mechanical engineering’”.

Even though he gave information on how everything came together – on choosing his friends, how they put the rocket car together, and where they did the test run I feel he went too far in depth with the information. It made me feel that he thought too long and hard on the process of how to make the story sound believable. Listing details was a great idea but he over did it on the number of details he used. The story was extremely drawn out.

He was also vague in certain parts of the story which made the reader doubt the creditability. “I won’t specify except to say it was somewhere in the desert”. Red flag goes up. There’s no way to prove that this story was true or not.

The critical elements in the story that convinced me that it was made up were the amount of details he added to the story. He wanted the story to sound believable and in order to do that he thought he had to add a step-by-step description of how he came about to build the rocket car and how they pulled it off. There’s a fine line of how much detail one should add to a story to make it sound plausible. The story was drawn out and I admit it made me lose interest half way through. Another critical element was the lack of evidence the story had. There was no way of finding out if this really took place or not, especially since he just said it happened in the desert somewhere. What we can learn from this is to make a story believable it does not need to be drawn out nor does it need an excessive amount of detail.