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Great Moon Hoax Continues: Lunarians Discovered

Moon Hoax image from Italian Newspaper
Moon Hoax image from Italian Newspaper depicting missionaries aiding the Lunarians.

The Great Moon Hoax continues. During the following days, Herschel’s new found discoveries were astonishing New Yorkers as the story spread like wild fire and was starting to find an audience beyond New York City itself including a number of scientist some of whom bought into the story, while others were fascinated but not so easily convinced. As a matter of fact, several scientists from Yale traveled to New York City in search of the truth behind the report. Back to the story at hand, Herschel’s subsequent nights of observations found him discovering even more astonishing flora, fauna, and geological marvels. Herschel first happened upon a volcano in a marvelous state of eruption near the Lake of Death, which contained several extinct and smoldering volcanoes. After a time of  observation, he passed the Valley of the Unicorn where he found more of the horned bison-like creatures from the previous day’s observation. In addition to spotting the bison, Herschel found several other mammals including: a small type of reindeer, elk, a horned bear, moose and a biped beaver.

The most remarkable of all these discoveries was the bipedal beaver. These remarkable creatures lived in huts, had knowledge of making fires, and carried their young much like humans do. The presence of these beavers, which walked on two legs and had knowledge of basic technology, gave hope that even more advanced creatures could be found, maybe even ones sentient and humanoid in nature.

As an aside, while Richard Adams Locke, the true author of the story, attempted to extend the story as long as possible, the editor and owner of the Sun Newspaper, Benjamin Day, was pressing for the big reveal. Finally on the fourth day of the story, Herschel’s truly great discovery was spelled out for all to read.

Moon Hoax illustration of Lunarians
Great Moon Hoax illustration of Lunarians engaged in daily life.

In the midst of a valley near a beautiful lake, there was a wide expanse of plants where Herschel spotted four flocks of large winged creatures. It was at this time that he proclaimed to his assistant, Dr. Andrew Grant, that here is where one would expect to find signs of advanced life and with this proclamation he did indeed discover lunar sentient life. Upon changing to a different lens, Herschel had his first closeup encounter with what appeared to be bat-winged humanoid creatures walking upright, hence given the Latin name Vespertilio-homo. These Lunarians had glossy copper-colored hair, yellowish skin, and thin membrane wings that extended from the their shoulders to their calves. Herschel could tell by their gestures that they were engaged in impassioned speech and were therefor rational and intelligent beings. Herschel’s subsequent days of observations found that the man-bats where of different degrees of evolutionary advancement, with some being more evolved than others. Among the more evolved Lunarians, Herschel discovered evidence of technology, art and religion, including a most magnificent temple made of sapphire or some other beautiful blue stone.

With the story at a fever pitch and the newspaper selling by the thousands, Locke was finding it increasingly difficult to sustain his late night writing and creative fire and so decided to conclude the story with Herschel’s last Lunar observations after which the Moon proved difficult to continue viewing. As quickly as Herschel trained his sight on the Moon, he soon found other more engaging celestial objects such as Saturn and its fascinating rings.

Ma Lune sheet music cover
Ma Lune, Moon Hoax themed sheet music cover.

Despite the fact that the amazing story had now come to an end, the fame of the story had just begun. During the subsequent months, several plays were staged in New York City based on the hoax, songs were written and the story was being reprinted not only throughout the United States but also in Great Britain, Germany, Italy and throughout Europe. Although the story was at this time largely believed to be a hoax, it still garnered much attention and continued to republished throughout the 19th century.

Italian print based on the Moon Hoax.
Female Lunarian surrounded by 19th century missionaries.

The 1836 Altre scoverte fatte nella luna dal Sigr. Herschel by Leopoldo Galluzzo held by the Smithsonian Libraries is a good, pardon the pun, illustration of how the story was still popular after the original run of the story in 1835. The Galluzzo is an Italian version of the story, which includes several elements not in the original story or lithographs published by the Sun Newspaper. The Italian version, possibly printed to be sold along with pamphlets of the story, like what happened in New York City when the Sun capitalized on the popularity of the story, is more the end result of a game of telephone, or more fitting for the time – the telegraph.

Along with iconic images of the man-bats, horned bison, and bipedal beavers, the Italian version contains 19th century missionaries on the Moon studying and capturing the Lunarians and the beautiful balloon used by them to travel to the Moon. These additions have interesting back-stories. The inclusion of the explorers and missionaries could have been the result of a general public call to send missionaries and bibles to the Moon to make sure the Lunarians were well versed in the Bible. As the story grew, other New York City newspapers joined in the craze and started republishing the story, even adding there own twist to the story. While some of the Sun’s competitors were trying to debunk the story by calling out Richard Adams Locke as the true author of the story, other papers like the Transcript added to the story. In order to play up their version of the story, the Transcript reprinted Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall” in which Hans Pfaall traveled to the Moon in a revolutionary new balloon. Poe meant the story to be a hoax and was going to continue developing the story until the Great Moon Hoax stole his thunder. The element of the balloon travelling to the Moon was likely the result of the Transcript running Poe’s hoax along with reprinting the Great Moon Hoax itself.

In fact, Poe was so infuriated by being trumped that he publicly called out Locke as the true author and held a grudge throughout his life on the matter.

So the Galluzzo illustrations are likely a result of the various versions of the story melding together as the fantastic fable traveled beyond New York City. Join us for the last installment of story next week, as the true nature of the hoax is revealed.

Aerial voyage to the Moon.
Aerial ship used by 19th century missionaries and scientists to travel to the Moon.

Read more in Part III of this blog series.

One Comment

  1. samsb

    Thank you!

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