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Forgeries

“The likelihood that a lay reader, unexposed to the exigencies of higher political or military responsibility, will misconstrue the purpose of this project, and the intent of its participants, seems obvious.”

The Report From Iron Mountain

The Hitler Diaries are my idea of a good textbook case of forgery — at least for the kind of textbook I would write. The diaries had flaws that in retrospect made the discovery of their fraudulent nature inevitable — but the feat was remarkable nonetheless: lengthy volumes of work that were convincing enough to fool a lot of people who should have been much more cautious.

Another favorite of mine is the Report From Iron Mountain: In the form of a government think-tank report, this fabulous satire analyzed the “possibility and desirability of peace” and found that peace would be unhealthy to the American state for many reasons. The satire was aimed at the U.S. military-industrial complex from the American left-wing during the cold-war, but it has been revived by anti-government groups on the American right-wing in more recent years, some of whom take it to be evidence of an on-going conspiracy rather than just a finger pointing at the conspiracy.

And speaking of things that right-wingers tend to take just a little bit too seriously, there’s the granddaddy of these sorts of things, the legendary Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion — allegedly transcripts of the meeting where all of the Jews who really run the world get together and talk about all of their evil plans for future domination of the minds and bodies of good people everywhere. I’m reminded of a documentary where Ugandan dictator Idi Amin told the press that his intelligence agents had found secret Israeli military plans, only to reveal later to the documentary crew that all he’d found had been a copy of the infamous Protocols.

Must be a conspiracy behind the fact that The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Mecca is nowhere near as famous.


And then there’s Clifford Irving’s “autobiography” of Howard Hughes which unfortunately was exposed by Hughes himself before its announced publication in 1972 — but was finally published in a somewhat revised edition in 1999.


In North Carolina, they still believe that the locals beat those dopes in Philadelphia to the punch in 1775 with the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. I suspect it’s political suicide in the Jesse Helms State to suggest that the document is a fake (especially since the date that the declaration was allegedly signed is given top billing on the state flag), so unsuspecting schoolchildren will be learning about the pioneering Carolinans for decades to come…

Another clever fake that appealed to patriotism was James Macpherson’s invention of the Poetry of Ossian.

Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770) wrote up some fine poetry and passed it off as the 1464 work of the “gode prieste” Thomas Rowley. His life and works proved inspiring to Dante, Coleridge, Keats and others.

Of the odd schools of poetry that flourished in the early years of the twentieth century, perhaps it is an oversight only the Spectrists are mentioned here. But if their hoax was only more obvious, it was also most curious and surrounded itself with oddity.

This sort of thing is still going on. In 2001, poet David Solway admitted that he wasn’t the translator and biographer of the Greek poet Andreas Karavis, but his inventor.


Worthy of note also, a poetical quasi-hoax, the oeuvre of The Sweet Singer of Michigan, Julia A. Moore. Horrid poetry that became a hit for that very reason, decades before people thought they invented hip irony.


Glenn Boyer got his novel I Married Wyatt Earp published by the University of Arizona Press as the non-fiction memoir of the gunslinger’s third wife.

Published recently was the account of an Italian merchant’s trip to the orient in the 13th Century, as allegedly given in a recently-discovered manuscript written by the man himself.

And the Scarith of Scornello shows that these sorts of things have been going on at least since the Renaissance.


Joseph Cosey made quite a criminal career out of lovingly recreating the handwriting of famous Americans. But Mark Hofmann’s many mormon forgeries were the least of his legal troubles.


Radio host Jean Shepherd invented the book I, Libertine and its author, Frederick R. Ewing, and enlisted his audience to help propagate the hoax.

Similarly-minded stunts included the awful 1969 erotica work Naked Came the Stranger and the terrible 2004 novel Atlanta Nights.


The diary of Opal Whiteleyavailable on-line — presents the sort of authenticity mystery that is more fun the less resolved it is.


Published in mid-19th Century, the Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk helped inflame anti-Catholic sentiments in the United States. The book was an expose of what really happens in a Catholic convent, as told by an escaped nun. Scandalous and very, very dirty. And of course, it was really the work of someone with a good imagination and an anti-Catholic axe to grind.


Jeff Edmunds posted fake excerpts from an unpublished work by Vladamir Nabokov that were good enough to get Nabokov-defenders in a huff about copyright and the ethics of posthumous publication.

Ah, publishing ethics. Do the names Kaavya Viswanathan, William H. Swanson, J.T. LeRoy, or James Frey ring a bell?


There’s nothing quite so satisfying as a forgery when it’s the government’s bureaucratese that’s being forged. For instance, there are the fun-loving Brits who posted up signs in the bus terminals announcing: “EXPERIMENTAL FREE TRAVEL: Due to the sharp rise in administration and collection costs the Executive are introducing free bus travel for an experimental period of 14 days. No fares will be collected on any MPTE services from Monday, 3rd May to Sunday, 16th May, 1976.”

Sly, very sly. Luther Blissett of San Luis Obispo, California, felt that the innocent verdicts in the first Rodney King beating trial were an indication that the law did not in practice prohibit police brutality. So he wrote up charmingly formal announcements as though he were the government announcing this as policy.


Here’s a wicked little hack for you: Someone forged a piece of junk-email (a.k.a. spam), sent it to zillions of people, but gave the return-address of the Samsung corporation. They got thousands of messages a day from angry spamees. “We’ve spent millions to maintain our reputation and our brand image and we just want this to stop,” said a company spokesperson.


Some wiseacre thought that Joseph Smith’s story about finding a new Christian testament engraved in a supernaturally-transmitted script on metal tablets that later mysteriously disappeared was a little hokey, so he carved a bunch of gobbledygook on some slabs of metal that have since become known as the Kinderhook Plates, and asked Smith for a translation to see how he’d reply; depending on who you ask, well…

The Confessions of Pontius Pilate are one good example of a forged Christian scripture. Attributing a piece of literature to God is just one possibility for people wanting to enter the religion con game.


Capitalist propaganda or embarassing evidence? The Eremin Letter seems to provide documentation that shows Joseph Stalin worked for the Czar’s secret police as a mole into the Communist Party.

Another useful forgery was the Zinoviev Letter, which came out four days before the 1924 British general election, and is credited with knocking Labour out of power.


In the nineteenth century, Vrain Denis-Lucas “forged a total of 27,000 autographs, letters, document and manuscripts from such luminaries as Cleopatra, Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate, Joan of Arc, Cicero and Dante Alighieri — written in contemporary French [and] sold them to the most prominent French collectors and accumulated significant wealth of hundreds of thousands of francs.”


Perhaps more the work of random mutation and natural selection than of a mischief-maker, was the charming, down-home, “everything important I learned in kindergarten”-style wisdom written by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich that was chain-emailed around the net again and again but attributed to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

In a similar vein, there’s the ecologically ahead-of-its-time (and anachronistic in a few other details), often-quoted, alleged version of an address given by Chief Seattle in 1854.

Another beloved popular tale of Native American wisdom, The Education of Little Tree: A True Story, was actually written by an enthusiastic white supremacist. Yep — the same man who wrote George Wallace’s “Segregation Forever!” speech wrote the much-beloved story of the noble red man.

For more on this sort of thing, see also: Nasdijj and Carlos Castaneda.

And the list goes on.

Luther Blissett’s warning
Luther Blissett’s warning

I, Libertine
I, Libertine

The Eremin Letter
The Eremin Letter

Clifford Irving
Clifford Irving

See also:



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On This Day in SniggleryAugust 30, 2000: Radio DJ Joseph Lopez goes door-to-door in San Francisco dressed in a prisoner’s uniform and asking for help in removing his handcuffs. The prank ends up making him a prisoner for realsies. (See Cop Jamming for more such tomfoolery)