6 Hoaxes People Actually Believed

The spaghetti tree in all its glory.
The spaghetti tree in all its glory. / Robert Couse-Baker , Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

On April 1, 1957, a BBC current events show called Panorama aired a segment that showed women picking spaghetti strands from trees in Switzerland. What was intended as a fun-loving April Fools’ Day segment turned into a bit of a kerfuffle as credulous audience members started wondering how they could grow their own pasta.

That’s hardly the only time people have been fooled by an outlandish stunt that might initially seem unbelievable. From similarly good-natured practical jokes by large media outlets to the awful actions of Mary Toft (for now, suffice it to say that rabbit excrement was a key clue in unmasking her deception), history is filled with far-fetched fraud that managed to dupe an audience.

In this episode of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy shares six unusual hoaxes that had people tricked.

In the case of the BCC faux spaghetti tree broadcast, the subterfuge wasn’t particularly serious. A couple of viewers may have been embarrassed when they called into the station, only to be told to plant a spaghetti sprig in a can of tomato sauce and “hope for the best,” but no one’s life was put in harm’s way. But some hoaxes, like World War II’s Operation Copperhead, had considerably higher stakes.

Check out the full video on our YouTube channel to learn more. We cover Sidd Finch, the Major League Baseball player-slash-Buddhist monk who “threw” a 168 mph fastball, and Clever Hans, the horse who can (not exactly) do math.

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