The 'Baron' of Arizona and Other Historic Hucksters
The ‘Baron’ of Arizona and Other Historic Hucksters

The ‘Baron’ of Arizona and Other Historic Hucksters

Khalid Elhassan - October 31, 2019

The ‘Baron’ of Arizona and Other Historic Hucksters
Comparison between the Cottingley Fairies and illustrations from a contemporary popular children’s book. Wikimedia

1. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Cringeworthy Fall For the Fairy Hoax

In December of 1920, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published a cringeworthy article urging the public to accept that fairies existed. The article opened him to significant ridicule from a press that was equal parts puzzled, and equal parts embarrassed for the respected author. It did not dissuade Doyle, who followed the first article with a second in 1921, describing even more fairy sightings. A year later in 1922, he capped it off by publishing an even more cringeworthy book, titled The Coming of the Fairies.

As it turned out, Sherlock Holmes’ creator should have been more skeptical. In 1983, cousins Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths published an article, in which they confessed that the whole thing had been a hoax. They had used illustrations from a contemporary popular children’s book, and simply drew wings on them. The girls had kicked off the prank as a means of getting back at adults who teased them for “playing with fairies”. The joke snowballed, however, and got out of hand once the Theosophical Society and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle got involved. Once that happened, they could not think of a graceful way to back out, so they just kept the hoax going, before finally coming clean, six decades later.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Archaeology Magazine, Volume 54, Number 1, January / February 2001 – “God’s Hands” Did the Devil’s Work

Listvrese – 10 of History’s Most Prolific Con Artists and Their Famous Cons

Live Science, June 25th, 2008 – A Savage Hoax: The Cave Men Who Never Existed

Money Inc. – The 20 Most Notorious Con Artists of All Time

Museum of Hoaxes – Lord Gordon-Gordon

New York Herald, July 8th, 1849 – Arrest of the Confidence Man

Quartz, February 17th, 2017 – The Cottingley Fairy Hoax of 1917 is a Case Study in How Smart People Lose Control of the Truth

Smithsonian Magazine, December 15th, 2009 – Crop Circles: The Art of the Hoax

Smithsonian Magazine, July 2nd, 2015 – The Great Moon Hoax Was Simply a Sign of Its Time

True West Magazine, November 21st, 2017 – The Great Swindler James Addison Reavis

Wikipedia – James Reavis