Happy April Fool’s—a day of changing clocks, fixing faucets, and swapping sugar for salt. Each year, the first of April is guaranteed to elicit many playful schemes. But occasionally history has entertained pranks with graver implications. Take, for example, one of America’s greatest hoaxes:
“The Oath of a Freeman” was the first printed paper in the colonies, documenting the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s free male members’ pledge to protect the colony and not overthrow its government. Because it was among the first printed documents, its value would be enormous if ever found. In 1985, Mark Hofmann made all of America think he was the “lucky guy” to finally discover it. What began as a sleight of hand in a New York bookstore spiraled into a grand deceit involving prestigious organizations like the Library of Congress and American Antiquarian Society, as well as a tragic bombing in Salt Lake City. Looking back, Charles Hamilton, a document dealer and handwriting expert, says:
Mark Hofmann was unquestionably the most skilled forger this country has ever seen … he perpetrated by far the largest monetary frauds through forgery that this country has ever had. He fooled me – he fooled everybody.
On this week of foolery, we’ll be showcasing some of history’s most perpetuated frauds and deceptions as we lead up to our Friday giveaway of Edward Steers’s Hoax: Hitler’s Diaries, Lincoln’s Assassins, and other Famous Frauds. In it, Steers debunks six notable hoaxes, including Hofmann’s, and explains what has kept them circulating in popular culture. Enter now for your chance to win a copy—after reading it, you can decide for yourself what’s a sham, and what’s not.
Originally trained as a molecular biologist, Ed Steers worked as a biomedical researcher until retiring in 1994 and taking up writing full time. Since then, he has written many best-selling American history books, including Blood on the Moon and Lincoln Legends, both published by the University Press of Kentucky. With a passion for both science and history, Steers is the go-to guy if you want the truth behind the legend.