Long before the panic that arose after the 1938 broadcast of War of the Worlds by Orson Wells, there was another alien hoax that gripped the world. Purported to be the findings of British astronomer Sir John Herschel, perhaps the best known astronomer of the time, the New York Sun, in a blatant use of yellow journalism, started publishing six stories in 1836 reporting the “discovery of life on the moon.” Most likely authored by Richard E. Locke in an ultimately successful attempt to boost the newspapers readership, the extravagant stories where full of alien flora and fauna, including bat winged men, nude moon maidens with luna-moth wings, unicorn moon bison and bipedal tailless beavers. In the articles it was proposed that an expedition be made to the moon using hydrogen filled balloons lifting ship like gondolas beneath, which later returned to earth under large umbrellas.
The fantastic story, though too wild to be true, garnered a healthy following for the magazine, and even Sir John Herschel found it amusing… until he later had to answer questions from readers who thought the story was serious. The articles where published under the name Dr. Andrew Grant, who described himself as the traveling companion and laborer of Sir John Herschel, but Dr Grant was fictitious. The story was not discovered to be a hoax until several weeks after it’s publication, and even then the newspaper did not issue a retraction. Eventually it was announced that the huge telescope used for the observations had caught a glimpse of the sun, magnified the beams and caught fire to the observatory, terminating any further views of the fantastic landscapes on the moon.
This portfolio of hand-tinted lithographs, from Italian Leopoldo Galluzzo’s Altre scoverte fatte nella luna dal Sigr. Herschel (Other discoveries made on the moon from Mr. Herschel), gives us a look at the wild creatures, landscapes and ships, Locke imagined. Click any image for a full-sized view.