On August 25, 1835, the New York Sun newspaper featured a seemingly benign headline that read “Great Astronomical Discoveries Lately Made by Sir John Herschel, L.L.D.” This article talked at length about a purported new invention made by respected astronomer John Herschel of an incredibly powerful telescope that allowed him to see the surface of the moon clearly and in great detail. The problem with this story was that Herschel had made no such invention, in fact he played no part in the story and those that would follow over the next five days. For the next week, the Sun ran stories that became more and more fantastical detailing amazing discoveries of not only life, but advanced civilization on the moon. Days 2 and 3 detailed the animal and plant life purported to be on the moon – including a biped beaver that had master the art of fire. Day 4 proved to be the high point of the hoax when the paper described what they called Vespertilio-homo or the “Bat-men” who inhabited the moon and had established a civilization and lived in a “universal state of amity.”
The elaborate story met with a mixed reception with many people believing the story, but many others being skeptical about the wild claims. The owner of the Sun, Benjamin Day, was looking to increase his paper’s circulation and in that he succeeded wildly. Despite increased readership, the hoax was exposed less than a week later when New York Herald journalist James Gordon Bennett disclosed the true author of the piece, Sun reporter Richard Adams Locke. Locke and his boss, Day, denied their role in the hoax until 1836 when Locke finally caved and admitted to being the hoax’s author.