April 2007

A Hoax of a Hoax

In the early 1800's, in New York City, at the junction of Baxter, Centre, and Grand Streets, was the Centre Market. It is this area that people gathered to buy their goods as well as exchange news. There was an area with long benches and a soapbox where people could hold open forum to discuss topics of the day. So sets the scene for one my favorite hoaxes in journalism.

Of all the orators, a man named Lozier was the most respected. On a daily basis, he could be found at the Market debating an important topic. Lozier had an illustrious background. He had made several voyages to Europe as a ships' carpenter and was well educated. Of all factors, his most important was that he had charisma. Through sheer charm, Lozier could convince others that what he was claiming was correct. He always had an answer ready for questions whether they be political, financial, or moral. July of 1824 saw a sudden change in Lozier and the birth of a great hoax. Although for years Lozier had made daily speeches at the Centre Market, and was always available for individual debates, now, all of a sudden, though coming to the Market each day, he sat off in a corner and was very introverted. If anyone approached him he would abruptly ask them to leave him alone. His friends debated among themselves on what was causing this change in Lozier. Finally, after a few weeks of quietness, a delegation approached Lozier with concern. Why was he so quiet and unsociable?

This moment is just what Lozier had waited for. He proceeded to explain that it was not only his own problem but it also greatly affected their very own lives! With that statement there was dead silence and the crowd surrounding Lozier grew bigger. In a well calculated and rehearsed speech, he went on to reveal the dire problem. Simply put, he informed them that Manhattan Island was much too heavy on the Battery end because of all the heavy construction that had gone on in recent years. The weight of all these buildings at one end was causing it to tip and eventually would break off into the sea! Though some expressed doubtfulness, Lozier had "proof." He took the crowd to the center of the street and told them to look down the road. From City Hall to the opposite end was all downhill.

Now it was sheer panic! It was true! Lozier told them not to worry as he had almost figured out a solution. He asked them to give him a few more days and he would announce how Manhattan could be spared of the pending disaster.

After a few days the news came that Lozier was going to speak that afternoon at the Market. Needless to say, hundreds showed up to hear his solution. With much drama, Lozier explained how Manhattan Island could be saved. The plan was as follows: First it would be necessary to saw the island off at the Northern end, at the Kingsbridge, and tow it past both Governor's and Ellis Island and out to sea. There Manhattan would be turned around and brought back into the mainland and reattached. Now the heavy end would be the one attached to the mainland and the opposite end, which had fewer heavy buildings, would be on the free end. Zoning laws could be passed to prevent construction of buildings on this end. Problem solved!

For several days the sawing off of Manhattan Island was on everyone's mind. When public interest was at its height Lozier, who possessed a perfect sense of timing, again showed up at Centre Market. When he arrived at the scene, he took command. He held up a large ledger and announced that the names of all able-bodied men would be recorded as applicants to work on the project. Over 300 men signed up the first day! Lozier next hired a handful of contractors and carpenters to furnish lumber and build large barracks which would be used by laborers during the actual saving process. Going one step further, he also ordered a separate building to be constructed to house a mess hall to feed the workers.

Continuing with the well-executed plan, Lozier next notified butchers to submit their bids for five hundred head of cattle, the same number of legs, and three thousand chickens!

Lozier was having great fun. He continued thinking up new things that had to be done before the actual sawing could take place. He next sought out some blacksmiths to have them make fifteen crosscut saws one hundred feet in length and each saw tooth 3 feet high. (It would take fifty men to operate each saw.) They also needed to make several miles of heavy gauge chain which could be wrapped around trees and attached at the other end to the fifteen hundred boats he was having built. (It must be added that no one questioned just who was going to finance this operation.)

Perhaps the single event in this plot that tops them all in the sheer humor vein is that of a "pitman." Lozier, at Centre Market, announced new applications were being taken for several "pitmen." He explained that a "pitman" had the most dangerous job. That job entailed being on the bottom end of the cross cut saw -- under water! Since the job was so dangerous, the pay was triple of those on top of the saw. To qualify for the job, the applicants must hold their breath and be timed. Those with the longest time would be selected as "pitmen." All day long the scene was the same. A man would have his turn at the front of the line, Lozier would activate his stopwatch while the man held his breath. At a certain point the man's face would turn various shades of red then, finally, let out a burst of breath. Several men got in line more than once to see if they could better their previous time.

The time came when Lozier could stall no longer. People were getting restless and anxious to start the project. Lozier was forced to announce a starting date. Even this was done with great flair. The date was announced and the workers "hired." All were to report at 6 AM at a specific location on the Battery end. From there a parade would march to the City Hall -- complete with bands! Thousands showed up at the appointed time and place -- all except Lozier that is. He left town the night before and hadn't been seen since!

History has not recorded how long these people waited around before it finally dawned on them that they had been "had" -- or if they ever did realize it was only a well-planned hoax.

Is Manhattan Island still sinking? No problem. Call Lozier!

NOTE: What you just read was a hoax of a hoax. Several books about journalism history have retold the above story as fact. It originated in 1835. A business partner of the man named Lozier in the story claimed Lozier had told him the story much earlier. He related the story to his son and grandson many times over. The truth finally came out in the 1870's. The entire story was made up. Despite the truth coming out, many journalism history books continued to retell the story as being true well into the 1950's. Despite being lower educated, people living in New York in the early 1800's WERE NOT that gullible!

Do You Remember:

  • Using a dial telephone?

  • When every telephone call required an operator?

  • When telephone booths were made of wood?

  • When you could make a telephone call at a pay phone for only ten cents?

  • Having a party line on your telephone?

  • When a telephone number had 2 letters and 4 numbers?

  • When candy bars cost a nickel?

  • When the circus came to town and set up under a tent?

  • The comics in Bazooka bubble gum?

  • When a box of Cracker Jacks was only ten cents?

  • When Hostess Twinkies were ten cents?

  • When a pack of baseball cards cost a nickel and included a stick of gum?

  • When your family sat around the radio and “watched” programs like Fibber McGee and Molly and The Shadow?

  • The comedian whose theme song was Thanks For the Memories?

  • The singing cowboy whose theme song was Happy Trails to You?

  • When going to a movie you saw two cartoons, a news reel and then the movie for only 35 cents?

  • Going to a drive in theatre?

  • Going to a drive in restaurant?

  • When it took five minutes for the TV to warm up?

  • When there were only three television networks - ABC, CBS and NBC?

  • When there were only four television networks - - ABC, CBS, NBC and Dumont?

  • When the Saturday morning line up was Mighty Mouse, Heckle and Jeckel, Felix the Cat, and Sky King?

  • When Wonder Bread also made a miniature loaf for kids?

  • When a hair cut was only fifty cents?

  • When you worked for $1.25 an hour?

  • When for only a nickel you could buy a bag filled with penny candy?

  • On cold nights having to drain the radiator so the water would not freeze and ruin your motor?

  • Having your snow tires put on your car for winter?

  • To turn on the bright lights in your car you used your left foot?

  • Having to use hand signals when turning or slowing down in your car?

  • When the automatic transmission did not exist?

  • When you were involved in a fender-bender, the damage to either vehicle was minimal?

  • When you looked out the side windows on your car what you saw was wavy?

  • Waking up to frost on your home's windows?

  • Having to shovel coal in the furnace to try to keep your home warm?

  • Having to defrost your refrigerator on a routine basis?

  • Having to clean your oven several times a year?

  • When a refrigerator had what looked like a stack of plates on top of it?

  • When you could leave for a few days and not have to lock your doors or windows?

  • When you could buy three pounds of hamburger for only $1?

  • The soft drinks Tab or Mr. Pib - or Moxie?

  • When a McDonald’s hamburger was only 15 cents?

  • Which fast food chain had the slogan: It takes two hands to handle a whopper?

  • Which fast food chain used an elderly lady in their commercials whose only line was: Where's the Beef?

  • When laundry detergent had free glasses, dishes or towels inside the box?

  • Playing the games Hide and Seek, Red Light, Green Light?

  • When grocery shopping, you were given Green Stamps as a reward?

    The more of the above items you can honestly remember, the closer you are to being a national treasure. If you answered no to three or fewer of the above items, you belong in the Smithsonian Institution! Share your wealth!

    March Brain Teaser

    What is so fragile that when you say its name you break it?

    Answer: Silence.

    New Book of Interest to Military Buffs
    A newly published book, Allied Liberation Vehicles, by Francois Bertin, would be highly interesting to World War II or military vehicle buffs. The book is fully illustrated with full color photographs of each vehicle and includes specifications for each. Photos include various Jeeps, Harley Davidson motorcycles, and trucks. It also includes not only American vehicles, but also British and Canadian as well. 127 pages. Published by Casemate, Philadelphia.

    The book can be ordered from Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/ALLIED-LIBERATION-VEHICLES-Francois-Bertin/dp/1932033769/ref=sr_1_1/002-4439571-4684049?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1176170004&sr=1-1

    March Contest

    GRAND PRIZE QUESTION: Which famous person laid the cornerstone when the White House was being built?

    GRAND PRIZE ANSWER: George Washington

    ALTERNATE PRIZE QUESTION: From what country did the United States purchase North and South Dakota from?

    ALTERNATE PRIZE ANSWER: France, as part of the Louisiana Purchase

    Ninety-two people entered the contests. Forty-one people either had the incorrect subject heading or the wrong answer to the question. All prizes were claimed.
    The March contest winners were:
    • Jake Porter - Maryland
    • Carrie Cannon - Washington
    • Tommy Cifers - North Carolina
    • John Urban - Illinois
    • Jinju Gray - Arizona
    • Lois Valentin - Massachuetts
    • Ken Germanson - Wisconsin

    This Issue's Question

    To enter the Grand Prize Contest, answer the question: What do bullet proof vests, fire escapes, windshield wipers, and laser printers all have in common?

    To enter the Alternate Contest, answer the question: What was the middle name of inventor Thomas Edison?

    Contest Rules

    • Contest entry deadline is Thuesday, April 17, 2007. Later entries will be disqualified. Winners will be notified by email within 24 hours after the contest deadline. Winners' names and states will be published in the next issue of the HistoryBuff.com newsletter.

    • Subscribers may enter both contests, but can only win one prize.

    • To enter either contest, email your answer to help@historyreference.org.

    • If entering for the Grand Prize, enter "Contest Entry Grand Prize" for the subject heading.

    • If entering for alternate prize contest, enter "Contest Entry" for the subject heading.

    • Alternate contest entries with prize desires such as "any prize is OK," "any of the historic newspapers" etc. will be disqualified. You MUST select ONE prize. The Grand Prize is considered as only one prize.

    • If entering both contests, send separate emails.

    • From subscribers entering the alternate contest, submitting the correct answer, correct subject heading, submission received by the deadline, as well as advising which ONE alternate contest prize they want to win, SIX will be selected to win ONE of the alternate contest prizes below.

    • From subscribers entering the Grand Prize contest, one will be selected to win the prize from those submitting the correct subject heading, correct answer, and by the deadline.

    • Subscribers to this newsletter that won a prize in my trivia contests in the last 90 days are ineligible to win.
    Grand Prize
    (One winner will be selected)

      Soft Bound Book

      Allied Liberation Vehicles
      By Francois
      Fully Illustrated With Full Color Photographs
      Includes Specifications of Each Vehicle

    Alternate Contest Prizes
    Alternate Contest Prizes (Only one of each offered)

    Little House on the Prairie
    Two-Hour Special
    I'll Be Waving as You Drive Away

    PC Game
    Axis & Allies
    The Ultimate WWII Strategy Game

    Original Historic Newspapers

    Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, DC) historic newspaper from 1842

    New York Tribune historic newspaper from 1860

    Original New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette historic newspaper from 1868

    Original Salem Gazette historic newspaper from 1878
    That's it for this issue.

    Rick Brown

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