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When Mongolian queens ruled the Silk Road

On August 25, 1835, readers stopped in front of the roaring newspaper boys and produced a penny for a copy of New York’s The sun The newspaper got a lot to see. Three quarters of the front page were devoted to what the newspaper thought was an excerpt from the credible sounding Edinburgh Journal of Science. In deep South Africa a well-known astronomer named John Herschel made a fantastic discovery: There was life on the moon. Lots of it. Plants. Beavers standing on their hind legs. Unicorn goats. And bat people.

For the next five days, readers were struck by a breathless account of Herschel’s incomparable (but not peer-reviewed) survey of the populated lunar surface with a recently constructed 7-ton telescope. Herschel looked over the lunar surroundings and noticed colorful flowers, temples full of soul and humanoids who could fly.

While it seemed too spectacular to be true, Herschel was a true scientist and a respected one; He had previously been quoted while pondering life on the moon. It was also known that he was in South Africa. The Edinburgh Journal of Science was also legitimate. Who was someone who called him a liar?

This “amazing discovery,”

; as the newspaper called it, should be celebrated. And when discovering life on the moon wasn’t enough, Herschel had also “solved or corrected almost every leading problem in mathematical astronomy”.

The reports fascinated the city, spread to other newspapers and invited discussions about their plausibility. Who were these two-legged beavers and moon people? And did they find religion?

Founded in 1833 by publisher Benjamin Day, The sun was a landmark newspaper in several ways. With a steam-powered printing press, tens of thousands of copies could be copied in a relatively short time. Sold for a dime, it was much cheaper than New York’s six-dime alternatives. It was also the first newspaper in history to use newspaper boys who stood on busy streets and made headlines for passers-by. At a bargain price The sun had to maintain and boost circulation of 15,000 readers to attract advertisers.

What they didn’t really need was accuracy. In contrast to the later files and their firm commitments to journalistic integrity The sun and other news sources of the era shouldn’t be telling the truth everything the time. Objects can be satirical or factual; Readers could sometimes bring the two together. Before the radio, newspapers were seen as the main entertainment of the day. Although not quite as bombastic as the tabloids of the following century, some creative license was expected.

In this gloomy climate, the newspaper began to produce a surprising report on the work of the astronomer John Herschel. (His father, William, discovered Uranus in 1781.) August 21st The sun printed what was essentially a teaser, promising readers a glimpse into “astronomical discoveries of the most wonderful description”. Four days later, the first of six parts appeared, most of which was devoted to a detailed explanation of how Herschel could witness such miracles.

Thanks to a “hydro-oxygen microscope” added to a giant telescopic lens, Herschel was able to illuminate a view from a great distance. The 24-foot optical device was forged by skilled glassmakers. With the 42,000X magnification, the report said, he had hoped to see possible insect life on the moon from his work base 35 miles from Cape Town, South Africa.

As the series played out, it was clear that he had far exceeded those expectations. Amazed readers found on day two of the series that after training his telescope on the moon, Herschel had seen a dark red flower sprouting from basalt rock, as well as water and trees. Bison-like animals roamed the area. A bluish unicorned goat trotted in full view of the scope.

On the third day, Andrew Grant, the alleged author of the articles and avowed collaborator of Herschel, described their most miraculous discovery to date:

“… The biped. The last resembles the beaver of the earth in every way other than in its poverty of a tail and its unchanging habit of only walking on two feet. It carries its young like a human in its arms and moves with a slight sliding motion. “

Grant reported that these nifty beavers had built huts that were “more impressive than those of many tribes of human savages,” with smoke emanating from their tops. They had apparently mastered the concept of fire.

Toasty Beaver Homes would be hard to top, but Grant had more up his sleeve. On the fourth day, readers learned that the men had seen “large winged creatures” that were “certainly … like humans” and “engaged in conversations”. (The discovery dated before Weekly world newsrevealed Bat Boy for more than a century.)

The fifth day brought a description of a temple-like construct, possibly suggesting that these creatures tended to worship an unknown religion. The sixth day brought mention of a wider variety of bat people who “rudely” ate fruit.

The last entry in the series also offered some kind of unfortunate postscript. According to Grant, Herschel’s daily examination of the moon ended abruptly when his telescope was left in an awkward position, absorbed the sun’s rays, and his observatory went up in flames. The high-performance device was damaged and needed to be repaired.

The story of life on the moon spread quickly not only to other New York publications, but also to other eastern states and then to Europe. The New Yorker apparently stated his support for the account; Baptist missionaries reportedly pondered whether the bat people might need donations or the teachings of the gospel. The scientific community did not immediately explain The sunThe reporting is fraudulent – after all, they had so little information about the moon that no one could clearly state it was not Live there.

James Gordon Bennett was a different story. As editor of the New York HeraldBennett, a competing paper, went on its pages on August 31, immediately after the series was wrapped and blamed The sun uphold a joke about the public. While Edinburgh Journal of Science Bennett wrote that it was a real publication that had merged with two more years earlier and was practically nonexistent. He pointed a finger specifically at Richard Adams Locke, who had recently arrived The sun as editor and had briefly met Bennett during criminal proceedings and expressed an interest in astronomy. Locke had also had success selling his collected newspaper work in brochure form – exactly whatThe sun had finished with the lunar story and moved 60,000 copies in a month.

Locke denied it; The two played back and forth in their respective papers. Even after mail, which arrived from Europe in September, confirmed the joke as fiction, Locke refused to move. Finally after leaving The sun In 1836 Locke began using “Moon Dizziness Author” as part of his byline. In 1840 he elaborated on it, saying he wanted the play a satire and commentary on theologians and Christian experts such as Thomas Dick, a science journalist who trumpeted the idea of ​​life on other planets with no scientific basis for it.

Surprisingly, readers didn’t hold a grudge against it The sun. When the joke was exposed, most found it a fun and clever way to raise awareness and dissemination of the newspaper, which two years later had 30,000 readers. Even Herschel was amused at first and found it an innocent comedy.

The only Curmudgeon seems to have been Edgar Allan Poe: The writer had written a similarly absurd story about a manned balloon flight to the moon in the USA Southern literary messenger two months earlier this received relatively little attention at the time. He accused Locke of stealing his idea; Locke, who died in 1871, never recognized Poe as an influence.

The sun stayed in business until 1916, mainly concerned with human interest stories and local New York news (after a series of mergers, publication continued under various names until the 1960s). While there is no evidence that they continued reporting on the inhabitants of the moon, they never printed a retreat either.

This story has been updated for 2020.

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