If you caught my Mini-Episode/Quick Announcement last week you’ll know I’m taking a spring break holiday from The Book Owl Podcast during the month of April while I do a bit of nest fluffing (aka “trying to stay sane as I get everything in order for my next two book releases in April and May”).
But as is my way, the minute I cross one thing off my to-do list, I quickly add another.
Which, as I mentioned in the mini-episode, is why I got the crazy notion in my head to try out doing some book review videos.
Anyway, in this first quickie video (less than two minutes), I quickly explain what to expect with this madness…
And in this second video, it’s my premier video review!! No, no, hold your applause a moment, while I introduce it…
Just give a clickity clack on the image below to watch me babbling about this wonderful tale…
As I say in that intro video, I’m not sure how regularly I’ll post these reviews. I’ve got a few books lined up that I’m eager to share with you, so there’ll definitely be more coming soon. Whether you like it or not!
Looking for More of the Same?
If like Mr. Tenpenny and Gobbelino London, you enjoy a little paranormal with your fantasies and/or your mysteries, please do have a browse around these book bundles I’ve been invited to join this month.
Remember, these bundles are a crucial part of my ability to get the word out about my books, but I can only be a part of the fun if folks like you check out these bundles.
You don’t have to buy a thing. Just browse a bit. it really does make a difference to me and all the authors involved. And who knows, you might just discover your next favorite story!
Thanks everyone! Just click the image for whichever bundles suit your fancy.
Happy book hunting…
99c and Free Fantasy and Paranormal Fiction (that pretty much says it all, right?):
Witchy Book Fair (paranormal and fantasy fiction with, you guessed it, witches and magic):
Paranormal Women’s Mysteries (mysteries in which the ladies are sleuthing out the clues):
April Fool’s Mysteries (cozies, thrillers, and more…these aren’t necessarily paranormal, but most of them look pretty darn intriguing!):
Back in the day, even printing a Bible required getting in league with the devil…printer devils, that is. Discover the legends and lores in this re-released and re-mastered version of a Book Owl classic…you know, back when I was beyond nervous when facing the microphone!
(This is a re-release of Episode 2 – Making a Deal with the Devil). There’s a new intro and the audio has been re-processed.)
(Not transcribed, but let’s just say I’ve been drowning in writing chores and didn’t have time to research, write, record, and edit a new episode this week. I will be back in a couple weeks with a new episode – hopefully – and a special announcement.)
Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.
So, these days you can click a button and have most any book printed on demand and in your hands in days, but it wasn’t always so quick and easy. And no, I’m not referring tot the days when you actually had to get off your butt and go to the bookstore and buy a book.
It wasn’t all that long ago that took a lot of effort to make a book. In fact, if you wanted a book printed you might even have had to make a deal with the devil….even if that book was a bible.
Before we delve into this devilish episode it’s time for a tiny sponsor break. I know, I know, no one likes ads, but this will be quick and painless. Podcasts aren’t the cheapest things to run. There’s hosting costs, equipment, and let me tell you, they take a lot of time. So, if you like what you’re hearing and if you’re able to, you can show your appreciation and support the podcast by visiting the book owl podcast dot com slash support where you’ll find several super inexpensive ways to help keep the show running.
Okay, that wasn’t so bad, was it. Now, let’s get on with the show and the devil really is in the details with this one.
How to Print a Book…Back in the Day
So even though we’re talking about devils, there’s no need to fear for your immortal soul (unless you’ve been very naughty). See back in the day, if you wanted a book or a newspaper, you had no choice…you had to get in league with the devil…a printer’s devil to be exact.
Of course the printing press is an invention worshipped by book nerds and we’ll explore it’s story some other time, but for now just know that up until relatively recently to make a book or newspaper, every single letter and every single space or punctuation mark on every single printed page had to arranged by a human hand…a very deft human hadn’t at that.
Okay, that’s bad enough to imagine, but not only did these someones have to lay down the letters of every word, they also had to do it in reverse so the words once printed would read correctly. So anyone out there complaining about how tricky it can be to format a document in Word, believe me, you’ve got nothing to complain about.
Anyway, as you can imagine, the work of a printer and typesetter was tedious, labor intensive work. But that work would be made a tiny bit easier if you had an assistant. And that assistant was called a printer’s devil.
This was usually a young boy, possibly an apprentice, whose main tasks would be to mix the ink and to fetch the letters as needed and to put the used letters back in the right place. And even though it’s highly likely that there were some serious child labor laws being broken, this wasn’t unskilled labor because these kids had to be somewhat literate in order to fetch the correct letter. Think about it, if you’re typesetting a word like SHOT you certainly don’t want some illiterate rapscallion mixing up your O’s and your I’s.
And there were some famous little devils, including Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and John Kellogg (yes, Mr Cornflakes and healthy living himself).
What’s in a Demonic Name, Part One
Alright none who can remember their grade school days on the playground know that little boys can be hellions, but why were these particular lads called devils?
There’s actually no clear answer on this, which of course means a slew of tales have sprouted up to answer it. Some of the tales are downright dull, while others have a wonderful dose of embellishment to them.
So the most boring explanation says that the fingers of these boys would be stained black from the ink. Since Satan is the lord of darkness, the dark fingers lead people to call the kids devils. Told you that was boring. Also, I would imagine the typesetters themselves had stained fingers as well, so the explanation also falls flat on my logic meter.
What’s in a Demonic Name, Part Two
The second tale is slightly more interesting and provides a nice little play on words. Okay, so the little letters that had to be arranged were cast onto tiny pieces metal. If you’ve seen how small the print is on old timey newspapers, you’ll get an idea of just how tiny those metal pieces were.
Anyway, this metal wasn’t titanium or anything and after so many uses the raised letters would wear down and anything printed using those letters would make the reader wonder if they’d developed sudden onset glaucoma.
Instead of tormenting their customers with having to needlessly visit the eye doctor, although that could have been a good side swindle, the worn type was tossed into a box so the metal could be melted down and re-cast. That box was called a hellbox and since it was these kids tossing things into the hellbox, they earned the name devils.
What’s in a Demonic Name, Part Three (My Favorite)
That’s not a bad behind the name story, but possibly my favorite one even though it’s a bit of a stretch starts with a partnership gone bad.
So Mr Printing Press himself, Johannes Gutenberg, had a business partner named Johann FUST – and no, I don’t know if you were required to be named John to work in the printing business. After his invention started revolutionizing the world, Big G started getting a big head. FUST got annoyed with Gutenberg’s attitude so he up and left one day. And he didn’t leave empty handed…he took all the machinery.
Right around this time the French court of Louis XI needed some new bibles. FUST nabbed up the commission. He also nabbed a fair amount of extra money for this commission because he told the king and all the king’s men that the bibles would be hand copied. This was how books were made before the printing press, and because it took a lot more work, it raised the price of each book.
After a reasonable amount of time FUST delivered the books…probably with a guilty twitch to his ink-stained fingers.
So, you know how when you come home with new books from the library or bookstore and you have to thumb through all of them? Well, Louis who must have a huge book nerd, did the same thing. As he was flipping and enjoying that new book smell, Louis noticed all the bibles were eerily similar. Too similar. After all, hand copying is often accompanied with transcription errors, ink blotches, and other problems.
But all these bibles were the exact same.
Now you’re probably thinking an advisor should go up to Louis and say that, “Hey we got this guy FUST who used to work with that printer guy Gutenberg, maybe he printed these bibles.” But that didn’t happen. I mean, this was the king after all and you don’t go around telling the king he got duped. So, the only excuse for such perfection had to have been that the devil had his hand in the bibles’ creation. FUST who might have only been accused of fraud ended up being jailed for witchcraft…and I bet Gutenberg was laughing the whole time.
Anyway, in a very roundabout way, this supposedly led to the term printer’s devils.
What’s in a Demonic Name, Part Four (The Most Logical)
There’s a fourth and final story, one that combines legend with logic, and to me this one makes the most sense.
When printing presses started to spread out across Europe the printers decided they needed their own patron demon ( because, who doesn’t, right?). His name was Titivillus. This wasn’t a newbie on the demon block. He’d been the patron demon of scribes and was the go-to demon to blame when a scribe made a mistake in his manuscript copying. Talk about blame shifting.
In the printing world, Titivillus was a trickster who would sneak in and, when no one was looking, rearrange the type leading to misspelled words…which is an excuse I’m going to start using in my own books and newsletters! Since the assistants were the ones bringing the letters, those kids must be in league with this demon and therefore they earned the name of printers devils.
Not bad, right?
Exorcists Need Not Apply
Anyway, wherever their name came from, printers devils were hard working little lads well into the early 1900s. As different methods of setting type and more efficient ways of printing evolved, the need for devils declined and soon devils were gone from the print shop altogether.
And not one single exorcist was needed.
You Want One More, Don’t You?
So that’s it for printer’s devils. Or is it? With every episode I provide my newsletter recipients some extra tidbit related to the show. And with this episode, they’ll be getting one more printer devil story straight from 1960s television. If you’re not already part of the flock, sign up for The Book Owl Podcast Newsletter at the book owl podcast dot com slash contact.
Okay, one quick update to wrap things up. When I was first planning out this podcast, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my favorite shows and release episodes every single week. Now, if you saw the list of topics I’ve got jotted down in Ye Olde Podcast Notebook, you’d know I have plenty of material to do just that. What I don’t have is the time.
My primary focus, shall we say my day job, is writing and to keep churning out books, I’d basically have to give up on sleeping, eating, and cleaning out the guinea pig cages to be able to write, record, and edit a podcast episode every week. Hopefully, once I get the hang of all this podcasting busy work, I’ll be able to do weekly shows, but for now and probably for at least the first couple months, I’m going to keep myself from going bonkers by only doing biweekly shows which will appear every other Thursday.
Thanks and See You Later
Thanks for listening everyone. If you enjoyed this episode I’d love it if you could leave a review or simply tell someone about the show. If you do want to leave a review, you can do that in your favorite podcast app or on Podchaser, the IMDB of podcasts and I’ll toss a link to that in the show notes. Or, feel free to email me at the book owl podcast dot com slash contact. And, like I said, if you want to get even more out of each episode, be sure to subscribe to the book owl podcast newsletter on that same page.
Again, thanks for listening and I will hoot at you next time!
The Book Owl Podcast is a production of Daisy Dog Media, copyright 2021 all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod. Audio processing by Auphonic.com
Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.
Introduction, Part One
It’s a Sunday night in early October. The skies are dark, but also dry. In the past four months it’s only rained half the normal amount, and this drought has been going on for the past year.
A fireman rests, barely able to move from exhaustion. There’d been a raging fire the night before that took eighteen hours to put out. In the past week alone, twenty-four other fires have been dealt with. The fireman, his crew, and the horses who pull the steam-powered water engines are out of energy.
And then an alarm sounds. Another fire has ignited. But there’s no information coming of which direction to head. The delay would seal the fate of Chicago.
Introduction, Part Two
Well, that’s quit an ominous start to the podcast, isn’t it. And you’re probably wondering what in the world does the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 have to do with books. Especially since it happened in October. Where’s the books, where’s some sort of January event?
Don’t worry, if I weave this tale just right, it’ll all come around to books and to January. Or at least I hope so.
Before we jump into the episode, another big dose of gratitude goes to Jonny Pongratz for sharing several episodes of the podcast over on the Jaunts & Haunts blog. He’s also been plowing through my historical fantasy series Domna and posting some very favorable reviews for it on his blog. If you want to check out the blog and learn about Jonny’s fiction writing, I’ve dropped the link to his site in the show notes.
And just one quick reminder that this show is supported by you. So, please do check out the very inexpensive ways you can keep the episodes coming by heading to that Support the Owl link in the show notes.
Okay, cue the Billy Joel music, because it’s time to start a fire. No wait, Billy Joel said we didn’t start the fire. Well, that’s why this isn’t The Music Owl Podcast.
Come on, Baby, Light My Fire
So the fire that would become known as the Great Chicago Fire started on the 8th of October, 1871. It was a Sunday night about 8:00, and like I said, fires had been popping up all over the place for the past week in Chicago. But this particular fire got the upper hand.
Part of that was because the fire crews were completely done in. And this is saying a lot because at the time, with over 180 firemen, Chicago had one of the best fire departments in the US. But the firemen weren’t entirely to blame, it was mainly how the fire alarm system worked.
See, there were these fire call boxes scattered around the city. But your average Chicago Joe wasn’t allowed to access them. Instead only “upstanding” men of business or politics or society were given keys to the boxes. And the upstanding citizen in charge of the box nearest ground zero for the fire didn’t think he needed to send up the alarm.
Rather than pull the alarm, he got into a big old Karen-esque bickering session with the people telling him to sound the alarm. See, people don’t change.
Another part of the city’s fire defense system were watchtowers. I don’t know if the watchman was reading a book, dreaming about a special someone, or just taking a nap, but by the time the fires were spotted they had already gotten out of control, which was why they didn’t know what direction to tell the fires crews to head.
And, just as legend tells us, the fire did start at or near the O’Leary barn. The cow was blamed, but really sentiment toward the Irish was so disparaging in Chicago at the time that it became too easy to blame Irish immigrants for the destruction and so Kate O’Leary pretty much ended up living her life in disgrace after the fire.
And as a little side note, no one is really sure how the fire started in that barn, but in 1997, the Chicago City Council officially pardoned Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. Better late than never, I guess.
A Rough Couple Days
Anyway, Chicago isn’t known as the Windy City for nothing. And the wind was blowing that night. Combine that with a city made mostly of wood plus a year-long drought and anything a wind-whipped ember touched was bound to go up in flames.
People began trying to flee the city and many took refuge by bodies of water, but even there, the ground became too hot to bear, so rather than by the water, people headed into the water. The fire was so bad, it was described as moving in sheets of flame that reached 1000 feet wide and 100 feet tall. I mean, you couldn’t even roast marshmallows with fire that bad.
Then, as if things aren’t bad enough, the fire reaches the gasworks building. Boom! More fire and the power went out. Then at three in the morning, the damn fire is so bad it ignites the waterworks station. The waterworks building, people. That’s some serious fire. This wiped out the pumps and cut off the water supply.
Rainy Relief Arrives
Things are not looking good for Chicago. Just like in forest wildfires, attempts were made to create firebreaks, but not by cutting down trees. They did it by blowing up buildings.
Nice try, but it didn’t work. The fire just kept on coming.
Finally, in the very early hours of Tuesday, rain started pouring. It finally put out the fires but by then an area 4 miles by 1 mile had been burned. 300 people died, over 17000 buildings were destroyed, and 70 miles of streets were left in ruins.
Worse yet for book lovers the Cobb’s Library lost 5000 books in the fire, and the Chicago Library Association lost a whopping 2 to 3 million books. Tragedy. Pure tragedy. I’ll give you a moment to grieve over that.
Okay, moving on…and no, that wasn’t the only book part of the episode.
What This Has to Do with Books
So obviously we know that Chicago rebuilt, and they rebuilt the city, not on rock and roll, but by using innovative designs and building materials — namely fireproof materials. But you don’t care about that. You’re probably still wondering what in the fiery bowels of Hades this has to do with books.
Well, we need to head over to London for a minute. See, across the pond word came in about the destruction, and a man named A.H. Burgess wanted to help out because he not only was a nice guy, but he also happened to like the city of Chicago. With the support of a member of Parliament and author by the name of Thomas Hughes, Burgess began a project called the English Book Donation. Yes, this is the book part!
They ended up gathering over 8000 books from people including some pretty high-ranking folks such as Benjamin Disraeli, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Queen Victoria herself. When Burgess sent the books over he included a statement that went,
“I propose that England should present a Free Library to Chicago, to remain there as a mark of sympathy now, and a keepsake and a token of true brotherly kindness forever…”
Books with No Home
The problem with this brotherly kindness was Chicago had no actual library system.
Now I hear you saying, “But wait a minute, you just mentioned two libraries that lost millions of books.” You’re right, I did.
But those libraries were not free and open to the public. They were subscription, or members-only libraries and that really was the only type of library available in Chicago at the time.
But Burgess’s donation sparked a fire under the people of Chicago. Wait, there’s probably a better way to phrase that. It gave them the gumption to petition for a free library system that would be open to the public.
This petitioning eventually worked its way up the system to become the Illinois Library Act of 1872 that authorized tax-supported libraries throughout the state.
Unfortunately, this is government and it would take until 1873 for the first public library to actually open in Chicago.
A Library Opens!
And that library opened on the 1st of January 1873. I told you this episode had a January element to it. But the best part of this library was that it was started with about half the books donated because of the fire and was housed in an old water tank. And if you’re on the Book Owl Podcast mailing list, you’ll get a photo of that water tank library in the email that will go out with this episode. It really is a remarkable looking place.
But although clever and good looking, the tank wasn’t all that big and it wasn’t convenient for everyone in the growing city to get to. The trouble was, the city wasn’t building new libraries hadn’t over fist.
Instead, book depositories were created in existing businesses such as candy stores and drug stores, which I think is absolutely appropriate because books are definitely as addictive as candy and drugs. Anyway, how this worked was you’d put in a request to the main library and your stuff would be delivered by horse-drawn cart to the outpost nearest your home and then you’d go pick up your book. And people must have loved this system because over two-thirds of the Chicago Library’s circulation chem through these little outposts.
And just to wrap up, the city did eventually get a purpose-built library and let me just say, this was when they knew how to build a library. This thing had a domed ceiling, a grand staircase, and glass lamps designed by Tiffany’s. Swanky!
Books, Not Bells
So all this got me thinking about donations and what other libraries might have been started with donations. Of course, my own local library was started with the donations of both books and an entire house from Florence Ledding, but then I discovered the first public library in the US was started with book donations. And the story is kind of funny because that’s not what was asked for.
So this town in Pennsylvania named itself Franklin in a sort of, shall we say, butt kissing attempt to attract Ben Franklin’s attention. It did and he asked what he could do for the city. The city says, “Well we would just love a church bell to ding dong people into Sunday service.”
Ben Franklin, a possible atheist or at least agnostic, said, “Great, here’s a pile of books instead.” The town council decided not to complain and voted to lend the books to its citizens free of charge. And so, in 1790, what would become known as the Franklin Public Library opened.
And then, stupid me, I complete forgot about all the Carnegie libraries. Say what you will about him, but Andrew Carnegie loved books and he had a ton of money. The money he donated founded over 2500 libraries that were built between 1883 and 1929. And these things are everywhere. Most are in the US, but you’ll also find them in the UK, Ireland, Australia, South Korea, Malaysia, and more.
Got Extra Books??
And if your New Year’s Resolution is to clean up some of your bookshelves, there’s plenty of places you can donate them beside Goodwill. You may not have enough to found your own library, but if you want to check out a few places that would love your books and will put them to good use, you can find a link to a post on the blog about that very thing.
Okay that is it for fires, for Ben Franklin, and for book donations. And that means it’s update time
Update – It’s Release Day!!!
The big update is that this past Tuesday, 12 January, was release day for the second box set of my historical fantasy series The Osteria Chronicles. This set includes books four through six plus a ton of bonus material to really bring you into this world where the myths of Ancient Greece come to life as you’ve never seen them before.
The series has just gotten all new covers that I think really show off the stories and the tone perfectly. And as a little promo push to lure you guys into the books, I’ve priced the first box set, that’s books one through three, to 99c for the month of January. The normal price is $5.99, so this is a pretty stellar deal if you want to give the series a try.
Plus, if you purchase that box set from my Payhip Bookstore, you’ll get a 15% discount on the second boxset. So go pop over to that link in the show notes and venture into a world where myths come to life as you’ve never seen them before. No, really, go to the link now. Show’s over. What are you waiting for?
Okay my book loving friends, that really is it for this episode. If you enjoyed the show, I’d love it if you shared it with just one other person. Have a great couple weeks, and I will hoot at you next time.
The book owl podcast is a production of daisy dog media, copyright 2021, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod.
I don’t quite know how it became July already, but I do know that another turn of the calendar page means it’s time for a new batch of book bargains!
These three ebook bundles are a great way to discover new releases, new authors, and in one case, new laughs.
The first bundle does require you to share your email with the author, but you can unsubscribe at anytime. The other bundles feature books available (or soon to be available) for sale on all the usual retailers.
Okay, let’s get you stocked up on some summer reading (just click the images to start your book browsing)….
Sale #1 Don’t be afraid of the dark…humor, that is.
A small collection of tales for those of you with wicked senses of humor!
Sale #2 Invites you to try something new.
From thrillers to romance, ebooks to audiobooks, over 100 books are making their debut this month. Check out what’s new and exciting for July!
Sale #3 Wants to keep you boxed in…and that’s a good thing
Don’t stop reading after Book One of a series. Keep binging through with some terrific deals on boxsets of mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, romance, and more.
Did you discover anything new in these promos? I’m curious to know what you picked up, so don’t be shy about sharing your finds in a comment below!
About these promos (and a little request)…
These promos are organized by indie authors via Book Funnel (except the 99c sci-fi one) to help spread the word about each other’s books. It’s basically free advertising and is VERY effective.
To be a part of any of these promos I need to have a “good reputation”…in other words I need to share the links to the promos with as many people as possible.
If I don’t share, I risk being removed from the promo AND being excluded from other promos…and believe me, with my limited advertising budget, that would be BAD.
I get “points” each time you click on the links above. Those points don’t affect you in any way or cost you anything, but they do boost my reputation.
So, what I’m saying is, Please click on the links above and peruse the promos just for a few seconds. It’s a HUGE help that will allow me to keep advertising my books in a budget-friendly manner.
Fake news is nothing new, but it used to be a lot more fun. In this episode of the podcast, we launch ourselves into some out of this world reporting from 1835 when The New York Sun published six articles that captured the world’s overactive imagination.
It’s a story that combines Edgar Allan Poe, the astronomer John Herschel, tailless beavers, and even Batman, and I know you’re going to love it.
Behind the Scenes
I had never heard of the Great Moon Hoax until about a month ago when I was looking over a book about steampunk culture (for research for a possible future writing project). A little side story in the book told about a hoax article Edgar Allan Poe had written back in the 1840s.
Since I’d recently read something about a bit of journalism flimflam that took place in Oregon in the late 1800s/early 1900s this got me curious about other news hoaxes. And that brought me to find the Great Moon Hoax.
To say I enjoyed this story is a complete understatement. Talk about laughing out loud. After the serious tone of the last episode, it was just what I needed. Of all the episodes so far (and I know there’s only six), this was my absolute favorite to research, write, and record.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Happy listening!!
One more note, subscribers to The Book Owl Podcast Newsletter get a bonus treat with every episode…and this time it’s images from the Great Moon Hoax articles! You don’t want to miss these or any future goodies, so do be sure to sign up today.
Clicking the image will take you to the episode’s web page where you can listen, or you can use the links just under the image to find plenty of other listening options. If you’d like to read along, a rough transcript is a bit lower down.
Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore.
It’s episode six and this time we’re stepping away from books and wandering into the wild world of journalism and newspapers. Now, if you’ve dared to look at any social media over the past few years, you’ll have seen a certain person shouting about Fake News. Whether or not you want to believe those tirades, fake news is real. Or at least it was back in August 1835 when the country, and even the world was swept up in some truly out of this world fake news. Hold on to your spaceships because as I promised last time, this is going to be a fun episode.
But first, I just want to say if you’re enjoying this podcast you can show your support by doing nothing other than the shopping you normally do. See, the folks over at Amazon have said to The Book Owl, “If you send customers our way, we’ll give you a tiny commission.” And the Book Owl said, “Hooty-licious!”
How it works is that for any item you buy on Amazon, I’ll get a tiny percentage to help with the costs of keeping the show running. It’s costs you nothing extra and it’s super simple. All you have to do is, the next time you think you need something from Amazon, rather than going directly to Amazon, go instead to the book owl podcast dot com slash support and head to Amazon using the link on that page and then I get my commission. This only applies to my U.S. listeners, but that page has other super affordable ways to help keep the show running.
Okay, are you ready for some fake news? Then let’s get in the way back machine and head to New York, 1835.
It’s the 25th of August and as people open up their copies of the New York Sun they’re greeted with the first of six articles about a major scientific discovery. It could revolutionize their understanding of the world, it could mean we’re not alone in the universe, or it could just mean people are really, really gullible.
So these articles became known as the Great Moon Hoax and were supposed to have been written by Dr. Andrew Grant to report on a study published in the Edinburgh Journal of Science. Now, scientific journals aren’t anything you would normally pick up to read. Because laypeople couldn’t possibly understand the complexities of scientific jargon, Grant decided to write a series of articles explaining in easy to read language an amazing discovery.
Grant, who I’ll just tell you now was a complete fabrication, was a colleague of Sir John Herschel and these articles reported on Herschel’s recent work.
Now John Herschel was a real person and he really was an astronomer among many other things. In Grant’s story, Herschel had gone to South Africa in 1834 to set up a huge telescope at a new observatory. The first article was primarily about this telescope and the set up. But the next few articles were all about what Herschel observed using this telescope.
And what did Herschel observe? Wonders upon wonders! I mean the very fact that Herschel didn’t have heart failure from the excitement should have been a clue this was a hoax. I mean the moon was amazing! First there was the landscape. A white pockmarked surface? Hell no! Sure the moon had its craters, but it also featured amethyst crystal outcroppings, flowing rivers, lush tropical vegetation, and beaches.
What? Tell me more! Sorry, you need to buy the next paper to learn that these landscapes were nothing compared to Herschel’s other findings.
And people did. Basically, the New York Sun was running the click bait scam of the day. The paper’s sales prior to these articles had been slumping, but as people became eager to learn more about this unprecedented discovery, sales dare I say, skyrocketed.
But that’s not to say people didn’t get their money’s worth. Because the next article revealed…are you ready for this…
There was life on the moon. And you’re going to want to really pay attention here because this is good. So we start off a bit tame with some bison, then move up to unicorns (because why not), but there were also two-legged tail-less beavers (I’m not sure how these are beavers at this point, but…), and human like beings with bat wings. Yes, the moon, not Gotham City, was the original home of Batman.
Unfortunately the moon missed out on a huge franchise opportunity by naming them man bats. Grant reported Herschel had, and I quote, “scientifically denominated them as Vespertillo homo, or man bat and they are doubtless innocent and happy creatures.”
Okay so as I said, Grant was a pseudonym, and it’s believed thatthe actual author of the articles was a man named Richard Adams Locke, who honestly didn’t think people were gullible enough to believe this stuff. But as we know, people believe what they want to believe. And you couldn’t argue with the sales The Sun was seeing. So, Locke wisely kept mum about the hoax.
The story wasn’t just being picked up in New York. It spread throughout the U.S. And across the pond to Italy, Germany, and the UK. Even a big ol’ smarty pants like Ralph Waldo Emerson was taken in. As were some scientists from Yale who, as scientists are wont to do, were eager to see the source material for Grant’s articles.
So they traveled to New York to see first hand the study in the Edinburgh Journal of Science. Trouble was, that scientific journal had ceased publication in 1833. But as I said, Locke and the Sun wanted to keep things under wraps to keep sales coming in, so they ended up shuffling these Yale guys from the printing office to another office back to the printing office until the guys couldn’t stay any longer. They returned to Yale none the wiser.
Eventually however, people began to question the articles’ veracity. And this doubt started with the very first article that one where they were talking about Herschel’s telescope set up. This was supposedly a telescope with a diameter of 24 feet and weighed 7 tons, or 6700 kilograms. This massive thing according to the article had been transported from England to South Africa, and this was the early 1800s, they had enough trouble just transporting basic cargo let alone a giant delicate piece of scientific equipment.
The skeptics finally got their way and a month after the first article came out, The Sun revealed that all the articles were indeed just a bit of satire. In fact, Locke, remember he’s the guy who had written the articles, had a specific target he was poking fun at.
See, astronomy was capturing people’s imagination…maybe a bit too much. In 1824 a German professor of astronomy…a professor mind you, published a paper with the lengthy title of “Discovery of Many Distinct traces of lunar inhabitants, especially one of their colossal buildings.” In the paper he reports seeing roads and cities on the moon. I think the professor was dipping into the beer stein a few too many times during the day.
But it was papers like these that had people convinced life really did exist on the moon and this led up to speculations by Reverend Thomas Dick who asserted without any room for doubt that that moon had 4.2 billion inhabitants. Now keep in mind that Earth at that time had only around 1 billion people living on it. Locke couldn’t resist poking fun at such an idea. And poke he did.
So what was the end result of this? Did people cry foul at the Sun, did they demand the paper be shut down, did they cancel their subscriptions? Nope. They had a good laugh at themselves and The Sun’s sales stayed fairly steady.
And the hoax wasn’t just a one and done thing. Over the next few months you could buy yourself Moon Hoax Merchandise including wall paper and snuff boxes. From the time of the big reveal and throughout the rest of 19th century anything deceptive was called Moon Hoax-y.
But what about Herschel? Was his career ruined by this hoax? Did people claim he was less credible as a scientist? Nope again. In fact, at first he was amused by the articles and kind of enjoyed the silliness of them. But as the years went on he got a little annoyed because people kept asking him about the life he’d discovered on the moon.
The only person who seems to have been really bothered by the hoax was Edgar Allan Poe. See Locke had been his editor, and a few months prior to the hoax, Poe had written a short story about life on the moon, with some similarities to the Great Moon Hoax articles. A story Locke had edited. The story had been published in another paper but was never popular. I think Poe was mainly upset that Locke’s version of the story got more attention than his own. But a few years later, the Sun published another series of hoax articles written by Poe about a hot air ballon ride over the Atlantic. Unfortunately for Poe, these articles just didn’t grab the world like the Great Moon Hoax.
So that’s it for the moon hoax. All I can say is that the fake news of 1835 was way more entertaining than the supposed fake news of today.
For those of you who get The Book Owl Podcast newsletter I’m going to include a few wonderful images of those moon inhabitants as part of your bonus goodies. If you aren’t already part of the flock, be sure to sign up at the book owl podcast dot com slash contact.
If you’d like to keep listening I’ve got a quick personal update as well as a Book Owl update coming up, but if you’re done, I just want to thank you for putting me in your ears. And if you like what you’ve heard, it’d be wonderful if you told just one other person about the show.
Okay, update time.
As the Book Owl Podcast. We’ve made a new nest over on YouTube! That’s right. There’s not really video, it’s just a show graphic, but if you click play you’ll get the full podcast episode right through your computer speakers. If you’re a fan of YouTube, I’ll have the link to the channel in the show notes, or you can just search for the book owl podcast the next time you’re popping into YouTube Land.
As for my personal update, during the month of June I’m taking a break from my Cassie Black contemporary fantasy trilogy. Starting July , I’ll be editing and rewriting like mad, so I wanted to give my brain some time off from it. In the meantime though I’ve been drafting a stand alone novel that combines fantasy with a tiny bit of sci-fi. I’m more than half way through…which means I’ve climbed the highest hill and now should have smooth sailing from here on out. Or so I hope.
Alright everyone, that is it for The Book Owl, Thanks so much for listening and I will hoot at you next time!
The book owl podcast is a production fo daisy dog media, copyright 2020, all rights reserved. The theme music was composed by Kevin Macleod.