By: Scott RossPublished: August 25, 2022

Richard Adams Locke

On August 25, 1835 the readers of The Sun awoke to the most startling news: life had been discovered on the Moon. Earth's nearest celestial body was teeming with life, according to a shocking six-part report that was being reprinted from The Edinburgh Courant.

The series was as-told-to Dr. Andrew Grant by Sir John Herschel, who had the previous year gone to the Cape of Good Hope to observe the stars in the Southern Hemisphere. Over the course of the next few days, Herschel contended that he had observed, with the use of a new high-powered telescope, that the Moon was inhabited by all manner of beasts, including bison, goats, unicorns, and man-bats, and the landscape included vegetation, beaches and pyramids.

great moon man-bats

Tragically, the study of the Moon's fauna was brought to an untimely end by the Sun's rays coming back through the telescope and setting fire to the observatory. Not surprisingly, The Sun's circulation skyrocketed as New Yorkers were thrilled to learn that we are not alone.

But some aspects of the story were just a little too: in addition to life on the Moon, Herschel had allegedly discovered planets beyond our own solar system, as well as “solved or corrected nearly every leading problem of mathematical astronomy,” and he'd done it all with a custom-built telescope said to be six times larger than any previous model.

Well, the truth will out, as the Bard once said, and within weeks the jig was up: while Herschel was a real-life astronomer of some repute, Dr. Andrew Grant as a complete fiction, as were all of the fantastic observations of life on the Moon. The whole thing turned out to have been concocted by one Richard Adams Locke, who had at the time been a reporter at The Sun, but the paper's publisher insisted that Locke keep his mouth shut as the series had been too good for circulation. Locke would eventually pen a confession in 1840 in the pages of the weekly paper New World.


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