This might not seem so impressive in the day and age of computers, but at the time, a mechanical man who could beat anyone at chess was quite the novelty.
Wolfgang von Kempelen constructed just that. It baffled people from 1770 until 1854. It was a life-sized man from the waist up, dressed in robes and a turban (to emphasize the mystic quality, I suppose). It sat with a cabinet which opened to reveal all kinds of cogs and gears and complicated-looking machinery, which were designed to hide a person sitting on a sliding seat. The person could maneuver around in the cabinet to conceal himself as the presenter opened various cabinet doors to prove that nothing was inside but machinery. The person inside would then use various levers to make the Turk move, pick up chess pieces and even shake his head disapprovingly at opponents trying to cheat. The Turk defeated the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon Bonaparte. Edgar Allan Poe wrote an essay on it, guessing how the tricks were done, but was largely incorrect.
The Turk was lost in a fire on July 5, 1854. In 1857, the son of the Turk’s final owner decided that since the Turk was “deceased”, it was time for his secrets to be revealed. He wrote a series of articles for The Chess Monthly and exposed nearly everything.
For Sale, Cheap: The Brooklyn Bridge
George Parker would sell anything that wasn’t nailed down – no, wait, he sold stuff that was nailed down, too. Cemented and bolted down, in fact. He set up an office in New York to handle real estate deals – huge deals. Among his offerings were the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, Grant’s Tomb, Madison Square Garden and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He would convince buyers that they could own a piece of history and even made some very convincing documents giving them ownership. He is the reason the phrase “If you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you,” came about. Despite all of these sales – he supposedly “sold” the Brooklyn Bridge twice a week – he was only convicted of fraud three times.
The Cottingley Fairies
Tinkerbell would be pleased that these young girls believed in fairies, but perhaps would have disapproved of their methods of “proving” it. Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths were cousins. Elsie, 16, was a wonderful artist who worked in a photo lab and a greeting card factory. She borrowed her dad’s camera to take some pictures, and when they were developed, pictures of fairies happened to be in some of them. He declared them fake, but Elsie’s mother disagreed.
The pictures soon became public and were up for interpretation. One of the people fooled by the prints was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes series. But not everyone was easily convinced. In order to show that the fairy sightings were real, a clairvoyant was brought to Cottingley. The idea was that if anyone else would be able to see fairies, surely a clairvoyant could. Perhaps eager to prove just how spiritual he was, the clairvoyant said that yes, he absolutely saw the fairies, although he was not able to get any more pictures.
The whole thing remained unsolved until 1981, when the cousins were interviewed for a magazine called The Unexplained. They admitted they had made cut-out fairies and held them up with hatpins, and said they realized the joke had gone too far when Arthur Conan Doyle was duped. They were embarrassed to come forth after that and decided to keep up the ruse. However, Frances said that although the first four pictures were fakes, the fifth one (the one on the left, above) was real and that she and her cousin actually did see fairies.
The Lying Stones
A Professor at the University of Wurzburg in Germany was fooled by his colleagues in the 18th century. They carved limestone into animal shapes and carved the name of God on them in various characters and hid them on a nearby mountain where Professor Beringer liked to hunt for fossils. Beringer became convinced that the carvings were actually created by God himself. Even when people pointed out that the limestone showed chisel marks, he held to his theory and even published a book on the stones.
His colleagues eventually came clean, but he refused to believe them and called them agnostic. He was finally convinced when the two men testified in court that they had just wanted to discredit Beringer because he was so conceited. Beringer pretty much ruined himself financially trying to buy up all of the copies of his ridiculous book. The stones became known as Lügensteine, the lying stones.
In 1817, Princess Caraboo popped up in Almondsbury in Gloucestershire, England. She was speaking a strange language and was wearing clothes that weren’t common to the area, so people were quite intrigued by her. No one could understand what she was saying, but when she was offered a room at the local inn, she ate a pineapple for dinner and slept on the floor instead of in the bed.
Finally, a man who spoke Portugeuse claimed to understand her and translated for her. She was a Princess from the island of Javasu who was kidnapped by pirates. She escaped by jumping overboard and swimming to shore, which was how she had ended up in Almondsbury.
A woman in Bristol read about her in a newspaper and recognized her as a girl who had stayed at her lodging house not too long before. She entertained the woman’s daughters by speaking in her own made up language, just for fun. Another man said that he met “Princess Caraboo” a couple of days before she turned up in Almondsbury, but at that time she spoke English and drank rum and ate steak (as “Princess Caraboo”, she was strictly vegetarian).
When confronted with these stories, the Princess admitted that she was Mary Baker and came from Witheridge, Devon.