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The Mischievous ‘Ghost Hoaxers’ of 19th-Century Australia

From the 1880s to the beginning of World War I, "ghost hoaxing" was a real problem in Australia. People would take advantage of local superstitions and a lack of police patrols to dress up a ghost and scare people. The costumes were often quite elaborate, especially with the advent of phosphorescent paint that made an apparition glow in the dark. The fad arose from the boredom of youth, but grew into a cover for serious crimes.

Australia during this period was very concerned about the threat of “larrikins,” who were rowdy youths out to cause mischief. Some of these larrikins regarded ghost costumes as suitable devices with which to commit crime and violence. A sort of urban warfare was fought, with ghost hoaxers on one side and, on the other, vigilantes and armed guards who were determined to shoot these pranksters with buckshot to end their mischief.

Under cover of a ghost disguise, even respectable middle-class citizens were caught trying to commit crimes. Read some of the wide-ranging cases of the "ghost hoaxers" at Atlas Obscura.

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