Victorian Humbugs

The "Victorian Era" is historically identified with the reign of Queen Victoria in the 19th century, from 1837 to 1901, and is largely associated with the global power and bravado of the expansive United Kingdom. It was, in many ways, a remarkable time of peace, prosperity, and development in the English empire, and many amazing stories have come from this point in history. Some of them might even be true.

        Why do I say that? Because this time in history was also notorious for pranks of a remarkable nature, often perpetrated by the idle, and well-off, young men of the British upper class. Just as problematic were the astounding stories and claims of the common man -- some entrepreneurs, some just plain liars -- many of which were used to help sell newspapers. And, it must be noted that the United Kingdom was not alone in it's perpetration of some remarkable jokes, hoaxes, and lies; the young country of the United States was also rife with bizarre creativity during this period.

        It's no mistake that the genre of story now known as "science fiction" originated during this fertile time, ushered into existence by Mary Shelly's tale of science gone wrong, Frankenstion, or The Modern Prometheus. A variation of this genre of story has become currently popular, featuring science fiction and fantasy stories exclusively set in Victorian times -- a genre collectively known as "Steampunk" -- and there has also been a rise in claims for similar, but real, events from the 19th century. Some are flat out-lies; some are half-truths; and some were presented as fiction and misinterpreted as fact by eager viewers... all adding to the already large pool of Victorian Humbuggery. Knowing that many of these stories -- both old and new -- will eventually be re-told as "known true," it seemed a good idea to start listing them out as I run across them to avoid having to check them later.

        And for those of you wondering by now, the word "humbug" originated in 1751, but became most famous in the mouth of Ebenezer Scrooge in the Victorian story called "A Christmas Carol." Roughly speaking, the word means trickery and fraud; and when a person is called a humbug, as was P.T. Barnum, it implies they are a trickster and charlatan... which he most certainly was.

        With all that cleared up, let's see what humbuggery past and present has raised its ludicrous head!