Primary Sources and April Fool’s Day: The Great Moon Hoax of 1835

This post is by Rebecca Newland, the 2013-2015 Library of Congress Teacher in Residence.

April’s Fool’s Day pranks are usually fairly short term: An entire class simultaneously falls asleep or a teacher assigns a forty-page essay due the next day, and everyone laughs once the trick is revealed. Hoaxes, on the other hand, have a different intent, as they are engineered to deceive over the long term, and often on a large scale. Invite your students to consider the difference as they analyze primary sources connected to the Great Moon Hoax of 1835.

In August of 1835, the New York newspaper The Sun published a six-part series about life found on the moon, written by Dr. Andrew Grant, a protégé of Sir John Herschel, a respected astronomer. The series described goat-like creatures with horns and beards frolicking about on green turf. Another installment focused on water birds and animals, including a spherical amphibious creature that rolled along the moon beach. Most thrilling of all was the description of beings that walked upright with dignity and “averaged four feet in height, were covered, except on the face, with short and glossy copper hair, and have wings composed of a thin membrane, without hair, lying snugly upon their backs, from the top of the shoulders to the calves of the legs.”  When it was discovered that Grant was a fictitious persona created by journalist Richard Adams Locke, the hoax fell apart, but for a time, readers were completely taken in by the reports.

Lunar animals and other objects Discovered by Sir John Herschel in his observatory at the Cape of Good Hope and copied from sketches in the Edinburgh Journal of Science. 1835

Pique student interest in the Moon Hoax with this drawing that was published with the series. Use the Library of Congress primary source analysis tool  in conjunction with prompting questions selected from the Analyzing Prints and Photographs Teacher’s Guide to encourage student observation, reflection, and questions.

Invite a deeper analysis by asking:

  • What similarities are there between the beings depicted and beings on Earth?
  • What scientific errors does the drawing include?

In 1918, The Sun published a series of articles on the history of the newspaper. The Moon Hoax situation was a significant part of their story. Offer students this newspaper article reporting details about the original news items, Richard Locke, and the success of the hoax.

Moon Hoax article

The Famous Moon Hoax Article that Fooled the Whole World. 1918


  • What questions did you have that were answered by the news article?
  • What questions do you still have?
  • Why might The Sun‘s readers have been fooled?
  • What scientific knowledge would a reader have needed to understand the claims made in the stories?
  • What do we know about the moon today that newspaper readers in 1825 did not? How do we know?

Encourage students to look closely at the overview to identify the claims made in the original series of articles about discoveries on the moon. Create a list of the claims. Consider teaming with the school librarian to conduct research to support or refute each claim.

The week after The Sun detailed the history of the hoax series, they discussed the effect of the revelation of the hoax.


  • What surprised you about reactions to the revelation of the hoax?
  • What do you still want to know about the Moon Hoax? How will you find answers?

Students may investigate further by finding information about this or other hoaxes in history.

We’d love to know how your students react to this hoax, and especially to the drawing of Lunar Animals – let us know in the comments!

The Great Gatsby: Establishing the Historical Context with Primary Sources

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby is one of the most often taught in American literature classes. However, the further we move away chronologically from 1922, a time of economic boom following the devastation of World War I, the less students know about this significant time between the Great War and the War to end all Wars.

Edgar Allan Poe: Using Primary Sources from the Library of Congress to Deepen Understanding of “The Raven”

Because of his tendency toward the macabre, the stories of Edgar Allan Poe are frequently associated with Halloween, but his writing has had a far deeper reach than connections to the holiday. As National Poetry Month approaches, students can explore his work and its cultural impact through primary sources from the Library of Congress.

Exploring the History of Children’s Songs

As the American Folklife Center celebrates Alan Lomax during the centennial year of his birth, the Educational Outreach team found ourselves exploring some of recordings done by him and his father John and John’s second wife Ruby. It’s interesting to note that a number of the recordings include songs performed by children.

Tragedy and Transformation: Looking at San Francisco’s Chinatown with Primary Sources

Much of the city, including its Chinese immigration enclave, Chinatown, was destroyed by tremors and fires. While this was a devastating tragedy, it was also an opportunity to rebuild and renew. Below is a series of photographs from the Library’s Prints and Photographs collections that offers a path for student engagement with San Francisco’s pre- and post-earthquake Chinatown.