Weird Wednesdays: The marvelous Man-Bats of the Moon

A picture of the moon hoax scene, featuring some of the animals and creatures that "roam" the moon. (Artist Don Davis, 1981)

A picture of the moon hoax scene, featuring some of the animals and creatures that "roam" the moon. (Artist Don Davis, 1981)

With the so-called “Triple Moon” creeping its way across the sky Wednesday night, people are educating themselves on lunar science. Now, everyone knows that the moon is a harsh, cold, barren, lifeless place, marked with more craters than a 16-year-old frycook’s face.

This, of course, is all a lie. The moon is, in actuality, inhabited by bipedal beavers, man-bats and “lunar trees.” Why wouldn’t you think so? It was published in a newspaper, after all.

In 1835, a penny-serial publication, “The New York Sun,” (which was effectively a tabloid) was having a slow week. However, on Aug. 25, a sensational scoop was printed: the renowned scientist Sir John Herschel had, with a revolutionary new type of telescope, beheld the mysterious Moon People, a civilization of winged creatures and upright rodents who lived peacefully in lush lunar jungles.

The moon teemed with life, according to the story, with animals of all sorts living on its surface, including birds and herd animals.

“Of animals we saw only an elegant striped quadruped about three feet high, like a miniature zebra; which was always in small herds on the green sward of the hills; and two or three kinds of long-tailed birds, which we judged to be golden and blue pheasants.” Herschel wrote.

Among the creatures described, one stood out most to the scientist: a set of human-like creatures with broad wings stretching from under their arms to their legs. The creatures would fly, eat fruit and communicate to each other, much like “civilized” humans on Earth.

“We scientifically denominated them as Vespertilio-homo, or man-bat; and they are doubtless innocent and happy creatures,” Herschel wrote. “Notwithstanding that some of their amusements would but ill comport with our terrestrial notions of decorum.” (Translation: they were naked. 1835 society wouldn’t really be cool with that.)

The scientist’s discovery took to the presses like fire. The story, along with a fanciful set of illustrations, was reprinted by nearly every publication at the time, including some European newspapers. People eagerly awaited each new installment.

It was all a hoax, by the way.

Herschel, though he was an astronomer – one who has an asteroid named after him, no less – never saw the “lunar civilization” as “The Sun” so eagerly reported. This is mostly because, like I said above, the moon is a vast, cold, barren place, much like my fridge after I’ve blown through my food budget. Also, Herschel didn’t actually write it; it was a random reporter with a penchant for sci-fi.

“The Sun” wasn’t really known for its accurate journalism, in any case. Though the story was busted as a hoax in September, the paper would go on to publish a clip about a group of men traversing the Atlantic in a hot-air balloon (written by the Master of Goth himself, Edgar Allan Poe.).

If you have a chance, give both stories a read. They’re entertaining at the very least, and if you play it right, you can post it on Facebook and see how many gullible relatives of yours believe it.

Then again, if you see anything flapping around on the moon’s surface Wednesday night, call the Daily Campus. We’ll fact-check it this time around. Stay weird!


Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.