August 3, 2010
An artist’s rendering of life on the moon. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)
An artist’s rendering of life on the moon. (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)

175 Years in News History: Bat Creatures on the Moon

In August 1835, Benjamin Day’s New York Sun published the first installment of a six-part exclusive: the discovery of life on the moon. Under the headline “Great Astronomical Discoveries,” The Sun described majestic mountains, forests and oceans that covered the moon.

In part four, readers learned that the moon was inhabited by four-foot-tall batlike creatures “engaged in conversation.” A telescope of “vast dimensions” located at the Cape of Good Hope proved their existence:

“They average four feet in height, were covered, except on the face, with short and glossy copper-colored hair, and had wings composed of thin membrane. … Their wings possessed great expansion and were similar in structure to those of the bat. … The wings seemed completely under the command of volition, for those of the creatures whom we saw bathing in the water, spread them instantly to their full width, waved them as ducks do theirs to shake off the water, and then as instantly closed them again in a compact form. … Whenever we afterwards saw them, these creatures were evidently engaged in conversation.”

The series exploited the astro-mania surrounding the real-life appearance of Halley’s comet.

The story was an elaborate hoax, and some readers doubted it from the beginning. But many believed the newspaper’s tale of bat creatures on the moon. Sun sales skyrocketed to a world-record 19,000 daily.

When the hoax was exposed, The Sun took a bow for “diverting the public mind, for a while, from that bitter apple of discord, the abolition of slavery.”

An exhibit on The Sun’s moon hoax, along with other sensationalized news stories, is on display in the News Corporation News History Gallery.

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