By M. Keene
Whether you believe paranormal events to be true or not, there is no denying that the subject matter has led to some of the most fantastic hoaxes of modern times. Coming up with a grand scheme to deceive the masses requires quite a bit of time and effort, but for the mastermind behind a hoax, it is well worth it when they are rewarded with believers willing to give them the fame and fortune they seek. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of hoaxes have taken place over time, all in an effort to dupe others into believing something that seems to defy logic. Following is an overview of two of the most famously purported paranormal hoaxes that have occurred during the last century; however, it's important to keep in mind that controversy does remain over the validity of these events, and sometimes the line between fact and fiction can be blurred.
Amityville haunting - The quaint town of Amityville, New York is located on Long Island, and is known to be a small, close-knit community of folks who treasure the peaceful atmosphere of their town. But on the night of November 13, 1974, the events that transpired were anything but peaceful. Four children, along with their parents, were brutally murdered at the hands of their oldest brother, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. Barely a year had gone by before the large colonial-style house was on the market, the scene of the crime already a fading memory. Newlyweds George and Kathy Lutz were eager to start their lives together raising their three children, and the fact that six murders had occurred in the house did not deter them from purchasing the home. Just twenty-eight days after moving in, the Lutzes fled, claiming they were being terrorized by supernatural and demonic forces at work in the home. In September 1977, not two years after leaving the home, the Lutzes shared their experiences through Jay Anson's book, The Amityville Horror.
The "true story," though immensely popular, was immediately met with criticism from people familiar with the home and the details surrounding the DeFeo murders, the grounds upon which the subsequent paranormal aspect had been formed. Though the debate continues to this day over the accuracy of the Lutzes' claims, the most popularly held belief is that the events detailed in Anson's book are part of a hoax created by the Lutzes for monetary gain and celebrity appeal. Whether the events were fabricated or real remains a mystery in the eyes of many, but the Amityville story is undoubtedly regarded as one of the most well-known hauntings, and hoaxes, of the 20th> century.
The Fox Sisters - In 1848, sisters Kate, Leah, and Margaret Fox became instant celebrities when they began communicating with the dead. Living in a house supposedly serving as the burial site of a murder victim substantiated these claims of spiritual communication, and the series of raps and knockings that could be heard in response to the girls' questions were immediately assumed to be coming from beyond the grave. People from all over the girls' hometown of Hydesville, New York came to witness the phenomenon, and soon people from all over the state and country arrived to see for themselves. The sisters became famous, holding public séances, serving as mediums between the living and dead, and playing key roles in the growing Spiritual movement. From the beginning, however, there were doubters who believed that the communication was nothing more than a hoax, and that the rappings and knockings were somehow created by the girls themselves. Years later, Margaret made a startling confession; she claimed that the spiritual communication had been part of a scheme, and that she was responsible for the noises. Skeptics reacted knowingly, but others didn't buy it. Believers had faith in the possibility of mediums at work and were convinced that communication between this world and the next was possible. Unfortunately for the sisters, their lives ended tragically, marred by alcohol, poverty, and depression. But their legacy lives on in the resulting Spiritual movement that they played an integral role in.
Crop circles - With their intricate patterns and mysterious origins, crop circles have prevailed as one of the most intriguing occurrences over the past two decades. Usually done in the shadows of night, crop circles range in size and pattern and have occurred all over the globe. People first began taking note of these perplexing formations during the 1970s as they began popping up all over England before spreading to the U.S., Canada, and Russia. One of the most puzzling features of crop circles is the complexity of the geometric patterns which characterize them. Many of the circles are much more than their name implies, with designs that are so accurate and symmetrical that it seems virtually impossible that any human could have created them. Additionally, the large sizes of most of the crop circles also lend credit to the belief that these patterns could not possibly be manmade. Perhaps the most mysterious circumstance surrounding the circles, however, is that they are done in the cover of night and with uncanny speed. Unwitting farmers go to bed after a long day at work and wake up to find that the very same field they had been working in the previous day now has an extraordinary array of circles and other designs! Indeed, crop circles appear to be the result of paranormal forces at work; however, most cases have been proven to be the work of men. Most reports say that the circles we have been so mystified by over the years stem from the idea of two bored Englishmen itching to pull a prank. With a little rope, wire, wooden planks, and a whole lot of ingenuity, these two men were able to flatten portions of wheat fields into creative patterns across Britain, reveling in the surprise of their fellow citizens in the morning. Word spread, and soon people around the world were reporting their own crop circles and offering explanations ranging from UFOs, wind vortexes, ball lightening, or yes, even a grand hoax. In spite of the compelling evidence that the phenomenon is nothing more than a prank, crop circles continue to spring up today in all corners of the globe, continuing the debate between paranormal believers and those who view the events as nothing more than manmade.
Paranormal activity has always been a controversial issue, with sound arguments from believers and non-believers both. Unfortunately for those who strongly believe in supernatural events, there is a continuing backlash that various hoaxes, or supposed hoaxes, have caused over the years. A great example of this is shown by the story of the Fox sisters. When the girls' claims of spiritual communication were disputed, the unquestioning belief that many had in supernatural events was challenged, creating a backlash that paranormal believers struggle with to this day.
You can learn more about paranormal events, supernatural hoaxes, and specifically, the Fox sisters and their claims of ghostly communication in "In Search of White Crows," just one of the chapters from the fascinating documentary "Visions," True Stories of the Supernatural produced by Ad-Hoc productions.
Michael Keene is the producer of many independent historical films and, most recently, the award winning DVD "VISIONS: True Stories of the Supernatural."