On August 25th, 1835 the New York Sun announced the discovery that the most famous astronomer of the day had developed a telescope so powerful that he could see life upon the moon.Knowing this stunning revelation would be questioned, the editor announced in his own column to his readers that the front page moonstory was based on a scientific report from Scotland. On the third day they outlined the unusual inhabitants which included winged humans, lunar bison and the biped fire-wielding beaver.
However, the highlight of this extract was the discovery of the biped beaver. This was the first sign of intelligent, though primitive, life on the moon. These extraordinary beavers, who walked on two feet and bore their young in their arms, lived in huts “constructed better and higher than those of many tribes of human savages.” Signs of smoke above the huts of the beavers indicated that these advanced animals had mastered the use of fire.
For the following week, riveting stories were unfolded that were reprinted in newspapers around the country. The gullible American populace hung on every word waiting to hear more about this obviously credible discovery. That life on the moon was possible was obvious to every immigrant and pioneer that had made his way to the new world. That the wonders of nature would unfold submissively to the inventions of science was unavoidable.
The lunar narrative concluded on Monday, August 31. In the final extract the astronomers discovered a superior order of Vespertilio-homo living in close proximity to the mysterious sapphire temple. These new creatures “were of a larger stature than the former specimens, less dark in color, and in every respect an improved variety of the race.”
While observing these creatures, who spent their time collecting fruit, flying, bathing, and conversing, the astronomers realized that there reigned a “universal state of amity among all classes of lunar creatures.” They could not remember having observed any “carnivorous or ferocious species.” (Apparently they had forgotten watching birds catching fish earlier in the narrative.)
With this thought in mind, Herschel and his companions temporarily ended their observations. However, when they returned to the telescope the next day they discovered they had accidentally left its lens in a position where it had caught the sun’s rays and burned down a wall of the observatory. A week later, after having completed the repairs, the moon was no longer visible.
Subscriptions to the Sun dramatically increased, although within a few weeks most had decided the discovery was a hoax. The paper never printed a retraction, and for a long time afterwards the term “Moon hoaxy” was synonymous with fraud. As for bipedal beaver who carry their young in their arms, I can only say this
I’ll let you know about their use of fire.