The big hoax has never been easier to achieve, and these days, a little cynicism is only smart. But in a strange twist, it turns out the cynics – and everyone in their address books – might be missing some really great stuff.
Even the craziest stories can turn out, on occasion, to be worthy of a mass-forward. Here, 10 tales that can't be true – the irony is too perfect, the romance too romantic, the absurdity over the top. And yet, here we are.
Did you hear the one about Elvis meeting with Nixon in the Oval Office? One of them showed up in a velvet suit, and that's probably the least ridiculous part of the story.
Elvis' Meeting With Nixon
Elvis Presley was flying from L.A. to D.C. in 1970 when he decided he wanted to meet the U.S. president -- a very straitlaced Richard Nixon. President Nixon, not known to be a rock fan, (this was long before Obama invited Common over to his house), surprisingly agreed to the meeting.
Elvis had a thing for both guns and law-enforcement badges, and witnesses say the latter drove the desire for the sit-down [source: Carlson]. Elvis offered to help out the country (he didn't mention how) in exchange for one small thing: a badge from the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs [source: Carlson]. That's like today's Drug Enforcement Administration.
The King, wearing a purple velvet suit, joined the president in the Oval Office and proceeded to suck up. Elvis claimed the Beatles were a bad influence, and he verily agreed with the president that drugs were destroying American society. He asked again about the badge. Nixon said he could have one [source: Carlson]. Elvis hugged him good-bye.
Elvis died in 1977 with at least 14 controlled substances in his system, including morphine, Demerol, multiple barbiturates, several sedative hypnotics and Xanax [source: Lathan]. Ex-wife Priscilla Presley later claimed Elvis wanted the drug-enforcement badge so he could take his drugs across borders without being searched [source: Carlson].
The Cold War Race to Harness ESP
Everything was a race during the Cold War. From the '50s to the early '90s, communism and democracy duked it out in the Space Race, the Nuclear Arms Race, the propaganda race ... and, of course, the psychic-powers race.
Yes, psychic powers. Remote viewing (the practice of "seeing" distant locations using nothing but mind power) was a serious project carried out by serious people in the military and intelligence communities. There were programs looking into telepathy, cybernetics and other psychic phenomena, but the one that ultimately succeeded in raising some typically-cynical eyebrows was remote viewing [source: Szegedy-Maszak and Fenyvesi].
The CIA and the military conducted psychic experiments from the early '70s up until the mid-'90s, at a cost of $20 million [source: Szegedy-Maszak and Fenyvesi]. There was a big remote-viewing score in 1974 when a subject "saw" accurate details of the Soviet Semipalatinsk weapons site from a laboratory at Stanford University [source: Szegedy-Maszak and Fenyvesi]. But little came of it, and years later the CIA decided to scrap the whole project.
The U.S. government is no longer exploring the use of ESP for spying. As far as we know.
Gadhafi's Heartfelt Gift to Condi
In 2008, then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "Condi" to her friends, met with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi at his compound in Tripoli. As is customary, she received a parting gift, actually several, including a locket (with Gadhafi's face inside) and an impressive diamond ring [source: Malone].
The Colonel never hid his admiration for Rice. In a televised interview in 2007, he claimed to "love her very much". He added bizarrely that he was "very proud of the way she leans back and gives orders to the Arab leaders. I support my darling black African woman" [source: Malone].
Despite these utterances, it's easy to dismiss the diamond ring. Surely that didn't indicate a proposal of any kind?
Fast-forward a few years, and you can't help but wonder. After Gadhafi fell to the Libyan rebels, a search of his home revealed a stalker-style book filled with head shots and press photos of his darling Leezza (he called her that for some reason) in a variety of business suits [source: Malone].
Was the ring a proposal? Probably not. We think. But the gung-ho crush makes the record book of dictator eccentricities. Hitler's military-issue Aryan blow-up dolls seem practically the slightest bit less insane.
Heart Attack(s) at the Heart Attack Grill
Las Vegas resident John Alleman made the Heart Attack Grill his home away from home.
The love-it-or-hate-it restaurant, something of a Vegas landmark, pokes fun at the growing focus on healthy eating with offerings like the Quadruple Bypass Burger, a record-setting 10,000-calorie sandwich, served with Flatliner Fries (proudly fried in pure lard), and a policy of comping meals for "patients" more than 350 pounds (160 kilograms) [source: Heart Attack Grill]. Alleman was practically the place's mascot: He ate at the Heart Attack Grill every day, and often extolled its virtues to passers-by in his role as unofficial greeter [source: Jaslow]. He was "patient John" to the restaurant's regulars and staff, the latter dressed as doctors and nurses working in a cardiac unit.
In February 2013, the 180-pound (81-kilogram) Alleman had finished his meal and was standing in front of the restaurant when he had a heart attack. He died soon after. It was the third heart attack at the Heart Attack Grill (as of March 2013). The restaurant disputes the assumption that its food is to blame and continues its quest to "put the danger back into hamburgers" [source: Jaslow].
Jesus Thwarts a Robbery
Derek Lee chose the wrong group of women to rob in Lake City, Fla.
Jacquie Hagler was throwing a jewelry party at her house when Lee walked in wearing a bandanna over his face and holding a gun. When he demanded her 15 partygoers turn over their money and cell phones, and then held his gun to one of their heads, they held their ground – religiously [source: News4Jax].
Hagler turned to her faith for help. Rather than handing over the loot, she told the gunman to get out "in the name of Jesus." She said it again and again. Her friends joined in the chanting, and Lee was soon faced with a room full of women calling "Jesus! Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!" [source: News4Jax].
Lee fled the house at a sprint. Despite the bandanna, the women later picked him out of a photo lineup. He was arrested, and Hagler forgave him.
The U.S. Army Had the Best Pot
Very, very, very strong pot.
It was the synthetic, concentrated kind, and soldiers volunteered (out of patriotism, of course) to test the stuff. The studies began in the 1950s and ended in the early '70s, with disappointing results [source: Willing].
Researchers noted such effects as uncontrollable, hysterical laughter with no apparent cause; hallucinations that lasted for days; and soldiers just smirking for hours on end [source: Willing]. And while it seems such effects may indeed have hindered enemy ranks, the military was in the market for incapacitation, and researchers realized quickly that the initial "knockdown effect" of the drug wore off when the soldiers lay down and rested [source: Willing]. Again, seems like that would have slowed the enemy's progress, but ultimately the Army gave up on weaponizing weed.
And so laid-back, voraciously hungry warfare was not to be.
Liz and Dick Get a Yacht for Their Dogs
Celebrities – and the wealthy in general – have been known to do some wacky things with their riches, and actors Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, one of the most famous Hollywood couples of all time, are no exception.
It's positively tabloid-esque: They were filming a movie in England in the '60s, and Liz was determined to bring along her four beloved dogs [source: United Press International]. Small problem, though – England had very strict regulations when it came to importing pets. In order to prevent the spread of rabies, all dogs had to spend six months in quarantine upon arrival (a rule that was changed in 2012) [source: Associated Press].
Quarantine, of course, was out of the question, and apparently leaving them behind was, too. The solution? Put the dogs in a 120-foot (36.6 meter) yacht and dock it on the Thames River, just off English soil [source: United Press International]. The cost to keep their four dogs by their sides? In today's dollars, about $16,000 a week [source: Associated Press].
Despite the cost, the actors upped the bill further by spending nights in a hotel suite rather than onboard the boat. A policeman was assigned to call the yacht every few hours during in the day to check that all was well with the pampered pooches [source: Associated Press].
50 Cent's Bat Mitzvah Gig
It sounds like an insult you'd hear hurled between rival rappers: "You're so desperate you'd headline a bat mitzvah."
50 Cent, of course, isn't desperate for gigs. And if he's worried about maintaining his gansta image (the guy is famous for surviving being shot nine times, in one incident), he doesn't show it. For a presumably enormous amount of cash, the rap star performed at the 2005 bat mitzvah of one Elizabeth Brooks, a $10 million affair in Manhattan's Rainbow Room [source: History].
Oh yes, he did. The man who brought us 2011's "The Return of the Heartless Monster" played a party for a 13-year-old girl.
Of course, the man also brought us "Get Rich or Die Tryin'," so maybe it's not that crazy. Money is money, b*tches.
In any event, 50 Cent was in good company. Also in the entertainment lineup at Little Lizzie's shindig were Steven Tyler, Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, and Kenny G. Fiddy's bodyguards allegedly tried to prevent partygoers from using their gift-bag digital cameras to snap pics of their boss but to no avail. Soon everyone was checking out the shots on social media and making fun of the "gangsta" rapper [source: Sullivan].
What Dolly Parton's Chest Is Worth
You'll hear lots of rumors about celebrity insurance policies. There's a juicy one about J.Lo's butt, which by some accounts boasts $1 billion in coverage [source: Huffington Post]. This particular policy has never been verified (so spread that one as fun, not truth). A billion does seem a bit over the top.
Another celebrity body part, however – actually a pair -- is confirmed to be insured for a hefty sum. Country singer Dolly Parton's famous 40DDs carry a $600,000 policy – $300,000 each -- and Parton isn't shy about it. They're arguably worth every penny, considering they're real [source: Romero].
Other famous "parts" that have carried a whole lot of coverage include Heidi Klum's legs, Mark Maguire's ankle, Fred Astaire's legs and Bruce Springsteen's vocal chords [source: ABC News].
The Band Played as the Titanic Sank
It's been told so often, for so long, the story that the band kept playing on the deck of the Titanic has the feel of myth. Many people don't even consider it might be true.
In fact, as the ship sunk into the Atlantic in 1912, eight musicians did play music instead of hurrying into lifeboats.
Beyond that, and the fact that none of the band survived, little is known for sure – especially why they did it [source: Boltz]. The captain couldn't have made them, because they didn't work directly for the cruise line. Historians' best guess is that band leader and violinist Wallace Hartley, a religious man who adhered to a higher-than-usual moral code, thought the music might calm people in a time of crisis, and the others followed suit [source: Turner].
A musician who once worked with Hartley said the violinist believed music could create order out of chaos. Another said Hartley had thought about the possibility of being on a sinking ship and had decided he would, in that case, play one of two hymns: "Oh God Our Help in Ages Past" or "Nearer, My God, to Thee" [source: Turner].
We'll probably never know for sure what he chose. You'll read in lots of places it was "Nearer, My God, to Thee," but don't forward that. That's what the folks behind 1997's "Titanic" decided to use.
HowStuffWorks learns about some very colorful alleged members of the 1860s gangs including Hell-Cat Maggie of the Dead Rabbits.
Author's Note: 10 Real Events That Seem Like Hoaxes
It occurs to me some readers may mistake my joking tone in "Jesus Thwarts a Robbery" as joking about faith. I hope not, but anything's possible, so let me be clear: That story strikes me as funny (and wonderful) not because those women called on their faith to deal with a frightening and dangerous situation, but because a man with a gun ran as fast as he could from it. A bunch of unarmed women at a jewelry party shouting "Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!" vs. armed robber, and they won. Come on. It's awesome.
- ABC News. "How Much Are Dolly Parton's Breasts Worth?" Aug. 19, 2005. (March 11, 2013) http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=1051637&page=1
- Adams, Cecil. "The Great Australian Emu War." Connect Savannah. Aug. 3, 2010. (March 11, 2013) http://www.connectsavannah.com/savannah/the-great-australian-emu-war/Content?oid=2133393
- Adams, William Lee. "New Book Claims Hitler Gave Sex Dolls to Nazi Soldiers." Time. July 12, 2011. (March 18, 2013) http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/07/12/new-book-claims-hitler-gave-sex-dolls-to-nazi-soldiers/
- Associated Press. "Burtons Rent Boat to Keep Their 4 Pets". The Gettysburg Times. Feb. 17, 1968. (March 11, 2013) http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2202&dat=19680217&id=si0mAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Zv4FAAAAIBAJ&pg=2473,997737
- Boltz, Martha M. "Titanic Violin Owned by Band Leader Has Surfaced." The Washington Times. March 18, 2013. (March 20, 2013) http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/life-lines-where-readers-write/2013/mar/18/titanic-violin-owned-band-leader-has-surfaced/
- Carlson, Peter. "When Elvis Met Nixon." Smithsonian Magazine. December 2010. (March 12, 2013) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/When-Elvis-Met-Nixon.html?c=y&page=1
- Caryl, Christian. "Not forever Amber." U.S. News & World Report. July 24, 2000. (March 11, 2013) http://www.usnews.com/usnews/doubleissue/mysteries/amber.htm
- Coren, Stanley. "Elizabeth Taylor and Her Life with Dogs." Psychology Today. March 23, 2011. (March 11, 2013) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/canine-corner/201103/elizabeth-taylor-and-her-life-dogs
- Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Titanic: The Unsinkable Ship." (March 20, 2013) http://www.britannica.com/titanic
- Heart Attack Grill. (March 18, 2013) http://www.heartattackgrill.com/index.html
- History. "Aerosmith and 50 Cent headline a $10 million bar mitzvah." Nov. 27, 2005. (March 21, 2013) http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/aerosmith-and-50-cent-headline-a-10-million-bar-mitzvah
- The Huffington Post. "Jennifer Lopez's Butt: Star's Behind Takes A Backseat." Feb. 14, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/14/jennifer-lopez-butt_n_2689112.html
- Jaslow, Ryan. "Heart Attack Grill 'spokesperson' dies from heart attack, owner says." CBS News. Feb. 12, 2013. (March 11, 2013) http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-204_162-57568978/heart-attack-grill-spokesperson-dies-from-heart-attack-owner-says/
- Lathan, Robert S. "Celebrities and substance abuse." Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). 2009 October; 22(4): 339–341. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2760168/ (March 18, 2013)
- Malone, Andrew, Vanessa Allen and Paul Bentley. "'I love her very much': Photographs found in Gaddafi lair of Condoleezza Rice, the tyrant's 'darling black African woman.'" The Daily Mail. Aug. 26, 2011. (March 12, 2013) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2030186/Colonel-Gaddafi-kept-photos-darling-Condoleezza-Rice-lair.html
- News4Jax. "Women order armed robber 'out in Jesus' name'." Jan. 27, 2013. (March 11, 2013) http://www.news4jax.com/news/Women-order-armed-robber-out-in-Jesus-name/-/475880/18295714/-/mrs71cz/-/index.html
- Romero, Francis. "Dolly Parton's Breasts." Time. Sept. 1, 2010. (March 11, 2013) http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2015171_2015172_2015159,00.html
- Sullivan, James. "Go shorty! It's your bat mitzvah." TODAY/MSNBC. Dec. 8, 2005. (March 11, 2013) http://www.today.com/id/10295486/ns/today-entertainment/t/go-shorty-its-your-bat-mitzvah/#.UT433ldH73U
- Szegedy-Maszak, Marianne, and Charles Fenyvesi. "Enemies in the mind's eye." U.S. News & World Report. Jan. 19, 2003. (March 12, 2013) http://www.usnews.com/usnews/culture/articles/030127/27stargate.htm
- Turner, Steve. "Why did the Titanic band play on?" Fox News. April 9, 2012. (March 11, 2013) http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/04/09/why-did-titanic-band-play-on/
- United Press International. "Burton a Sighing Sight on Cleopatra's Barge." THe Milwaukee Sentinel. Feb. 20, 1968. (March 21, 2013) http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1368&dat=19680220&id=e3ZQAAAAIBAJ&sjid=-hAEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5935,3415131
- Willing, Richard. "Researchers tested pot, LSD on Army volunteers." USA Today. April 6, 2007. (March 11, 2013) http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/washington/2007-04-05-army-experiments_N.htm