Poe’s Hoaxes: “The Facts In the Case of M. Valdemar” Assignment

Poe invented or re-envisioned several genres including horror, detective, and science fiction (Poe possibly supplied Jules Verne the idea for all those hot air balloon fictions!). While not discussed as much, he was also a purveyor of the hoax. Our story for this assignment, “The Facts In the Case of M. Valdemar,” is one of Poe’s famous hoaxes that grew out of the country’s interest in the interstices between life and death that were said to be traveled in séances and in mesmerism.

Let’s look at some of the ways he “facts” his fiction:

The title tells us that this is a “case,” not a story and that we will be reading “facts.” Contrast this to a story called “The Tell-Tale Heart,” for example.

The first paragraph tells us that this story had to be released because the public has been bombarded with “a garbled or exaggerated account.” So we now know why it is “necessary” that the narrator “give the facts.” He doesn’t want us disturbed by the false versions of this “extraordinary case.” He wishes to simply set the record straight.

Later, we find out that Valdemar is an editor and author who uses pen names. We get several titles of books that are a mixture of real and imagined ones. And, of course, something like the “Bibliotheca Forensica” sounds important, right? (We are entering the realm of some of Poe’s humor, as well, with some of the book titles and description of Valdemar. He has black hair and white whiskers—he’s between “light” and “dark”—“life” and “death.”)

We also get a note from Valdemar later. I’ve always found it an interesting technique when an author includes notes, letters, quotes, etc. from other works—existing or non-existing. It can help an author achieve a kind of realism or verisimilitude because it hints at an intertextual world, a world rich with perspectives; it hints at an “archive.”

Notice the details that lend the story believability: “five minutes of eight”; “his breathing was stertorous and at intervals of half a minute”; and the use of vocabulary such as “aorta” and “ichor.”

OUR ASSIGNMENT:
Introduce and/or discuss your own hoax. Make something incredible completely credible in a minimum of 500 words. You can be serious (Giant squids are the real cause of the “Bermuda Triangle”—they need boats and planes for Undersea Trench Tetris, of course) or silly (Rainbows are made of multicolored unicorns and squishy pandas). I will be posting mine soon.

You can also read more about Poe’s hoaxes here: http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/poe.html

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5 comments

  1. This past month I visited the agriculture metropolis of Kentucky; the area is named Union County, but I mainly spent my time between the towns of Sturgis and Morganfield. Driving the miles that intersect the two, it is impossible for the eye not to recognize the thousands of acres full of corn, canola, and soy. It’s true that on the way the passerby will see dozens of cows, a handful of bulls, and mills, yet the scenery is overrun with crops. They fringe the small asphalt roads that weave cars between different farmers’ land. My first thought was that it was strangely beautiful, the simplicity of the land and the traditional lives that must take place there. My second was that I could never live there permanently. The complete redundancy of everyday life and of corn would drive me crazy. At this point in my thought process one of my travel companions, a man who had grown up in a similar farm town in Georgia, commented on the appearance of the corn.
    “Corn like that won’t last long. That’s dry.”
    He was correct, as we found out from the Woodrings, the family we were staying with. The patriarch, a retired farmer and owner of thousands of acres of farm land he rented out, told us, “We are in a hundred year drought. It hasn’t rained here in some weeks. The corn is all dry, not much alive.”
    One of the women in the group asked how this would affect corn prices. He replied, “Well, since this is stock feed corn, the loss of it will drive up beef prices.”
    We soon dropped the subject and went on to discuss the real reason we had driven 6 hours and 23 minutes north, which was to piece together our common ancestry and visit local graveyards to hunt for our mysterious relatives whose lives were poorly documented.
    On the third and last night we were there the subject of the parched corn came up again. Mr. Woodring had gone to the NAPA store to buy feed for his livestock and had run into a friend and member of the Union County Council, a local government of elected councilmen. Mr. Woodring relayed the story with disbelief that night at dinner.
    Mr. Henshaw of Sturgis, Kentucky, had developed a theory on why the corn crops in his town were drying out. He claimed it was not the scorching face of the sun that bore down on the rural town from precisely 5:45 A.M. to 7:30 P.M. on summer days. Mr. Henshaw asserts—and not asserted, as he still advocates—that the corn is dying because the methane gas produced by local cattle’s waste suffocates the stomata (pores on leaves for gaseous exchange) of the plants. The production of methane has tripled in the last three years, according to the man. He might be easily dismissed as a fool except that he holds a Bachelors degree in Agronomy and Crop Science.
    His solid belief in his theory has motivated him to contact scientists at the University of Kentucky for a solution. Mr. Henshaw sent twelve faculty members—including specialists in botany, veterinary sciences, and chemistry—letters and received one response from Dr. Michael O’Neill, a professor of veterinarian studies. Along with his teacher’s assistant, Dr. O’Neill prescribed a solution for the problem and assured Mr. Henshaw of its success.
    With a full-hearted passion to save the corn crop, Mr. Henshaw petitioned the local government to pass a law that forces any owners of cattle in Union County to add high daily doses of Simethicone (brand name: Gas-X) to the animals’ feed.
    Currently only seven of the ten members of the Union County Council are interested in learning more about Mr. Henshaw’s theory and solution. They have begun clinical trials on four cows and two bulls from local farms. So far the results seem promising.

  2. The big news on this college football Saturday comes to us from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville where todays Florida-Tennessee game was suspended with 7:37 left in the 3rd quarter when human body parts began forcing their way through the turf and onto the playing field. The University of Tennessee harbors what is known as “The Body Farm” under their famed Neyland Stadium. For years the faculty at the University has denied that they would ever store body parts under Neyland Stadium, but after the developments today it is clear where the University has been storing all those body parts used to study decomposition of bodies.
    The disturbance of play started midway through the 3rd quarter when a human hand and forearm busted through the field of play on the 44-yard line on Florida’s half of the field. Tennessee was driving, down 21-14 when the hand and forearm arose from the turf and swiftly made its way to Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray. The hand and forearm quickly grabbed Bray’s ankle, causing him to trip and fall backwards. The stadium soon became aware of the situation when body parts started popping up all around the field, eyes in the end zone, a heart on the 25, and complete human leg on the 38-yard line, ironically looking like it was setting up and preparing to kick a long field goal. The referees immediately suspended play upon seeing the human appendages and organs sprawled among the grass.
    Players and coaches fled to the locker rooms, deeply disturbed at what had just partaken on the field. Florida Coach Will Muschamp released a statement shortly after the suspension of play regarding the body parts, “Well, it’s just rude quite frankly, rude on the part of the University. You know, we’re all in this together, we are all in the SEC, and you can go to South Carolina, or Georgia, or LSU and nothing like this will happen, it’s just a ridiculous situation that needs to be taken care of as soon as possible.” Men’s athletic director Dave Hart issued a sincere apology several hours after the stoppage of play, “We, at the University of Tennessee, are truly upset by what partook at today’s football game, we hope to have the situation resolved quickly and we want to apologize to all the players, coaches, and fans who were directly affected by todays situation.”
    Campus police have begun an investigation into what may have caused the body parts to re-animate and begin crawling up through the turf and onto the field. Rumors have been floating around campus that the group SAF may have been behind the horrid attack. SAF, or Students Against Football, is an extremist group of students who claim to have an eternal hatred of football and all things associated. SAF already struck once in Knoxville earlier this year when they let all of the air out of the footballs ten minutes before kickoff and the University was forced to delay the game for 30 minutes while trainers and ball boys frantically tried to pump up the pigskins. It is believed that SAF was able to re-animate the body parts by using the same exact theory that Dr. Frankenstein used in the novel Frankenstein. Where they harnessed the power of lighting is still a mystery to school and law enforcement officials.
    Officials also announced earlier in the day, at a press conference, that almost all body parts had been captured and subdued. A liver and two kidneys are still loose and officials are asking students and other Knoxville residents to keep a look out and contact the University or Knoxville police with any information regarding the lost organs.
    For now, all anyone can do is wait. The game will continue tomorrow at 1 o’clock in the afternoon, but the damage of the tragedy that took place less than 24 hours prior will still be wafting over Neyland Stadium. The game will conclude, but the atrocities of this September day will never be forgotten.

  3. I feel really goofy posting this because it is so stupid, but here is my hoax.

    Thousands of fools have spent a good chunk of their lifetime searching for the answers as to what Area 51’s purpose is. Many theories have been presented. Some suspect aliens, others suspect black magic, and the semi- smart ones suspect it is a decoy. The Area 51 in the desert actually is just a decoy not to distract people from Areas 50 and 52, as some believe. However, it is to keep people unaware of the real Area 51—the one that is hidden underneath Six Flags, of course. Which Six Flags? I cannot say because of secrecy issues. Through extreme skill in the spying profession, I have discovered many secrets which have enabled me to form not just a hypothesis or suspicion, but real, honest fact. When the U.S. top secret team of top secret people initially met, in secrecy, to decide on a location for Area 51, it was a quick consensus to build a decoy Area 51. With that out of the way, discussion began about where the real Area 51 would be built. The top secret team meets 363 days a year, one day off for Christmas and one day off for summer trip. In 1974, the team decided to go to Six Flags for their summer trip. They ate cotton candy, posed with Donald Duck, and rode every ride. It wasn’t long when, over the thrilled screams and candy land music, it him them. ‘We should build Area 51 under Six Flags’! Because of the special joy-inducing spectrides in cotton candy, people will be distracted from any happenings under the park. On top of that, the vibrations from the steel roller coasters and high speed spinning rides mask vibrations from any heavy machinery or explosive tests underground. To complete this total incognito, the shocking decibels produced by screaming children will surely make this plan fool proof. To carry out their plan, the secret team of secret people replaced all the Six Flags workers with top secret agents who will be sure to distract any suspicions from outsiders. That year, that Six Flags shut down and posted signs reading ‘Closed for Renovations: Have a Six Flags Day’! An impenetrable dome, 201 feet at its highest point to cover Acrophobia, was built over the park to block it from view from both on the ground and from the sky during construction. The U.S. top secret team of top secret people began construction immediately and the real Area 51 was built in a mere five months. The necessary materials were hidden inside roller coaster parts and giant boxes labeled ‘Cotton Candy’, the simple mention of the word enables the people’s joy spectrides, which of course, distracts them from suspicions. The next summer, as customers piled in to enjoy all the new rides, not a single person was suspicious of any secrecy and all were blissfully unaware of the activity beneath them. In conclusion, this account is one hundred percent accurate and true. Do not trust other theories under any circumstances.

  4. In the fall of 2010 I, Alex Wilson, discovered the mystery of dinosaurs. Scientists and text books of course will tell you that they are creatures who roamed the earth billions of years ago. Well I’m here to tell you that that is a lie. Dinosaurs are actually from billions of years in the future. “How can that be?” you ask, “We have fossils and everything!” That is a valid point, but I can easily explain that.
    Well the truth is that in the future, dinosaurs are kept as pets in most households, much like the domestic cat or dog. When a pet dinosaur passes on, its owners wish to provide a proper burial, much like we do for our pets today. There’s just one problem with that in the future though. In the future, there is so many buildings that there is absolutely no land large enough to bury the several beloved pets. When the dinosaur passes on, the family packs into their time machines and goes back to a time when the land is abundant and the people are scarce, so that they may have their funeral in private and not give the mystery of the future away. They, of course, chose the time billions of years before ours to do this task. The only problem with their solution is that they didn’t think about people discovering the remains of their beloved pets. Scientists believed that because the fossils were billions of years old, that they must be from the past. The fossils are billions of years old, yes, but scientist went in the wrong direction of time.
    Scientist started making up theories about the animals based on the fossils. They say that the T-rex is a fearsome animal with a blood lust and teeth that can cut through metal. People believe this theory and make the T-rex into a villain in stories like Jurassic Park and many other movies. Little do they know that the T-rex is the future’s equivalent to today’s Labrador retriever. It is one of the most popular breeds of the dinosaur world. It is purchased more than any other breed. In fact, the most vicious and dreaded breed is the Brontosaurus (you know, like Little Foot in The Land Before Time series?). It’s a mean game scientists from today are playing.
    Because of dinosaur fossils, people start making up theories like the Big Bang Theory to explain them. How else can the dinosaur really exist right? Well, that’s easy to be honest. The truth to how dinosaurs became was really the work of reptile breeder Eric Hollingsworth. Eric had often gone to reptile shows in his home town. He would trade and breed his lizards with other breeders’ reptiles. Eventually the creatures started getting more and more odd, growing in shape and size. After many years, Eric created the first dinosaur: the velociraptor. From then on, Eric worked with other breeders to continue making the most known and kept reptile of the future.
    For years, no one believed my theory. They all said I was crazy. I showed them though. I bought my T-rex from home. After all, I am the first one to come back from the future.

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