The Great Bathtub Hoax

Whether Orson Welles took his idea from this or not, H.L. Mencken’s Great Bathtub Hoax was meant to show the gullibility of the great reading public. He concocted an anniversary and castigated all and sundry for failing to observe it:

In the omniscient tone of newspaper editorials, Mencken lamented and reprimanded that such an august cultural moment as the seventy-fifth anniversary of the bathtub should arrive and “Not a plumber fired a salute or hung out a flag. Not a governor proclaimed a day of prayer. Not a newspaper called attention to the day.” This was worse than unhygienic; it was unpatriotic.

To Mencken’s amazement and delight, this history of the triumphant American tub was swallowed and spread by newspapers and radio stations across the country. The “facts” were duly incorporated into reference books; the health and hygiene industry, not to mention the plumbers, touted the happy day; the White House calendar-makers, noting Mencken’s claim that Millard Fillmore (chosen surely for his name) was the first President to install one, paid tribute to his tub.

Eight years after the original article Mencken attempted to pull the plug by publishing various confessions, but many regarded the confession as the hoax, and his bogus bathtub anniversary continued to be commemorated in many quarters.

All of which goes to show that one has to be just a bit careful about what one reads in the media.

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