- Grant Recipient
Legends & Lore®
- 664 N Ault St, Moberly, MO 65270, USA
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City of Moberly
Is there a lost city beneath Moberly, Missouri? Whether a stunning discovering or a fabricated concoction, plenty of Americans really did see such news in the papers of the day.
In April 1885, newspapers across the United States, including the New York Times, announced the discovery of a lost city found beneath a coal mine in Moberly. The subterranean city, 360 feet beneath the earth’s surface, showed signs of prehistoric human habitation and advanced civilization, ones that would put Pompeii to shame. Coal mine owner Tim Collins had bored far into the earth, searching for the riches that a vein of precious coal would provide.
His miners, digging ever deeper, bumped into a buried and forgotten city. Collins invited an incredulous party of neighbors to join him and descend into the lost city. What they witnessed was astounding.
…walls had evidently been constructed by the labor of human hands, and were not a product of any violent volcanic action. Symmetry was observed, and skill could be everywhere seen. The party became enthusiastic, and though it seemed as if we had descended to the very charnel house of long buried ages, the most curious could not be restrained from following the bent of their inclinations and exploring this vast cavern of indescribable and awe inspiring wonders.
The lost civilization they chanced upon was that of an industrious people with tools, workshops, tables, benches, granite hammers, and metallic saws. It was an artistic and religious people with statues, totems, and idols. And it was a warrior people, with bronze knives, battle axes, tomahawks, and scimitars. Perhaps most startling of all, they stumbled upon a preserved human skeleton, triple the size of the average man. After spending many hours exploring the wonders beneath, the party ascended and commissioned geologists to examine the subterranean city.
Though assuring the reader the account was true, the Evening Chronicle reporter admitted “it all reads and sounds like a story pertaining to mythology.” And indeed it was—or legend, to be precise. Moberly’s lost city was, in fact, a late April Fool’s Day prank.
The hoax hit hard and wide. The joke was not only on the readers who relished the account, but on the St. Louis Evening News who published the story believing it to be true, on surrounding newspapers who sent correspondents on a fool’s errand searching for further detail, and on mine owner Tim Collins himself, who had to deal with the consequences of worldwide attention.
First printed in St. Louis’s Evening Chronicle and then reprinted in newspapers across the country and the world in the following weeks, the duped papers were forced to pen embarrassing retractions. After further inquiries, the Daily Pharos of Logansport, Indiana determined “The story is an April hoax. Not a word of truth in it.” The Rockingham Register bemoaned the “miserable fabrication,” though it commended “how thoroughly the art of lying has been mastered in these latter times.” The Daily Evening Bulletin spoke to Tim Collins himself, who proclaimed the story a lie meant to harm him. The St. Louis Evening Chronicle, who had first published the story, also issued an apology, blaming the hoax on the editorial staff of the Moberly Daily Monitor, particularly one Johnnie Estes, its young city editor who had foisted the fiction on the gullible Evening Chronicle. The embarrassed newspaper assured its readers that the rapscallion editor had been dealt with appropriately, specifically, by horsewhipping.
As for Tim Collins, tourists flooded in by rail to see Moberly’s Pompeii, pestering the mine owner to the point of posting a sign:
No burryied sity lunaticks aloud on these premises.
In this particular case, newspapers were not only purveyors of legend, but instigators as well. The lost city legend thrived off the excitement generated by a roguish journalist and a broad readership that wanted to believe there were extraordinary undiscovered mysteries below.