The would-be Mr. Rogers was hardly the first person to entice San Diegans with some flim-flam.

As I wrote in my story published yesterday, an 18-year-old wannabe children’s TV star convinced quite a few locals that he was on the track to fame.

Here’s a look at two hoaxes from our city’s past and an urban legend that people still fall for:

  • Three words: Lincoln love letters.

    It’s enough to make any magazine editor swoon. And that’s exactly what happened in 1928, when San Diego Union columnist Wilma Frances Minor got in touch with the prestigious Atlantic magazine about the find of a lifetime — letters between Abraham Lincoln and his first love.

    As Peter Rowe wrote in the Union-Tribune earlier this year, the magazine — and the public — played right along:

    Minor’s sensational epic, “Lincoln the Lover,” was serialized in The Atlantic; lauded by Lincoln biographers Carl Sandburg and Ida M. Tarbell; and embraced by the Rev. William E. Barton, a prominent Lincoln scholar and collector.

    There was only one problem: The documents were fakes.

    It didn’t take long for the hoax to be uncovered. Minor went on to a life of obscurity:

    In the end, Wilma Francis Minor was exposed as a dishonest self-promoter of little genuine talent. But her audacity — to believe she could fool a nation then, as now, well-stocked with Lincoln scholars — was enormous.

    Her crime, said McCue of Redlands’ Lincoln Memorial Shrine, was a “backhanded compliment to Lincoln’s popularity.

    “People tend to fabricate that which they are interested in. You don’t find too many Millard Fillmore forgeries out there.”

  • On a spring morning in 1993, huge news spread across San Diego County by radio and word of mouth.

    The Space Shuttle was going to make an emergency landing at Montgomery Field!

    Or so said Dave Rickards, a morning deejay on KGB-FM.

    The Museum of Hoaxes website, run by La Mesa author and hoax specialist Alex Boese, picks up the tale:

    Thousands of commuters immediately headed towards the supposed landing site, causing enormous traffic jams that lasted for almost an hour. Police eventually had to be called in to clear the traffic.

    People arrived at the military airport armed with cameras, camcorders, and even folding chairs, ready to witness the landing. Reportedly the crowd swelled to over 1,000 people.

    Of course, the shuttle never landed. In fact, the Montgomery Field airport would have been far too small for the shuttle to even consider landing there. Moreover, there wasn’t even a shuttle in orbit at the time.

    It also happened to be April 1.

  • Are there really “munchkin houses” on La Jolla’s Mt. Soledad?

    An urban legend suggests the answer is yes. The story goes like this, Boese writes:

    Back in the 1930s a group of little people who had made a lot of money in Hollywood appearing in movies such as “The Wizard of Oz” supposedly came down to San Diego and built a collection of miniature houses on Mt. Soledad where they could live in comfort together.

    There’s no actual neighborhood but Boese and his wife did find a house that might have fit the bill:

    Seventy-Four Seventy-Seven Hillside Drive. It had small windows and a small door. … Ignoring the ‘No Trespassing’ sign (even though part of the legend of Midgetville is that the midgets who live there fiercely defend their land from the Bigs), I peeked through the window and saw the cobblestone-like tiled floors and a little round fireplace.

    So I think I found the Munchkin House, though I’m not 100% sure. It’s certainly not anything that would catch your attention if you weren’t specifically looking for it since it’s really not that small, which made the trip a bit disappointing. But the weird thing is, I’ve already forgotten how to get back there.

If you know of any more hoaxes from San Diego’s history, drop me a line at rdotinga@aol.com.

— RANDY DOTINGA

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