November 9: The Central Park Zoo Hoax

New-York-Zoo-HoaxLast week we talked about Orson Welles’ War of The Worlds broadcast which famously fooled about a million people. Well, today we’re going to look at a pair of hoaxes from New York City, circa 1874. On November 9, 1874 the New York Herald published a front-page article claiming that animals had escaped from their cages at the Central Park Zoo and run amok in New York City.

According to the article, the rampaging animals killed 49 people and injured an additional 200. A lion made a massacre of a local church, a rhinoceros got stuck in the sewer system and at press time, the NYPD and the National Guard were fighting off the beasts. Of course many readers panicked, even though the article ended with the phrase “the entire story given above is a pure fabrication.” Later, the piece’s author claimed that the article was a satire intended to draw attention to what he viewed as the zoo’s inadequate safety precautions.

Now, our second hoax ties into our cocktail for the day. The Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874 was a popular fad that spread throughout New York. The idea was simple: A person would start a conversation by asking a second person “Have you seen Tom Collins?” The listener would respond “No,” at which point the first person would say that Tom Collins was in a local bar telling falsehoods about the listener. The idea was to make the listener agitated and then run to that bar in a huff. From there, hilarity would ensue. What can I say? I guess people were more easily amused in 1874. A few New York newspapers got wind of the Tom Collins hoax and decided to have some fun and insert brief stories about Tom Collins into the paper.

So, this brings us to today’s drink, which is no joke, in fact it’s a classic. The Tom Collins was invented by pioneering bartender, and father of American mixology, Jerry Thomas and was included in his 1876 book The Bartender’s Guide. Presumably Thomas invented it after one too many people came into his bar demanding to see Tom Collins. It’s similar to an older drink called the John Collins, but the key ingredient in this recipe (and the thing that distinctly makes it a Tom Collins) is Old Tom Gin.

Tom Collins

  • 2 ounces Old Tom Gin
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • 1 ounce simple syrup
  • soda water

Combine everything except the soda water in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a highball glass with three ice cubes, and then top with soda water. Garnish with a cherry and an orange wheel.

Tomorrow: An allegedly cursed diamond.


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