Joseph Mulhatton

From Kook Science

Joseph Mulhatton
Joseph Mulhattan - illo, 1901.jpg

c. 1901

Alias(es) Colonel Joseph Mulhattan, B. L.; Orange Blossom
Born 1852[i]
Ireland;[ii] or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania[H]
Died 5 December 1913 (65) [1]
Kelvin, Pinal Co., Arizona
Burial Kelvin Cemetery, Kelvin, Az.
Alma mater Honorary degree of B. L. (Boss Liar) awarded by "leading universities and newspapers of the country."

Joseph Mulhatton (sometimes spelled Joseph Mulhattan; c. 1852 - December 5, 1913) was an American travelling hardware salesman, miner, and serial hoaxer, credited as the author of a multitude of fabricated stories that were widely published in local, American national, and international newspapers as legitimate news, including: alleged plans to have George Washington's petrified remains put on public display at Washington Monument; the exploration of an enormous underground river beneath Birmingham, Alabama; the fall of the largest meteor ever known; the calculation of the precise location of the Star of Bethlehem; an invisible moon thirty-thousand miles from the Earth; a lost pyramid and the golden treasures of an extinct race in Kentucky; hemp-harvesting monkeys and a plan to import them in huge numbers; and the discoveries of the Magnetic Saguaro Cacti of Arizona and the Arbor Diaboli (Devil Tree) of Mexico. He was frequently compared to Ananias, the Biblical figure of Acts 5 who was struck dead for lying, and in later years to Raspe's Baron Munchausen character, amassing an impressive array of headline titles from "Prince of Prevaricators" to "Monarch of Mendacity."


A work in progress.

"I paved the way for all the present great enterprises of modern journalism."

Joseph Mulhatton, Letter to Arizona Republic (27 Aug. 1898)[2]


Cetewayo, King of Zululand, Born in Pennsylvania


Exhibition of George Washington's Remains

Mulhatton encourages the exhibition of George Washington's remains at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Penn.


Mulhatton's campaign to have Washington's remains put on display continues.


George Washington's Petrified Remains

George Washington's 103 Year Old Son

Mulhattan claims George Washington has a living son, aged 103, resident in Washington, Pa.

Brief bio. note.


Grand Crystal Cave of Glasgow Junction, Ky.

Mulhattan's Glasgow Junction Cave story, a precursor to his Birmhingham Subterranean River story of 1884.


New Volcano Forms in Ohio Co., Ky.


Prehistoric Masonic Cave at Leitchfield, Ky.

  • "A DISTINGUISHED resident of Louisville gets the following nice notice from the Springfield (Mass.) Republican", Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY): 4, 21 Mar. 1882,, "There is a liar named Joseph Mulhattan, who for seven years has been deceiving the newspapers and the people with stories of crimes which were never committed, and discoveries which were never made. His latest 'hoax,' as he calls it, was the description of a wonderful cave at Litchfield, Ky., a cave of marvelous size and dazzling beauty, containing hieroglyphics, pyramids and Masonic emblems of great scientific value. Then he wrote other articles telling of the vast crowds which flocked to the cave and were dumbfounded with the wonders of it. Not a few persons, it is said, traveled many miles to see the cave, wasting more time and money than they could well afford. All this is very gratifying to the liar, who appears exceedingly proud of his feats in falsehood. He has earned the high distinction of being the most stupendous liar in the South, and he is certainly as mean as any out of jail." 


Meteor Fall in Texas

(Some reports of the Texas Meteor add a note that Mulhatton claimed to have "sold the Mammoth Cave to be shipped to England.")

Bio. note

  • "JOE MULHATTAN. The Great Kentucky Liar Recounting His Literary Triumphs.", St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, MO): 7, 27 Aug. 1883,  — in which Mulhattan boasts to having established "novelistic journalism," relating his beginnings writing for the Pittsburgh Leader, to which he contributed "stories of marvelous oil wells, of romantic highway robberies, and things of that kind," and later the Big Clifty fight, the Cave at Glasgow Junction "with navigable rivers, mummies 2,000 years old, and a hundred other marvelous things," and a Leitchfield story "about the finding of Masonic emblems that had been buried for thousands of years, showing a prehistoric race of Masons." (Mulhattan would later recycle both the Glasgow Junction Cave and the Leitchfield story in the Birmingham Underground River story a year later.)


Great Subterranean River at Birmingham, Ala.

National Drummer Party Candidate


Monkey-Harvested Hemp in Madison Co., Ky.


Cunningham's Anti-Serpent Electro-Toxic Lotion

Discovery of an Invisible Moon


Finger-Cutting Duel at Taos, New Mexico


Arbor Diaboli of Mexico


Mulhattan was reported as having spent time at an insane asylum, later claimed to have been either to deal with alcoholism, or, if you believe the story, a head injury that left bone penetrating his brain.

  • "MULHATTAN RELEASED. Says He Will Be Better When Gets Something To Eat. Characteristic Interview With the Champion Ananias As He Leaves the Prison.", Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY): 5, 23 Apr. 1891 
  • "Mulhattan in a Fair Way for Recovery", Dubuque Daily Herald (Dubuque, IA): front, 10 May 1891,, "Joseph Mulhattan, of national fame as a newspaper writer, who recently had brain trouble in Chicago, is here under surgical treatment and is in a fair way of recovery. It was discovered by trephining the skull that a portion of the bone was penetrating the brain. The bone was carefully removed and the patient is now doing well." 

Accused of theft in Pittsburgh, Pa., and later acquitted.


Mulhatton's mother is reported as having been impoverished and receiving funds for her care.

Mulhatton is reported as having acquired placer claims in the area of the Rio Chama in New Mexico.


Mulhatton is reported to have tramped by rail from Arizona to Los Angeles, on the way to San Francisco.


Mulhatton encourages Kentuckians to mine in Arizona, and a visit from his sister.


Mulhatton at the Ripsey Mines in Pinal Co., Arizona


Mulhatton still mining in Arizona.


Magnetic Saguaro Cactus of Arizona


Mulhatton the Maniac?

Mulhatton was reported as having been confined at the Arizona Hospital for the Insane, apparently after suffering hallucination that he killed a man.


Mulhatton was released from the asylum.


"Joseph Mulhatton as he looked in more prosperous times, when he was one of the highest salaried drummers in the country, and as he appeared yesterday." (SF Call, 7 Oct. 1904)


Mulhatton was reported to have been arrested at San Francisco, Cal., for the theft of a coat, caught by police while giving a lecture on phrenology at a Salvation Army gathering.


Mulhatton's brother, Robert Allen, was reported to have sought him out in Arizona.


Mulhatton as a miner, working from his plot at Dagger Well, near Kelvin, Az.


Mulhatton's brother, Robert, reported as having been arrested and held for 20 days on a vagrancy charge.



Self-Nomination for Presidency



Contemporary Biographies

  • Herringshaw, Thom. W. (1888), "Joe Mulhattan", The Biographical Review of Prominent Men and Women of the Day, Chicago: Gehman, p. 332-335, 

    IN 1884, as a joke, Joseph Mulhattan was nominated for president of the United States, by the drummers' national convention, held in Louisville, Kentucky, on the ticket of the "business men's reform party."

    Mr. Mulhattan professed not to regard his nomination as a joke, but spoke of it quite seriously. In an interview at the time he said: "There are two hundred and fifty thousand drummers in the United States, and though we do not expect a large vote this time, we shall make a good showing, and organize for the next campaign. This year we had to do everything inside of a week, and we did not have time to get properly organized. The drummers are good canvassers, and they will stump the country from Maine to California; so, you will see, we shall have lots of stump speakers on the road. We may carry a state or two, and thus throw the election into the house, and in that case the present political parties will have to compromise with us. I have always been a democrat, but now I suppose I shall have to call myself the leader of the business men's reform party. In 1888 the drummers propose to down the bummers."

    Joseph Mulhattan was born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the son of a presbyterian minister. He was educated at Pittsburgh, and graduated with honor in the high school of that city. Upon leaving school he began business life with a hardware firm in Pittsburgh, and in a short time he was sent on the road as a drummer for the house. Subsequently he entered the employment of a firm of wholesale hardware merchants, Louisville, Kentucky, and began to travel in their interest. His peregrinations were extensive, over the southern and southwestern part of the United States, and had been continued six years for one concern, when he accepted an engagement from a Louisville house who had an establishment at Galveston, Texas, which was made Mr. Mulhattan's headquarters. Having traveled about a year in Texas and Mexico in this position, he returned to the service of the Louisville firm who first employed him, with whom he still remains. His experience as traveling salesman has been a great success.

    Mr. Mulhattan is a remarkably bright and clever business man, is genial and tender-hearted, sunny of disposition, truthful, excepting in joke, and apractical philanthropist. A year ago he organized the Kentucky humane society, and has worked hard since to promote the success of this benevolent enterprise.

    He is still a bachelor, having, as he says, refused all offers of marriage and never made one. In personal appearance this ex-presidential candidate is very pleasing. He is a small, and shapely man, about five feet five inches in height, and weighing one hundred and thirty-five pounds. His hair and beard are dark, and heavy dark eye-brows reach acros his nose. He speaks with astonishing rapidity, and is quick in all movements. His blue eyes give the impression of comprehensive observation. Slanderous attacks on Mulhattan would fail of their purpose; he is a good man, and is highly esteemed wherever he is known.

    The expression "the greatest liar in America," as applied to Mr. Mulhattan, must be understood with modification. It has been given him on account of the harmless weakness with which he beguiles the monotony of selling hardware all over the country east of the Rocky mountains. "Joe Mulhattan" is known everywhere in connection with the authorship of newspaper yarns as surprisingly clever and impossible as the creations of Baron Munchausen. They are as entirely harmless as brilliant in conception and treatment, such as only a pure-minded and educated gentleman of exceptional endowments can write As a rule they have been used without remuneration to the author, who has sometimes done graver work for the magazines and newspapers for pay, and with the conscientious regard for trustworthiness which characterizes ail Mr. Mulhattan's merely business operation. Apart from these his genius takes wing and indulges in flights which amaze by the sublime range of their unveracity. Hence the .epithet applied to this American Munchausen, which he never resents, because his unassailable character as a business man and good citizen gives the proper limits to its application.

    "The champion liar of America," a variation in phraseology which some affect in speaking of this ex-presidential candidate, is credited with the enormous feat of "laying out" Tom Ochiltree, who, with characteristic chivalry, acknowledged his defeat. Threats were made of sending him to congress in Tom's place on this account, and he had to leave the district in order to avoid what was, at that time, an undesirable consummation. The story which produced such momentous results is briefly outlined as follows: A huge meteor fell from the heavens, crushing houses, people, cattle and trees by its stupendous weight. So enormous was its ponderosity that its fall imbedded it two hundred feet in the earth, and left seventy feet in height still exposed to the light of day. This meteor was red hot, blasting everything about it, and from huge fissures in. its substance* proceeded sulphurous gases of baneful strength. The Fort Worth Gazette published this incredible fabrication in collusion with its author. An associated press agent read the account, in his hunger for news swallowed it, and telegraphed it to the main office in New York, from whence it was distributed the length of the United States. The morning after its universal publication, the Gazette received one hundred and fourteen telegrams of inquiry respecting the alleged phenomenon, of which several were from Europe; and letters asking for further imforrnation poured into the office for months. Even more horrifying was the alleged discovery of five skeletons found in a carriage in a lonely place on the wild prairie of Texas. This little story had the distinction of being illustrated in several weekly publications, and is most devoutly believed by a great multitude which no man can number.

    When the readers meet with a circumstantial account of hidden rivers being found here or there, of vast bodies of water deep under ground, the haunts of eyeless sharks and whales and other monsters who swim in its waters of untold depth, upon which icebergs float, he is exhorted to think of Mulhattan; and the ethnologist and geologist are warned against believing all they see in newspapers about newly discovered works by prehistoric man.

    How many persuasively written and circumstantial fabrics of lies Mr. Mulhattan has written probably only their author knows. Recent oft-repeated accounts of John Wilkes Booth having been seen in many places, which have caused great excitement, had their origin "on the road;" and that biggest of all "sells," his "great national joke," as Mulhattan calls it, was characterized with his usual felicity of expression. Everybody refnembers it, and the time of its origin, 1870. A proposal was published all over the country to remove the bodies of Washington and Lincoln to the centennial exhibition, and charge fifty cents a head to view them.

  • Spear, J. W., ed. (28 Dec. 1920), "ONE OF MOST FAMOUS REPORTERS MADE HIS HOME IN THIS CITY", Arizona Republican (Phoenix, AZ): 4.2, 

    Every reporter in the United States 25 years ago has heard of Joe Mulhatton. To most of them he was a myth, an unincarnated newspaper liar, the most famous in the United States. Telegraph and mail stores from all parts of the United States were received at the larger newspaper offices detailing the most incredible happenings. They were such vast products of the human imagination that they were readily printed. But Joe Mulhatton was a creature of flesh and blood. He was a hardware drummer of Louisville, Ky. The concoction of these marvelous tales was a sideline.

    When I was a boy I first encountered the handiwork of Mulhatton, though it was not until some years afterward that I heard of him. Like some thousands of other families in Ohio we took the Toledo Weekly Blade. One issue of it contained the story of a wonderful well in Iowa. When the water was struck, the pressure was so great that it washed all the tools out and came through the opening with a rush and a roar. It rapidly enlarged the orifice until it was as large as a barrel and then as large as a barn. It was flooding the surrounding country, and the inhabitants were taking to high ground as "we went to press." I could hardly wait until the next issue of the Blade arrived. I rode to the post office and, receiving the paper, tore off the wrapper and spread the paper out on the floor to find out what else had happened in Iowa. There was not a word about the well. It occurred to me that is was not good newspaper work to let a sensation like that rest in the air. When some years later I heard of Mulhatton I wondered if he were not the author of the well.

    I first met him in Tucson where he had come with his sister and a party of distinguished Kentuckians. The Southern Pacific was paying the expenses as a mark of gratitude for certain legislation that had been enacted in that state favorable to the "Southern Pacific of Kentucky." Some of the members of the party were interested in a Pinal property known as the Ripsey mine in the vicinity of Christmas. Joe Mulhatton then took up his residence in Pinal county and died there in a flood in the Gila about 10 years ago.

    I became intimately acquainted with him and he told me that he remembered the Iowa well among some hundreds of other stories no less marvelous. He explained to me that he indulged in such flights of the imagination for the entertainment of the public which is always partial to fiction. He had derived no revenue from his work and wanted none. He had never written anything that was calculated to harm anyone. But after his residence in Arizona he did unintentionally put a great educational institution to some unnecessary expense and inconvenience. He had sent out a story of an areolite falling in the vicinity of the Ripsey mine, killing 300 sheep and a couple of Mexican sheepherders. It was a meteor ot wonderful proportions and heated up the surrounding country over a great radius for days. Yale University sent out a scientific party to make a study of it.

    Mulhatton later came to Phoenix and made The Republican his headquarters. Purely for amusement he held himself out to be a palmist and soon established a clientele of society folk. Occasionally he would be absent for long periods at his mining property and while there he drank immoderately. His mental condition became such that he was sent to the territorial insane asylum. After a residence there of more than a year he was discharged and went to California. Some months later I heard that he was in the Napa asylum, and later, that he was dead.

    A year or two later after that, one night a military looking gentleman called at The Republican office. He said he was William Mulhatton of Louisville, Ky., and that he was seeking information concerning his brother, Joseph Mulhatton. Some one had told him that probably I could furnish it. But he had heard as much as I did. That night I wrote a story of the inquiry and a review of the career of Joe Mulhatton.

    The following morning on my return to the office I was told that a party of three strangers had called several times to see the writer of the story. They appeared to be laboring under great excitement. In a few minutes two of them came in. One of them told me that they had arrived in town the night before with a man who said his name was Joe Mulhatton. He had represented to them that he owned mining property in Pinal county and needed capital for its development. They had put up about $300 and had started with him for the mine, paying his expenses as well as their own.

    But having read that Joe Mulhatton had crowned his fame as the biggest newspaper liar in the United States with a residence in two insane asylums, they questioned whether it was advisable to proceed further in that direction. While the spokesman was relating this, the third man accompanied by Joe entered. I told them that Joe seemed to be alright now, and as for newspaper liars and other liars, there was a vast difference. I assured them of my belief that Joe would not lie about his mine or any other business matter.

    But my word was not sufficiently reassuring and the trio returned to Los Angeles. After spending a hilarious week with his brother, Joe went to Pinal county and I saw little of him before he was drowned one night while trying to cross the Gila.

Surveys of Hoaxes

Latter-Day Coverage


  1. Joe Mulhatton also appears in Pinal County voting records, giving a birth year of 1852.
  2. There is a Joseph Mulhatton of Irish nationality, alongside mother Bridget, brothers Edward and Robert, and sister Helena, on a New York Passenger list dated to 1856,, the family having come to America aboard the Constellation; he is listed as having been 5 at the time.


  1. "Most Artistic Liar in the World Drowns in River in Arizona", El Paso Herald (El Paso, TX): 1, 1913-12-09,, "Phoenix. Ariz., Dec. 9. News of the drowning of Joe Mulhatton, which occurred at Kelvin last Friday, has brought to mind the fact that for years he was regarded as the biggest and most artistic liar in the United States. He was proud of that reputation." 
  2. "PHOENICIANS AT LONG BEACH. Joe Mulhatton Transmits a Couple of Society Notes.", Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ): 4, 27 Aug. 1898,