Review of The Nantucket Sea Monster, by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Peter Willis

The Nantucket Sea Monster

A Fake News Story

by Darcy Pattison
illustrated by Peter Willis

Mims House, Little Rock, AR, 2017. 32 pages.

What a timely idea! This book tells the story of an actual hoax carried out in 1937 that was reported as news.

For the 1937 Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, Tony Sarg, who created the puppets for the parade, created a giant sea monster puppet. Later, when a group was discussing publicity, they decided to stage a sea monster sighting. They submerged the puppet offshore from Nantucket.

Lots of people were in on the publicity stunt, including the newspapers. Plenty of people were fooled. The eyewitnesses declared, “It wasn’t a whale.” Later, giant footprints were found on the shore.

Finally, the news broke that Tony Sarg had caught the sea monster. He brought it up on shore, and they saw it was a giant balloon. All was revealed. Both Nantucket and the Macy’s parade got lots of publicity.

I like the way the book ends with a spread titled “A Free Press and the Fake News.”

However, when the press is free to print what it likes, sometimes it will print things that are false. Some laws make sure the press doesn’t write slander. Slander means you write a lie about someone. Otherwise, newspapers can print what they like….

From the beginning of the United States, free press has printed both truth and lies. When things are working right, there’s more truth than lies. Sometimes, though, like in the story of the Nantucket sea monster, editors will deliberately print something false. At the time, the editor said the articles were fine because 1) no one was hurt, and 2) Macy’s company didn’t commercialize the event. However, they freely admit that the publicity for Nantucket Island was worth thousands of dollars.

Was the publicity right or wrong?

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