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Mary Toft's Bunny Births

A popular 18th-century broadsheet illustrated what went down during the Mary Toft hoax.

Wikimedia Commons

One of the most amazing (and gross) hoaxes of all time took place in England in 1726. That's when Mary Toft, a servant from Godalming, in Surrey, went into labor and delivered some animal parts. Local obstetrician John Howard was called in, and, over the next month, he helped deliver a rabbit's head, the legs of a cat and nine dead baby rabbits, the latter all in one day. Soon everyone from a Swiss surgeon-anatomist to the Prince of Wales' secretary visited Toft, who had become local celebrity, to witness the unbelievable births. And unbelievable they deemed them to be [source: University of Glasgow].

After examining one of the rabbits, a German surgeon found corn, hay and straw in its dung, proving it couldn't have developed inside Toft. Others reached the same conclusion after studying the bunnies' lungs and other organs. A porter was then caught trying to smuggle a rabbit into Toft 's room. Eventually Toft confessed she'd been inserting the rabbits and other animal parts into her vagina, then letting the various physicians "deliver" them [source: University of Glasgow].

Why in the world would she do this? Toft was poor, and in 18th-century Europe, people eagerly paid money to see human oddities and deformities. Her stunt was an effort to earn money and live a life of relative ease [source: Curry, Morris, Samuels and Shrout, University of Glasgow].

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