Editor's note: Portions of this article have been previously published on the author's website.
It was a hoax of mountainous proportions: There was supposed to be a large volcano steaming in the north arm of the Great Salt Lake, northwest of Corinne, Box Elder County. That was the widespread word — initially.
However, the Salt Lake Tribune of March 8, 1897, reported: "That volcano story; It is proved to be complete humbug. Nothing of the sort there."
A Tribune reporter went out to the remote area west of Corinne and found it to be false. No volcano, no earthquakes and no meteors were found. No people interviewed had reliable testimony of such an occurrence either.
• This was not the last volcanic hoax in Utah. A Salt Lake Telegram newspaper headline on Nov. 2, 1902, reported, "Live volcano reported in Beaver County in southern part of Utah."
Dr. D.A. Turner of Milford, Beaver County, claimed some local earthquake disturbances were "probably due to eruption in Mt. Baldy," a 12,000-plus-foot-high elevation peak in the Tushar Mountains, east of Beaver.
Although it is true that there is evidence of ancient volcanic activity in that area, his conclusion was proven inaccurate. Still, there were claims from local residents of smoke and dust rising near the peak in the fall of 1902.
It is apparently true that earthquakes did rattle the Beaver area that autumn. Puffer Lake's level was lowered by one quake that also increased the flow of the Beaver River. Some homes had dishes fall out of cupboards and windows broken during a quake a year earlier, in 1901.
So, yes, there were likely earthquakes around Beaver in 1901-1902, but no direct volcanic activity has happened there since prehistoric times.
• Another, more elaborate volcanic hoax came along later in Washington County, likely in the 1920s or 1930s. Southern Utah historian Bart Anderson of St. George sometime talks about this prank in his historical lectures.
Although no exact date is known, it took place in an ancient volcano cinder cone, located between Snow Canyon and Veyo.
Teenagers carried old tires or brush into the top of the volcano and then lit them on fire as a group of dignitaries were traveling by on Highway 18 (or by another version of the story— as local church goers were departing their meetings one Sunday).
A few sticks of dynamite might have even been used for more special effects.
Either way, that fake eruption caused such area excitement that some geologists were called in before it was determined to be a hoax.
• Even the rural Cache County community of Clarkston was the site of an on-going prank in the 1940s. According to a story on Ancestry.com, Clarkston had its own version of Mary Shelly’s iconic monster with a “Frankenstein Masquerade” in the 1940s.
Essentially, Dennis Griffin, a young teenager at the time, ordered through the mail an elaborate rubber Frankenstein mask. He and friends would take turns in the evening darkness putting the mask on and frightening mostly persons walking alone.
The boys were wise enough to perceive that frightening groups was somewhat dangerous since too many unpredictable things could happen.
These “sightings” sparked both excitement and fear in the community.
One time Griffin was chased by a policeman and rushed home, slipped through his bedroom window and pretended to be asleep.
Griffin and friends only wore the mask and had regular clothes on otherwise.
At one point of time in the 1940s, some youths were so afraid of the monster appearing that they would not attend The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' MIA activities at night for a time.
Local leaders did receive complaints of the monster sightings, but Griffin’s recollection was that most knew it was youths looking for a quick scare.
The neighboring town of Newton also heard of the monster and some were afraid it would appear there too.
Griffin only remembers wearing the mask about four times. However, he eventually loaned it to friends and then other, older boys. One of those boys never returned the mask, and Griffin failed to ever get it back. Where it went is a mystery.
He recalls some sightings continued into the late 1940s and perhaps even early 1950s — with or without a mask. Some may have been copycats.Comment on this story
Still, Griffin recalls this pranking lightened some of the mood during World War II and even the concern about nuclear weapons afterward. For a small, dull farming town, the sightings simply sparked a little excitement, he noted.
Surprisingly, a detailed search of Cache Valley newspapers in the 1940s and 1950s revealed not a single mention of this Frankenstein. (Perhaps, no one wanted to encourage an escalation of the sightings? But the Newton Town Library has a detailed account of this prank, written by Griffin.)