Horoscopes: the Real Story

In his now-defunct newsletter for old newspaper hacks (yes yes yes: I was on his distribution, even though I've never worked for a newspaper!), retired newspaperman Charley Stough, formerly of Ohio's Dayton Daily News, said he had a "heartfelt confession": "I have fabricated horoscopes."

He said that whenever the horoscope for the day's paper didn't arrive by deadline, the paper would run an apology. "But it didn't matter how sorry we were, we got angry phone calls demanding to know what the horoscope would have said."

So rather than upset readers with the empty space, Charley says, he'd just make up a horoscope to run. "Presto. Public service committed, the horoscopes delivered, the readers happy, no one the wiser, the phones quiet," he says.

Boy, did he get letters.

A reader who writes for the San Antonio, Texas, Express News admitted, "I've faked horoscopes, too. For The Daily Texan at UT in the early '70s. When our syndicated column didn't show up, several of us wrote them. No one was the wiser."

But that wasn't all. Another wrote, "Charley, you may the only editor to have fabricated horoscopes at the Dayton Daily News, but I also did it at the newspaper that foolishly accepted me as an intern back when the earth's crust was still cooling. Snow had delayed the mail and therefore the arrival of the horoscope. When I told the desk chief, a retired New York Timesman earning extra cash, he was unimpressed. 'What are you waiting for?' he growled. 'Write one.' I did. The only concession to reality was the omission of the syndicate's copyright line. No one noticed, not the public and not upper management. I think my education truly began that day."

A desk chief at Aftonbladet in Sweden confirms the phenomenon is international: "Years ago I was proofreading everything for the edition in my home town. One morning the horoscopes were the ones from the previous day, so I called head office and we all agreed to pick the horoscopes from another Monday three weeks back, and in the opposite order."

Last, another just said, "Your piece about making up the horoscopes really disillusioned me. I thought that's how they were always written."

Posted December 7, 2011

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