Despite Longfellow's gentle support, rejection notices continued to plague Riley. Among friends he complained that all one needed to be published was an established reputation, that the merit of the poem counted for nothing. To prove his point, Riley wrote to John Henderson, editor of the Kokomo Dispatch, and requested Henderson's aid in perpetrating a literary hoax. A heretofore unknown poem by a well known writer was to be revealed. The gambit appealed to Henderson, who wrote to Riley stating that he was with him "boots and soul." A rapid exchange of letters between the two conspirators ensued. Riley supplied the poem, "Leonainie," written in the style of Edgar Alan Poe, and Henderson fabricated the circumstances of its discovery. "Leonainie" appeared in the August 3, 1877 issue of the Dispatch. Riley and Henderson sat back and waited.
The critics were not long in responding, verifying the
authenticity of Poe's work and Riley's contention about publishing.
William F. Gill, Poe's biographer, wrote to Henderson requesting to
see the manuscript. Here was an unanticipated rub, but Samuel
Richards, an artist and friend of Riley's, took a copy of Ainsworth's
Dictionary and with watered down ink to simulate fading, copied
"Leonainie" onto the fly leaf in Poe's hand. The prank was well
established and Riley was inspired to write to Henderson "WHOOP!"
But, as is often the case when too many individuals are privy to a
secret, the deception began to unravel. On August 20, 1877 William
Croan wrote to Riley warning him of the impending exposure. Riley
was forced to admit his duplicity and endure a tidalwave of criticism
from an incensed public. The hoax had backfired and brought Riley
notoriety instead of admiration. He was fired from his position at
the Anderson Democrat. Even after his confession a handful of
critics upbraided the poet for claiming to be the author of a poem so
obviously written by E. A. Poe.