Judging the World’s Best Fibbers

Hometown Heroes, People
on July 8, 2001

For more than 70 years, the world-famous Burlington (Wis.) Liars Club has been honoring the worlds best fibbers, thanksfor the last two decadesto John Soeth and his neighbor, Mitzi Robers.

Soeth, a retired assistant school superintendent, and Robers, a housewife, began judging the contest after Otis Hulett, a local newspaper reporter and the clubs founder, wanted to call it quits in 1979, after 50 years of playing a joke on the world.

Evidently there wasnt enough excitement in Burlington to keep Hulett busy back in 1929. A well-known prankster, he and a fellow reporter fabricated a story about a contest held by group of local police and firemen who sat around the station on New Years Day seeing who could tell the biggest whoppers.

The story, which Hulett distributed to the wire services, appeared in newspapers across the country. Readers began contacting him and asking if they could contribute a lie to a contest that didnt exist.

The widespread interest led Hulett to form an actual club and name a winner. For a dime and a lie, people could become card-carrying, lifetime honorary members of an organization with no meetings, no bylaws, and no rules.

Actually, there is one rule, Soeth says. No politician is allowed to enter the contest. Theyre professionals, and were amateurs. Inflation has increased the one-time membership fee to $1 and a lie, but nonmembers are welcome to send in a lie without the fee.

When Hulett announced his retirement plans, the Burlington Chamber of Commerce encouraged club members Soeth and Robers to take over. The Chamber of Commerce went on a worldwide search for a president, says Soeth, tongue-in-cheek, who attributes his selection to his 20 years of attempting to sell budgets to the school board.

In reality, chamber members thought that the club was so much fun that we didnt want to let it die, explains Jan Ludtke, chamber director. Anyone can join in the fun by reading 16 winning lies that are inscribed on plaques and hung on various buildings around town.

World War II was the clubs heyday when it received between 110,000 and 118,000 lies a year. Now Soeth and Robers receive 300 to 500 entries annually, many from abroad. Instead of international, we say its an intergalactic organization, Ludtke says. Heaven only knows where the entries come from.

The duo gathers a week before Christmas at the clubs world headquartersSoeths dining room table to judge submissions. They read through all the entries, noting which ones should receive a second look. Any off-color, vulgar, or mean-spirited lies are eliminated.

Of the 25 or so lies remaining, 12 to 15 make it to the final round. Soeth and Robers individually rank those submissions with the top lie getting 15 points. The two scores are added together to produce a winner. Neither one of us may have picked the winner as our top choice, but it won because it got the highest number of points, Soeth says.

This year, Gordon Zwicky of Oshkosh, Wis., was named the World Champion Liar of 2000, beating out 300 entries from 31 states and Canada.

Zwicky, who believes in obeying all road signs, says that while on a trip to Florida with his wife, they saw a sign stating, clean restrooms ahead.

Two months after leaving Wisconsin, the couple arrived in Florida after having cleaned 450 restrooms with 267 rolls of paper towels, three cases of toilet bowl cleaner, and 86 bottles of Windex. They were so tired; they left for home immediately.