There it was on the front page, in the large, trustworthy Times New Roman font: “Iraq War Ends.”

“Free special edition of The New York Times!” four hawkers, dressed in very real-looking New York Times vendor aprons, cried outside Penn Station, as they handed out a decidedly fake paper.

Some New Yorkers who stopped to read the article, with the subhead “Troops to Return Immediately,” were initially taken in by the hoax.

‘Coming Home’

“All the Republicans are out and now [the troops] are coming home,” said Steven Franco, a 32-year-old barber from Freeport, Long Island.  “I used to be a Republican and now I’m a Democrat.  I think it’s great.”

Franco – and many other readers – were quickly disappointed to learn that the paper, dated July 4, 2009, was the product of an elaborate prank.

The stunt was believed to be the work of The Yes Men, a band of self-described “impostors” whose mission is to expose “the nastiness of powerful evildoers,” according to the group’s website.

A press release claimed 1.2 million copies of the paper were printed at a half dozen presses, and distributed by thousands of volunteers. The paper was written by 30 working journalists, said one writer, who went by the pseudonym Wilfred Sassoon.

The effort included a takeoff on The Times’ website and a satirical video chronicling the making of the fake paper.

A Yes Men spokesman, though, refused to confirm or deny the group’s involvement.

A Times spokeswoman said officials at the newspaper were trying to learn more about the fake edition.

A Liberal Utopia

The hoax paper’s 14 pages portray America as a liberal utopia, where the weather forecast calls for, “Strong leftward winds” and the headlines include “National Health Insurance Act Passes.” The motto is “All the News We Hope to Print” – a takeoff on The Times’ “All the News That’s Fit to Print.”

There are fake ads, too – including a McDonald’s spot featuring Che Guevara that declares, “We’re lovin’ revolution.” And the paper has a scathing piece lampooning Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who was not immediately reachable for comment.

Some of the other bylines include dead notables of days past: Elizabeth Fry, a 19th Century English prison reformer got credit for “Prison Industry Looks Within,” while Samuel Fielden, a socialist-anarchist who was convicted in the 1886 Haymarket bombing, was the “author” of a piece headlined, “Popular Pressure Ushers Recent Progressive Tilt.”

Future Shock

At Union Square, two of the hawkers – who called themselves M.L. Mencken and News Void – handed New Yorkers the paper, asking, “Care for a special edition of The New York Times from the future for you?”

Some New Yorkers appreciated the joke – and the pointed sentiments behind it.

“It’s the news we’d like to see,” said Andree Stolte, a writer-performer from Midtown.

“I’m lovin’ it. I’m not sure if it’s poking fun at the fact that Obama is going to be a cure-all or realizing the problems for the future. Obama’s a great man, but he’s not Xanax,” said Liz Marotti, who sells her paintings in Union Square.