April Fool's Day Hoaxes Involving Fake Warnings
Pranksters placed a yellow quarantine sign outside the Central school building in Waterloo, Iowa:
The quarantine signal was placed in the most conspicuous place on the building. The lads who are responsible for the misdemeanor probably thought it would be a great joke and possibly be the means of permitting them to a holiday...
The teachers and high school scholars entered the building at the main entrance, but did not go into the room just back of the sign until assured that there was no danger. It was only a short time until the news that the west side Central building was quarantined spread pretty well over the town and Mr. Hukill and Mrs. Couch, who use the high school room, were kept
April Fool Riot Call.
The desk sergeant at the San Francisco police station received a frantic phone call. "For God's sake rush the wagon to 1448 Bush Street." A dozen officers were sent to the address. The local paper reported, "They found 1448 Bush Street. It is a branch police station." [Modesto Evening News, Apr 1, 1920.]
Spring Recess Cancelled.
The student body of Cornell University was thrown into turmoil when the Cornell Daily Sun announced on its front page that school officials had decided to cancel spring recess.
The reason given was that "a sub-committee appointed at the last meeting of the faculty to investigate student marks at the end of the first six weeks discovered that marks were so far below the required standard that they felt some immediate drastic action was necessary." The local railroad reported receiving frantic calls from students trying to get refunds on tickets they had already purchased to travel home.
Zoo Lions Terrorize San Antonio.
The San Antonio Light reported that San Antonians were barricading themselves indoors after 13 lions escaped from the zoo and were "spreading terror" throughout the city. The paper's "intrepid photographer" supplied a picture of the beasts prowling loose outside of the downtown Municipal Auditorium.
The Light later reported that its switchboard operator "got over 200 calls on the lions in front of the auditorium picture alone asking whether the felines had been captured. One man wouldn't believe it was a joke, saying, 'You can't fool me. I saw the lions in the picture and pictures are one thing that don't lie.'"
World To End Tomorrow.
On March 31, 1940 the Franklin Institute issued a press release warning that the world would end the next day. The release was picked up by radio station KYW which announced, "Scientists predict that the world will end at 3 P.M. Eastern Standard Time tomorrow. This is no April Fool joke. Confirmation can be obtained from Wagner Schlesinger, director of the Fels Planetarium of this city."
The public reaction was immediate. Local authorities were flooded with frantic phone calls. The panic only subsided after the Franklin Institute assured people that it had made no such prediction. The prankster responsible for the press release turned out to be William Castellini, the Institute's press
Woman Murdering Her Husband.
The Los Angeles Times reported that police officers were kept busy responding to fictitious reports of "big fires" throughout the city. They also responded to a report of a "woman murdering her husband" on N. Gower St: "The woman, mystified when a squad of detectives rushed to her home demanding the body and the suspect, soon joined the officers with a hollow laugh which somehow lacked the humor which the prankster probably expected."
April Fool Fun Rationed.
The Associated Press reported that the Society for the Preservation of Practical Jokers had issued an advisory to its members warning them that "in view of the war's restrictions on what some fools consider fun" practical jokers should proceed with caution "otherwise, there might be casualties."
For instance, it would be considered sabotage to put a brick under an old hat on the sidewalk for passing pedestrians to kick, because shoes were now rationed. It would be similarly unwise to put salt in the sugar bowl, since one cup of coffee ruined is considered "grounds for justifiable homicide." The end of the article revealed, "April Fool! There's no such thing as a Society for the Preservation
Light Bulbs Rationed.
The Wisconsin State Journal reported that the Office of Price Administration (OPA) was going to freeze sales of all electric light bulbs effective April 5, and would begin rationing bulbs on April 15. Only three bulbs per room per year would be permitted under the new program. The manufacture of Christmas tree lights and other ornamental bulbs would also be banned.
The end of the article disclosed that, "anyone having believed the above story is an April fool." Nevertheless, the report caused a run on light bulbs at Wisconsin stores.
Atomic Mist Invades Eindhoven.
The Eindhoven Dagblad reported that the Dutch town of Eindhoven would be destroyed the next day by an "atomic mist" blowing into the town. Panic resulted. Town residents made frantic plans to leave, especially those living near the Philips Incandescent Lamp Company's factories and laboratories, Eindhoven's main industry. Numerous radio announcements were made to calm residents and assure them that the story was false. Municipal authorities considered legal action against the newspaper.
The Great Wasp Swarm Hoax.
Phil Shone, a New Zealand deejay for radio station 1ZB, told his listeners that a mile-wide wasp swarm was headed towards Auckland and urged them to take a variety of steps to protect themselves and their homes from the winged menace. He suggested that they wear their socks over their trousers when they left for work, and that they leave honey-smeared traps outside their doors. Hundreds of people dutifully heeded his advice, until he finally admitted that it had all been a joke.
The New Zealand Broadcasting Service was not amused by Shone's prank. Its director, Professor James Shelley, denounced the hoax on the grounds that it undermined the rules of proper broadcasting. From then on, a
Water to be shut off.
Printed leaflets were distributed throughout Stockholm informing people that the water company was soon going to cut off the water. Housewives were urged to fill the bathtub and whatever containers they had with water while "certain adjustments" were made to the water system. The water company, after receiving hundreds of calls, eventually issued an official denial, blaming the leaflets on an unknown prankster. [Appleton Post-Crescent, Apr 1, 1965.]
Radiation Rouses Prehistoric Creatures.
Frank Jones, of the Toronto Star, reported that radiation leaking into Lake Ontario was causing prehistoric creatures to crawl up out of the lake and onto the shores of Ward’s Island.
An Ipswich radio station reported there were plans for the construction of a tunnel under the North Sea, connecting Felixstowe in England with Zeebrugge, Belgium. The station claimed that 800 Felixstowe homes would have to be bulldozed to make way for a terminal and that digging would begin on April 1, 1981. Listeners jammed the switchboard. "We were amazed that so many people were taken in," the station admitted later.
The Eruption of Mt. Milton.
The Channel 7 news in Boston ended with a special bulletin announcing that a 635-foot hill in Milton, Massachusetts known as the Great Blue Hill had erupted, and that lava and ash were raining down on nearby homes. Footage was shown of lava pouring down a hillside. The announcer explained that the eruption had been triggered by a geological chain reaction set off by the recent eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington. An audio tape was played in which President Carter and the Governor of Massachusetts were heard declaring the eruption to be a “serious situation.“ At the end of the segment, the repoter held up a sign that read “April Fool.“ However, by that time
Rat Fur Coats.
The South African Johannesburg Star ran a story exposing an illicit ring of rat furriers. It said the police had raided a sewer where the ratters were breeding a special strain of imported Irish rats and selling the pelts as mink, seal skin, and other furs. Hundreds of rat fur coats had been sold. Women were warned that if their coats smelled fishy, they were probably made of rat fur. As a result of the story, furriers were besieged with calls from worried customers. After receiving complaints, the Star reminded its readers that the story had been run on April 1st.
The Michigan Shark Experiment.
The Herald-News in Roscommon, Michigan reported that 3 lakes in northern Michigan had been selected to host "an in-depth study into the breeding and habits of several species of fresh-water sharks." Two thousand sharks were to be released into the lakes including blue sharks, hammerheads, and a few great whites. The experiment was designed to determine whether the sharks could survive in the cold climate of Michigan, and apparently the federal government was spending $1.3 million to determine this. A representative from the National Biological Foundation was quoted as saying that there would probably be a noticeable decline in the populations of other fish in the lake because "the sharks will eat about 20 pounds of fish each per day, more as they get older."
County officials were said to have protested the experiment, afraid of the hazard it would pose to fishermen and swimmers, but their complaints had been ignored by the federal government. Furthermore, fishermen had been forbidden
Athens Pollution Alert.
Greece's state-controlled National Radio Network issued a warning that pollution had reached emergency levels in downtown Athens, and that the city would have to be immediately evacuated. All schools were called upon to close immediately, and the children to be sent home. Furthermore, anyone driving a car was asked to abandon it and flee to open ground.
Many people took the broadcast seriously and attempted to leave the city, since pollution was (and is) a serious problem in Athens. Within three hours the Radio Network had retracted the broadcast, revealing it to be a joke, but by then the damage had been done. One man sued the network for $820,000, claiming the prank had caused him mental
The Interfering Brassieres.
The Daily Mail published an article titled "Do not adjust your set—it could be your bra!" in which it reported that 10,000 brassieres made by a local manufacturer had developed a serious problem. The support wire in the bras had been fashioned out of specially treated copper originally been designed for use in fire alarms. When this wire came into contact with nylon and body heat, it was producing static electricity which, in turn, was being emitted by thousands of unsuspecting women, causing interference with the reception of television signals throughout the country. As the article put it, "Widespread television interference, which has brought complaints from viewers all over Britain
City of Providence Closes For Day.
Carolyn Fox, a disc jockey for WHJY in Providence, Rhode Island, announced that the 'Providence Labor Action Relations Board Committee' had decided to close the city for the day. She gave out a number for listeners to call for more information. The number was that of a rival station, WPRO-AM. Hundreds of people called WPRO, as well as City Hall and the police. Even more called into their offices to see if they had to go into work. WHJY management later admitted that it had never imagined its joke would have such a dramatic impact on the city.
LA Highways Close For Repairs.
LA disc jockey Steve Morris announced on KRTH-FM that freeways in Los Angeles and Orange counties would be closed for major repairs from April 8 to May 1 so that road crews could work nonstop. Morris discussed the news throughout his morning show, from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m., until finally he announced, "April Fool!"
The radio station, Caltrans, and the California Highway Patrol all received hundreds of calls in response to the announcement. KRTH later admitted that it was stunned by the reaction to the hoax and revealed that it had received a call from Caltrans "telling us that they didn't think it was very funny."
Electrostatic Power Surge Warning.
WAQY-FM morning disc jockey David Lee warned his listeners of an "electrostatic power surge" that would happen between 7:30 and 7:45 AM. He told them to protect themselves by unplugging appliances and taping up wall sockets with electrical tape.
The local utility company received over 50 calls from people seeking to verify the warning, provoking it to send a letter of complaint to WAQY, calling the prank "beyond the bounds of having fun on April Fool's Day." It noted that one person had disconnected life-sustaining equipment "in order to avoid the consequences your announcer warned of."
No charges were brought against the station because the FCC determined that it had broken no federal
Drivers Must Wear Helmets.
Alison St. John, a radio reporter for KPBS, the San Diego affiliate of NPR, warned that San Diego would be pelted by hail "the size of duck eggs." Terry Boyd of Metro Traffic followed up this announcement by warning that all drivers "must wear a helmet."
Operation Killer Bees.
Residents of Glendale and Peoria, Arizona woke to find yellow fliers posted around their neighborhoods warning them of "Operation Killer Bees." Apparently, there was to be widespread aerial spraying later that day to eradicate a killer bee population that had made its way into the area. Residents were warned to stay indoors from 9 am until 2:30 pm. The phone numbers of local television and radio stations were provided. On the bottom of the flier the name of an official government agency was listed: Arizona Pest Removal Information Line (For Outside Operations Listings). The first letters of this agency spelled out "April Fool." Few people got the joke. Radio and television stations received
Blue Can Warning.
Virgin Cola announced that in the interest of consumer safety it had integrated a new technology into its cans. When the cola passed its sell-by date, the liquid would react with the metal in the can, turning the can bright blue. Virgin warned that consumers should therefore avoid purchasing all blue cans. Coincidentally, Pepsi had recently unveiled its newly designed cans which were bright blue.
Internet Spring Cleaning.
An email message circulated warning that the internet would be shut down for cleaning for 24 hours from March 31st until April 2nd. This cleaning was said to be necessary to clear out the "electronic flotsam and jetsam" that had accumulated in the network. Dead e-mail and inactive ftp, www, and gopher sites would be purged. The cleaning would be done by "five very powerful Japanese-built multi-lingual Internet-crawling robots (Toshiba ML-2274) situated around the world." During this period, users were warned to disconnect all devices from the internet. The message supposedly originated from the "Interconnected Network Maintenance Staff, Main Branch, Massachusetts Institute of Technology."
PETA’s Tournament of Sleeping Fish.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) warned that it planned to sabotage the bass fishing tournament in East Texas's Lake Palestine by releasing tranquilizers into the lake before the tournament. Their announcement stated that "this year, the fish will be napping, not nibbling." State officials took the threat seriously and stationed rangers around the lake in order to stop any tranquilizer-toting PETA activists from drugging the fish, and numerous newspapers reported the threat. Eventually PETA admitted that it had been joking.
The Return of Idi Amin.
Tanzania's Sunday Observer reported there was panic in the town of Tabora when former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was seen walking down the main street of the town dressed in a kilt. Accompanying him were an entourage of armed, semi-naked warriors, 37 of his children, and a member of the Saudi royal family. The Observer noted: "Unfortunately, because of the presence of the Saudi prince, nobody was allowed to photograph this unique whistle-stop visit." At the time, Amin was actually living in exile in Saudi Arabia. He had been deposed from power in 1979 by rebels backed by Tanzanian forces.
More April Fool Categories
All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.