April Fool's Day Hoaxes by Freelance Pranksters
(Pranksters not affiliated with the media, a corporation, etc.)
An almanac released by Isaac Bickerstaff in February 1708 predicted that a rival astrologer, John Partridge, would die on March 29 of that year. On March 31st Bickerstaff released a follow-up pamphlet announcing that his prediction had come true. Partridge was dead. Partridge (who was still very much alive) was woken on April 1st by a sexton outside his window announcing the news of his death. Isaac Bickerstaff was actually a pseudonym for Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels. Swift’s intention was to embarrass and discredit Partridge, apparently because he was annoyed by the astrologer’s attacks upon the church.
Signor Gaudentia de Lucca.
"On Tuesday the First of April, a few hand-bills were struck up in Kendal, purporting that a person, who styled himself Signor Gaudentia de Lucca, or The Little Devil, would perform the most surprising and extraordinary feats on the tight rope, that had ever been exhibited to the public, at the Old Castle Yard, on the Tuesday evening following. The bill contained a great deal of unintelligible jargon, which no person was able to make out, but which was supposed to be Welsh, from the great number of consonants in it.
Notwithstanding the unintelligibleness of the bill, a concourse of people assembled, at the time appointed, to the number of five hundred, and upwards: the owner of the castle
The Train to Drogheda.
During the final week of March, 1844, placards appeared around Dublin advertising a free train ride on April 1st to all who desired it, transporting passengers to the town of Drogheda and back. Early on the first of April a large crowd gathered at the station. As a train approached, the crowd surged forward, eager to secure their free seats. But the conductors and overseers intervened to keep the people away from the train, informing them that there was no free ride. The crowd grew displeased, and a riot broke out. "The labourers on the road supported the overseers—the victims fought for their places, and the melee was tremendous." The following day a number of people went to the
The Brick in the Hat Trick.
"Did anybody ever see one pass by an old hat on the sidewalk, without giving it a kick? We do not believe such a thing ever happened." [Albany Register, Jun 10, 1854]
Washing the Lions.
"Please to Admit the Bearer and friend, to view the ANNUAL CEREMONY OF WASHING THE LIONS on Wednesday, April 1st, 1857."
Pranksters handed out these cards on the streets of London to unsuspecting out-of-towners. The joke was that there was no lion-washing ceremony at the Tower of London. By 1857, there weren't even lions at the Tower. Versions of this prank had been regularly perpetrated since the 17th century, making it the oldest April Fool's Day joke on record.
The Procession of the Animals.
Several hundred people showed up at the gates of the London Zoological Society demanding entrance in order to see the "procession of the animals." However, the Society was closed that day, it being Easter Sunday, and the guard refused to admit them. The members of the crowd insistently showed the guard their tickets and again demanded entrance. The tickets, which had cost them one penny each (considerably cheaper than the usual sixpence admission), read:
Subscribers Tickets—Admit bearer to the Zoological gardens on Easter Sunday. The procession of the animals will take place at 3 o'clock, and this ticket will not be available after that hour.—J.C. Wildboar, Secretary.
Phony Church Meeting.
"A shameful April fool hoax was perpetrated by a lady in Philadelphia, who sent to the pulpit in a Methodist church, a notice of a meeting to be held in aid of another church. Names of prominent clergymen were mentioned as to take part in the exercises. The preacher read the manuscript to his large congregation without hesitation, until he came to a passage announcing that a certain layman would sing a comic song, when he became confused, suddenly remembered the day and abruptly sat down." [The Elyria Democrat — Apr 25, 1866]
April Fool Cigars.
"All Fools' Day was not unremembered yesterday, although the practical jokes incidental to it are not as much relished or looked forward to in America as in England and France.
Street hawkers did a lively trade downtown in so-called April Fool cigars, which were offered at 5 cents each and were said to be explosive. Some of the Custom House clerks laid in a stock of them, which they presented to brokers. To the amazement and disgust of the buyers, who expected the cigars to go off like firecrackers when they were well started, they smoked quite as comfortably to the end as was to be expected of cigars at that price, fooling the foolers completely.
Chocolate stuffed with cotton was
Sweating Silver Vault.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the New York Sub-Treasury vault, located on Pine Street, lured there by a rumor that the vault was "sweating" because of the warm weather, causing the silver contained inside it to exude through the marble walls. Specks of mica were pointed out in the walls to prove the theory. [New York Times, Apr 2, 1896.]
Dentist summoned to cemetery.
"There was the usual number of April fool jokes sprung yesterday, and the young dentist who went over on West Main street as far as the cemetery to do some work, in response to a bogus call, returned fully convinced that the fool business was being overdone." [The North Adams Daily Transcript, Apr 2, 1896.]
Mouse in Egg Prank Goes Bad.
Edith Walrach, a nineteen-year-old woman of a "very nervous temperament" was in serious condition as a result of an April Fool's Day joke that went bad. While visiting friends in Binghampton, New York, a practical joker "procured a small live mouse, which he put in an egg-shell, covering the opening with plaster of Paris. This was brought in with the breakfast and when Miss Walrach broke the shell and the liberated mouse jumped out she screamed and fainted away. During the day she had three nervous fits, and her physician pronounced her condition critical." The young man was wild with grief. He was her fiancee. [Fort Wayne Evening Sentinel, Apr 3, 1900]
San Francisco Jokers.
• Was told his house was burning, but found out it was April Fool's Day
• Trying to take "Bad Money" off the side walk
• Had April Fool umbrellas to give away
Do Not Kick!.
A prankster placed a hat on Philadelphia's Girard Avenue. On the front of the hat he pinned a note that read, "Do not kick. Brick inside." Raymond Perrott, a University of Pennsylvania student, saw the hat while walking along with a friend. Reportedly, he said to his companion, "Huh, that's a joke within a joke; watch me wallop that hat." He gave the hat a strong kick, then fell to the ground, crying out in pain. The hat flew away, revealing a brick. Perrott was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital with a broken right toe. [Trenton Evening Times, Apr 2, 1915.]
Tony Maloney, aka Babe Webster.
A San Francisco woman was charged with "masquerading in male attire" and giving a false name because she had walked around the city dressed in a man's suit of tweeds, introducing herself as "Tony Maloney." She told the judge that her real name was Mrs. Babe Webster, and that she had dressed up as a man as an April fool joke. The judge released her on the condition that she return to the courthouse the next day dressed in feminine attire. [Oakland Tribune, Apr 2, 1915.]
The mayor of Santa Fe, New Mexico announced that the perfectly preserved bones of a prehistoric boy and girl had been found in the badlands near San Rafael. The bones were located in a white stone house that was partially buried in lava. The prehistoric couple had apparently been overwhelmed by a volcanic eruption. Their skeletons were covered with a thick yellow plaster. Even the reddish-brown hair of the girl had been preserved. The girl had been wearing two turquoise earrings, that now rested beside her head. The find generated great interest among scientists. However, a few days later the mayor was forced to admit that there were no skeletons. He had been the victim of an April Fool's
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.]
San Jose hat dealer Jay McCabe posted a sign in his window announcing that a truckload of booze had fallen into the Coyote creek at the Julian Street bridge, and that the driver had fled. Scores of people drove to the location, found no truck, and then remembered what day it was.
(This was during the Prohibition Era, so a truckload of booze would have been a particularly tempting attraction.)
Dr. Stransky’s Dinner Party.
Over thirty members of Washington's social elite received invitations to attend a dinner at a Washington social club, to be hosted by Dr. Pavel Stransky, secretary of the Czechoslovak legation. Invitations were extended by telephone by a woman speaking with a French accent. But those who showed up discovered there was no host. Nor had any reservations been made. Dr. Stransky later protested, "I sent no invitations. I am astonished... Today is the 1st of April and I think it is all a joke. But why should they pick on me?"
Pranksters attempted to deceive some of the larger brokerage offices on Wall Street. Several of the larger houses received telephone messages instructing them to sell large quantities of stock "at the market." Doing so could have caused a collapse in stock prices. However, the brokers, who were familiar with the actual voices of their customers, realized they were being deceived and did not carry out any of the sell orders. [The New York Times, Apr 2, 1925.]
Thai Menam Bey.
Over a thousand cards were sent to notables throughout Rome, including dowagers, diplomats, and society folks, inviting them to the Excelsior hotel (shown) to listen to the Turkish savant "Thai Menam Bey" who would explain how he had arrived at the impressive age of 205.
Traffic became so heavy around the hotel that extra policemen were needed to keep order.
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."
The Usual Gags.
The Los Angeles Times reported that "old April Fool gags" characterized the celebration of April 1st:
"The old gags of soapy sandwiches, wax apples for the teacher, and the stand-bys of 'Your shoestring's untied,' and 'There's a bug on your neck' were pulled again and again and for some reason unknown to anybody they drew a laugh of some degree each time."
Rue Maurice Thorez.
The Vichy government in France arrested 13 people on the charge of participating in a "Communist April Fool day plot" to rename streets in Marseille after the exiled Communist leader Maurice Thorez. The police made the arrests after finding a large quantity of signs reading "Maurice Thorez Street" (or "Rue Maurice Thorez") designed to be placed over the regular street signs in the city.
Skyforest Orange Trees.
Residents of Skyforest, near Lake Arrowhead in Southern California, staged an elaborate prank. Twenty-five of them, led by cartoonist Frank Adams, crept out during the night and strung 50,000 oranges along a one-mile section of the scenic Rim of the World highway, making it appear that the region's pine and cedar trees had suddenly grown fruit. The oranges were leftovers from the recent National Orange Show in San Bernardino. [The Independent Record (Helena, Montana), Apr 2, 1950.]
Top Secret Atomic Papers.
Two teenage boys walked into a London police station and handed over a folder that appeared to contain designs for an atomic weapon. They said they had found it lying on the pavement at a bus stop. Word of the disturbing discovery soon went public, causing widespread alarm. The apparent security breach was even discussed in the House of Commons. But when atomic experts got around to examining the formulae and blueprints, they concluded they were meaningless.
The mystery was solved when a friend of the two boys confessed he had created the "top secret" documents himself out of Norwegian billhead receipts and pieces of an old blueprint he had taken from the office where he worked. He wrote "a
In Stellenbosch, South Africa, four masked men entered a bank, aimed water pistols at the staff, and declared, "This is a holdup. Hand over the cash."
The terrified teller handed over the money. The alarm went off. Then the men threw the cash back, shouted "April Fool" and fled the scene in a car.
W.D. Loy of Charlotte, North Carolina first heard a loud bang, then a series of beeps coming from his front yard. He went out to investigate and found on his lawn a silvery cylinder shaped like a missile with an antenna protruding from the top. Suspecting it was some kind of Soviet satellite, similar to Sputnik, Loy sent his family into the basement to hide, then called the police. When they arrived, they unscrewed the bolts holding the object together and found inside a beeping electric bicycle horn, as well as a note that read, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. April fool!" The photo shows Officer K.K. Scott reading the note.
In Denver, an unknown prankster transformed stop signs into giant flowers. It was suspected to be the work of "a recent arrival from neighboring Kansas, the sunflower state." [Spokane Daily Chronicle - Apr 2, 1958]
I Must Fly.
A prankster painted a trail of white footprints along the main street of Wellingborough, England. At the end of the trail were the words, "I must fly." [Chicago Daily Tribune, Apr 2, 1959.]
Bob Grove lost his head for April Fool's Day, and wandered the streets of Salinas, California in this condition.
Car Climbs War Memorial.
Under cover of darkness, anonymous pranksters managed to balance a car on top of the War Memorial in Connellsville, PA (at the intersection of Route 119 and North Pittsburgh St.). City authorities were searching for those responsible, as well as for "a boom large enough to remove the vehicle." Children enroute to school first noticed the car on the monument.
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.]
Flight Over the Thames.
Ken Piper, former paratrooper, tried to fly over the Thames River by jumping off the Twickenham Bridge with wings attached to his arms. He flapped the wings and fell into the water. When he regained dry land, he said, "It was a good one for April Fool's Day."
A few months later, Mr. Piper returned to the news on account of his cabaret act in which he cracked a thick slab of concrete by means of a head-on collision with his head.
The Body of Nessie Found.
Newspapers around the world announced that the dead body of the Loch Ness Monster had been found. A team of zoologists from Yorkshire's Flamingo Park Zoo, who were at Loch Ness searching for proof of Nessie's existence, had discovered the carcass floating in the water the day before. Initial reports claimed it weighed a ton and a half and was 15½ feet long. The zoologists placed the body in their van and began transporting it back to the zoo, but the local police chased them down and stopped them, citing a 1933 act of Parliament prohibiting the removal of "unidentified creatures" from Loch Ness.
The police took the body to Dunfermline for examination, where scientists soon threw cold
The Eruption of Mount Edgecumbe.
Residents of Sitka, Alaska were alarmed when the long-dormant volcano neighboring them, Mount Edgecumbe, suddenly began to belch out billows of black smoke. Did this mean that the volcano was active again and would soon erupt? Terrified residents spilled out of their homes onto the streets to gaze up at the volcano, and calls poured into the local authorities. Luckily it turned out that man, not nature, was responsible for the smoke. A local prankster named Porky Bickar had flown hundreds of old tires into the volcano's crater and then lit them on fire, all in a (successful) attempt to fool the city dwellers into believing that the volcano was stirring to life. Six years later when Mount St.
Supreme Court Streaker.
One young woman celebrated April Fool's Day by running naked past the Supreme Court building in Washington D.C.
When Linas Gylys noticed that the Continental Illinois Bank had accidentally credited his account with an extra $4,757,000, he waited until April 1st, then went into the bank and requested a certified check made out to one "John H. Perkins." Bank officials hurriedly escorted him into a back office, where they interrogated him for an hour. They only became friendlier when he revealed that the man accompanying him was a reporter, and that John H. Perkins, to whom the check would be made out, was the president of the bank.
April Fool Wedding.
Adrian Fisher and Charles Gutierrez of Chicago invited 25 of their closest friends to their April 1st wedding. But at the champagne reception following the ceremony, everyone was handed an envelope that contained the following poem:
"We don't want you to forget the date. It's April First, 1978. Now that the wedding knot has been tied, we have to tell you we have lied. Don't be angry, don't be mad, we hate to say it but you've been had. We meant no harm, so keep it cool, we hate to say it, but April Fool!"
The couple said their motive for staging the fake wedding was to "teach our dear friends a lesson not to gossip and spread rumors." Their friends had been spreading the rumor that the two
Einstein Was Wrong.
Lloyd Stallkamp, electronics instructor at South Dakota's National College, announced that Albert Einstein was wrong about light being made up of photons that travel at the speed of light. Stallkamp had discovered that, in reality, it was darkness that was composed of "darkons" that were gradually filling up the universe:
"All the caves are filled with dark already. Outer space is filled with dark already. Once the sun gets filled up, that's it. There's no other place to put it... We can see inside the sunspots that the sun is black inside. So my theory is that the sun is going to fill up with black and become a black hole."
Stallkamp also had concluded that darkness was heavier than
Soviet Missile Lands on Andrews Air Force Base.
An unknown prankster planted a 16-foot missile decorated with the hammer and sickle symbol of the Soviet Union outside of Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, DC. The missile was point-down in the ground, as if it had landed nose-first and become embedded in the ground. It was clearly visible to commuters on their morning drive into work. A sign near the missile read "April Fools... Courtesy of Mothers Against Missiles." Park police quickly cleared the missile away.
Phony Gold Nugget.
In late March, Australian fruit grower Bob Boyce revealed that he had unearthed a 10-pound gold nugget worth $70,000 while planting a citrus tree. The story was picked up by the international media, with Reuters reporting that the Australian government had confirmed the worth of the nugget.
But on April 1, Boyce confessed that the gold nugget was phony. He explained, "I didn't plan the joke for personal publicity. I just wanted to bring a smile to people on April Fools' Day."
Cerne Abbas Giant Practices Safe Sex.
Pranksters supplied the UK's Cerne Abbas Giant with a condom in the form of a 32-foot plastic sheet. The famous gigantic figure is an ancient chalk-carving of a naked man carrying a club, located in the British countryside in Dorset . The figure is supposed to be a fertility god and is said to possess the power to make childless women pregnant. A landlady at a local hotel commented, "It was quite a shock, but now everyone is laughing about it. We have no idea who did it, but he is now well secured against AIDS."
Welcome to Chicago.
Airline passengers descending into Los Angeles Airport saw an 85-foot-long yellow banner on the ground that spelled out, in 20-foot-high red letters, "Welcome to Chicago." It was raised above the Hollywood Park race track, about three miles from the airport. Park spokesman Brock Sheridan explained, "It was something we always wanted to do. We thought it would be kind of funny and our new management... thought it would be a great practical joke." The sign remained up for two days.
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
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."
A press release issued over Business Wire announced the creation of Webnode, a new company recently granted a government contract to regulate ownership of "nodes" on the Next Generation Internet (NGI). Each of these nodes (there were said to be over 50 million of them) represented a route that data could travel over the NGI. The company was licensed to sell each node for $100. Nodes would increase in value depending on how much traffic they routed. Owners would also receive usage fees for the data that flowed across their section of the internet. However, only individuals could own nodes, and no person could own more than 1,000 nodes. This limit was supposedly made in order to avoid
M3 Zebra Crossing.
Early morning commuters travelling on the northern carriageway of the M3 near Farnborough, Hampshire encountered a pedestrian zebra crossing painted across the busy highway. The perpetrator of the prank was unknown. A police spokesman speculated that the prank, "must have been done very early in the morning when there was little or no traffic on the motorway." Maintenance workers were quickly summoned to remove the crossing, which was apparently not too difficult to do since the pranksters had used emulsion paint rather than gloss. The police noted that, surprisingly, they had received no calls from the public about the crossing.
Hooters Coming Soon.
In a field along route 66 near Glastonbury, Connecticut, a billboard appeared that read: "Coming Soon, Hooters." It bore the owl logo of the franchise, famous for its scantily clad waitresses, as well as a phone number. Local officials soon began receiving calls from residents worried that the down-home, family-friendly feel of the town was going to be ruined by the new franchise. The officials responded that, as far as they knew, Hooters had filed no application with the planning department. The next day the words "April Fools" appeared on the sign, which turned out to be the work of a local prankster, John Tuttle. From the Hartford Courant:
"Tuttle, a town resident and vice president for
All Your Base Are Belong To Us.
Twenty signs appeared in various locations throughout Sturgis, Michigan reading, "All your base are belong to us. You have no chance to survive make your time." The signs were a reference to a well-known quotation from a badly translated Japanese video game. The signs were put up by 7 young men, who intended them as an April Fools joke. Unfortunately, many residents didn't get the joke, thinking that the signs somehow referred to the war in Iraq. The police didn't understand them either. Police Chief Eugene Alli said the signs could be "a borderline terrorist threat depending on what someone interprets it to mean." The seven men were arrested.
I’m Here To Take Money.
A 57-year-old woman stopped at a Wells Fargo Bank in Brainerd, Massachusetts to make a withdrawal. After concluding her transaction, as a joke she handed the teller a note that read, "I'm here to take money." The teller called the police and told them the bank was being robbed. By the time the police arrived, the woman had left, but they later picked her up and charged her with disorderly conduct.
Attack of the Mario Power-Up Cubes.
Five teenage girls living in Ravenna, Ohio strung brightly colored boxes designed to look like power-up cubes from the Super Mario Bros. video game around town. Local residents who didn't recognize what the boxes were supposed to be called out the bomb squad. The police initially warned that the girls could face criminal charges for their actions. However, the prosecutor decided not to press charges, noting, "None of the girls had any prior contacts with the police or juvenile court and are all good students."
The Loch Ness Crocodile.
A news article, supposedly from a Scottish paper, circulated online, claiming that a crocodile had been sighted in Loch Ness:
"Several reports of a large unidentified creature seen wading along the Loch edge below the Lip'O'Flora viewpoint (the place where Flora MacDonald helped Rob Roy MacGregor escape the English redcoats) near the present day Clansman hotel have proven to be true. Much as some locals might wish it to be The Loch Ness Monster, it is believed to be a large Floridian crocodile (Crocodylus acutus). It is thought the reptile may be native to southern Florida and has simply drifted along the path of the Atlantic Gulf Stream before finding its new home in Scotland, or be yet another legacy from the British Pet Animals Act of 1951, which saw the release into the wild of many exotic animals by owners who did not have the facilities to be licensed as responsible 'pet' keepers or traders."
Mannequins for Climate Justice.
On March 31, a mannequin was found chained to the doors of a Bank of America branch in Boston. The mannequin wore a sign, "The real dummies evict people & fund climate chaos." A group calling itself Mannequins for Climate Justice took responsibility, saying it was getting a head start on Fossil Fools Day, an initiative to use April 1st as a day to mock and resist the fossil fuel industry.
"Cling-film bandits" struck Melbourne, wrapping at least 400 cars in the city in cling film. They wrapped cars parked at shopping malls, railway stations, and in residential areas. A note attached to the cars read: "Happy April Fools Day love Evie."
The police did not investigate the prank because no damage had been done to the cars.
The Graffiti Grannys.
Residents of Mousehole, Cornwall woke to find their town had been overrun by knitted mice. The small, woolen rodents lined the harbor and perched atop handrails. Each mouse had a note attached, "If you like me, please feel free to keep me." A group calling itself the Graffiti Grannys took credit for the prank. They were a group of women, ranging in age from their mid-40s to 96, who loved to knit and loved to share their work. They explained that their motive for unleashing yarny creatures upon Mousehole was simply to make people smile.
Invasion of the Geese.
132 plastic lawn geese, dressed in various outfits, appeared around Portage, Wisconsin on April 1st. The perpetrator of this prank is unknown, but the geese cost around $30 each. So whoever did it spent almost $4000 to do so — unless they got a volume discount on the geese. [wiscnews.com]
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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.