Poorly Received April Fool's Day Hoaxes
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 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.
Man regrets scaring wife.
"Near Nashville yesterday John Ahrens, a farmer, planned an April fool joke on his wife with disastrous results. He disguised himself as a tramp, fastened a white mask over his face, and knocked at the door. When she appeared he ordered her to get dinner for him. To his horror his wife fell to the floor in a faint and died an hour later. Ahrens has been married only a few months and idolized his wife. Her death has crazed him with grief and remorse, and he threatens to take his own life." [Des Moines Daily News, Apr 3, 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]
James Pooley, a bartender in Evansville, Indiana, shot and killed Frank Stein, a saloon porter. Pooley claimed he thought the gun was unloaded and was playing an April Fool joke on Stein. Walter Schmidel, owner of the saloon, later admitted that he had removed an old weapon that had been behind the bar and had replaced it with a loaded revolver. [The Indianapolis Star, Apr 2, 1915.]
In what appeared to be an April Fool's prank gone badly wrong, Harry Zahrichs of Lackawanna, New York had to be rushed to the hospital after his fellow workmen injected compressed air into his body, tearing and dislodging some of his internal organs. [Trenton Evening Times, Apr 2, 1915.]
Fire alarm pulled.
The Newburyport fire department responded to an alarm from the business district, but upon arrival found no fire. Police interviewed men standing near the alarm box who swore it hadn't been pulled.
But soon after the fire engine returned to the station, the telephone rang. The caller said, "April fool," and then hung up. [Portsmouth Herald — Apr 2, 1923]
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
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.
Bogus Bank Robbery.
A 14-year-old Connecticut schoolboy walked into a bank during lunch and handed the teller a napkin, on which was written a demand for money. The teller handed him $600. The boy began to leave the bank, then turned around and handed the money back. Police later arrested him and sent him to a New Haven juvenile detention center. [Chicago Tribune - Apr 2, 1963]
Around the World for 210 Guineas.
The London Times ran a small article noting that in honor of the 100-year anniversary of Thomas Cook's first round-the-world tour, the travel agent Thomas Cook was offering 1000 lucky people the chance to buy a similar package deal — at 1872 prices. The offer would be given to the first 1000 people to apply. Applications should be addressed to "Miss Avril Foley."
The public response to this bargain-basement offer was swift and enthusiastic. Huge lines formed outside the Thomas Cook offices, and the travel agent was swamped with calls. Belatedly the Times identified the offer as an April Fool's joke and apologized for the inconvenience it had caused. The reporter who wrote the article,
Pennsylvania Capitol Building Collapses.
The Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) published a photograph of the state capitol building collapsing. A caption below the picture read, “Custodian A.F. Day said the blast occurred during a joint House-Senate session addressed by Hubert Humphrey and Gov. Milton Shapp… Day attributed the explosion to an abnormal expansion of hot air which usually is absorbed by acoustic seats in the chamber.“ The hoax elicited negative comments from many readers who accused the paper of “confusing fun with irresponsibility.“ Two days later the paper apologized for the hoax and promised that it would never publish another. The hoax recalled a similar April Fool’s Day joke published by the Madison Capital-Times in 1933.
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
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 Durand Auto Plant.
The Durand Express, a Michigan weekly, reported that Nissan planned to build an auto plant outside of Durand City. The new plant was going to employ thousands of people and pay higher wages than the nearby General Motors plant. Furthermore, Nissan would pay farmers $10,000 an acre for the land on which the plant was to be built.
Many unemployed auto workers believed the story and inquired about how to apply for jobs at the plant. However, the story was exposed as a fake by a reporter working at a newspaper in Flint, Michigan.
The prank story attracted a lot of angry criticism. Many readers threatened to cancel their subscriptions. In response, the paper's editor explained that he hadn't been trying to hurt anyone, and thought that he had exaggerated his story enough to make it unbelievable.
“Berri Berri Funny”.
Israel Radio broadcast that Nabih Berri, leader of the Shi'ite Amal movement, had been assassinated. The news caused an immediate flaring of tensions in the region. However, Israeli officials quickly denounced the report as a hoax. The false report was traced back to an army intelligence officer who had planted the news item in the broadcasts of the Israeli Army's intelligence monitoring unit, from which it had been picked up by Israel Radio. Israel's Defence Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, announced that the unnamed officer would be court-martialed. Most commentators found the hoax to be in poor taste. "Berri Berri funny," one foreign correspondent commented.
Campus Parody Turns Ugly.
Thomas Auclair, editor of The Beacon, the campus newspaper of North Adams State College, got into trouble when he ran a story declaring that the school's president, Catherine A. Tissinger, was running a telephone-sex service. The school's president responded by accusing the paper of sex discrimination and asked the Student Government Association to investigate the matter. The Student Government voted to remove Auclair from his position as editor.
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
Space Shuttle Lands in San Diego.
Dave Rickards, a deejay at San Diego's KGB-FM, announced that the space shuttle Discovery had been diverted from Edwards Air Force Base and would land instead at Montgomery Field just outside the city at 8:30 am. Thousands of commuters immediately headed there, causing enormous traffic jams that lasted for almost an hour.
Of course, the shuttle never landed. Montgomery Field is far too small for the shuttle to have even considered landing there, and there wasn't a shuttle in orbit at the time. The police weren't amused. They announced they would be billing the radio station for the cost of forcing officers to direct the traffic. In its defense, the radio station said, "It was a joke...
South Park Bait and Switch.
The animated Comedy Central series South Park had been heavily promoting that on the April 1 season premiere of the second season of the show, it would reveal the identity of the father of a character Cartman, thus resolving the cliffhanger it had left viewers with the season before. The April 1 show began as normal, with clips shown from previous episodes, but then a message flashed on the screen stating it had all been an April Fool's joke. Nothing was going to be revealed. Instead the episode focused on the completely unrelated adventures of the flatulent characters Terrance and Philip. Fans of the series were irate. Comedy Central received over 1500 angry emails. A spokesman admitted
Bank Teller Fees.
The Savings Bank of Rockville, a small, Connecticut-based bank, placed an ad in the Journal-Inquirer announcing that from that point forward it would be charging a $5 fee to customers who visited a live teller. The ad, which appeared on March 31, claimed that the fee was necessary in order to provide, "professional, caring and superior customer service." Although the ad was a joke, many customers did not perceive it as such. One woman reportedly closed her account at the bank because of it. The bank ran a second ad later revealing that the initial ad was a joke. The bank manager commented that the ad really "commits us to not charging such fees."
Playboy’s Wife-Beating Advice.
The Romanian edition of Playboy published an article titled "How to beat your wife without leaving a trace." Written from the point of view of a policeman, it offered a step-by-step guide to concealable abuse, suggesting that abuse could lead to a better sex life.
Deputy editor Mihai Galatanu later insisted the article had been an April Fool's joke, and that the abuse methods described "cannot work." Nevertheless, the article generated widespread condemnation. Women marched through central Bucharest in protest.
Playboy Enterprises chairman Christie Hefner soon issued an apology and reprimanded the Romanian chief editor.
Abbey National, a British bank, revealed an April Fool's Day joke that never came to fruition. It planned to offer its customers the ability to download and print money from their home computer. An Abbey National employee said, ""We were going to say that it would suit all those couch potatoes who don't want to go to the bank to get their money out. We would make available a system where you could download money from your personal computer and print it out on paper at home." However, the Bank of England, citing concerns about encouraging forgery, strongly advised Abbey National not to proceed with their joke.
Titanic Replica Visible From Cliffs.
Southern FM radio in Brighton announced that a full-size replica of the Titanic (constructed by the AFD Construction company) would be visible from the cliffs at Beachy Head as it sailed along the Sussex Coast. Hundreds of people braved the windy, treacherous cliffs to catch a glimpse of the sight. Many drove from as far as 30 or 40 miles away. So many people showed up that the cliffs developed a crack from their weight and a few days later collapsed into the water. (Though by that time everyone was gone.) The radio station later apologised to those who had been deceived.
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."
Lindsay Lohan Pregnant?.
26-year-old actress Lindsay Lohan tweeted that she was pregnant. She posted the announcement at 10:35 pm (west coast time) on April 1st, which caused confusion because it was already April 2nd on the east coast. Therefore, her followers weren't sure whether or not she was joking. She clarified her intent the following day by tweeting, "April Fools. Where's everyone's sense of humor?" Then she deleted the posts.
Curator's Note — The official rules of April Fools state that jokes are supposed to be sprung before noon. Those who delay their jokes until after noon are themselves considered to be the fools.
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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.