April Fool's Day Street Pranks
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
Ah! You April Fool!.
"Sir, there's something out of your pocket."
"Your hand, sir—Ah! You April fool!"
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
"Hurly-Burly what a time! dogs, boys, fops, ladies, carts and wagons. Of all places cities are the greatest on the first of April. The quiet dandy; the romping maid; the mischevious News Boys are all in confusion; the dandy has become the laughing stock of the whole street—he walks along, he rubs his modest moustache—he feels his dignity—he swells; he sees the ladies smile—oh! ye Gods what a happy man! he walks on further—bright Phoebus shines resplendently— he looks to see the sun set forth the latest Parisian Fashion and he beholds his form adorned with papers— he swears, he looks round and sees a gang of boys with their fingers to their faces, he
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.
Mr. Smarty and his April Fool Joke.
1. Mr. Smarty of Hayseed Cents thinks up a great April Fool joke.
2. Which is the rather ancient one of nailing ten-cent pieces to the board walk.
3. A pair of wayfarers play the game.
4. But soon find a way to get ahead of it.
5. How Mr. Smarty enjoyed the joke.
6. And how the others liked it.
[The Sunday World — Apr 4, 1897]
"This is 'all fools' day,' and judging by the number of people who are passing along the sidewalk with strings and rags dangling from their coat tails, the custom of making people appear ridiculous is not obsolete. What delight the youngsters take in covering a few bricks with an old hat, and leaving it temptingly upon the sidewalk, while they withdraw into some nook to watch the bait and halloo at the person who is thoughtless enough to kick it."
The Brick in a Hat—a perennial favorite.
"It is strange that there has been little or no improvement in the jokes of April first. Reliable authorities assert that the old gentlemen of colonial days were made victims of hat hidden bricks just as old gentlemen are today and that the small boy has been invariably the culprit in all the ages." [Lemars Globe — Apr 1, 1896]
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.]
De Ole Hat Trick.
McGee — "Here's de ole hat trick again. I'll kick it to please the boys."
The Plumber — "Holy Smoke! Police! Fire!!!"
A New Bunch of Practical Jokers.
"A few of the unsophisticated and unwary who were made victims of practical jokers on All Fools' Day and the methods used to accomplish their undoing and furnish amusement for the gaping spectators." [The San Francisco Call - Apr 2, 1901]
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.]
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]
Old Lady Takes Revenge.
"It was April fool: why not have some fun, thought the little Italian boy as he stood behind his fruit stand in the market house. His thoughts soon took visible form. Tying a purse bulging with paper to one end of a string he fastened the other behind his counter and threw the tempting pocketbook in the aisle. Then he awaited results. In a few minutes long came a busy woman and seeing the tempting purse pounced on it. As it jerked from her hand, a whoop went up from the Italian. So it was a prank, was it? She would teach him how to get cute with an old lady! Then fruit began to fly. Orange after orange hurled at the dodging boy who was being constantly advised to duck and jump by a horde of
Parisian Poisson d’Avril.
A Parisian boy pins a paper fish onto the back of a police officer at Porte Saint Denis. Pinning a paper fish (un poisson d'Avril) onto a victim's back was, for centuries, considered to be the traditional April Fool's prank in France, perpetrated primarily by young boys.
April Fool Experiment.
Radio comedian Don McNeill staged experiments in the lobby of Chicago's Merchandise Mart to test whether people would still fall for some of the oldest April fool gags. He discovered that 20 of the first 25 people who saw a bill fold lying on the floor stooped to pick it up, only to have it yanked away. In addition, McNeill set up an aquarium with a sign "Invisible Peruvian fish." He asked spectators to estimate the length of the fish. Fifty-six of the spectators turned in written estimates. (For more about the "invisible fish" prank, see Brazilian Invisible Fish.) [The Galveston Daily News, Apr 2, 1940.]
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.
Hey Young Fella!.
"Hey Young Fella! Are you tired or just rubbering? You wouldn't be trying to pull a little April fool stunt on some poor motorist would you? That look in your eyes spells t-r-o-u-b-l-e for someone. Well motorists, if you saw Master Brooks Kennedy, aged two, of New Castle out with a string on a tire yesterday you'll know that it was just a joke. P.S. Note to OPA: That is not an extra tire. It's just a spare that went on a rea blowout." [Portsmouth Herald Photo]
They always grab for a box of Ex-Lax.
"Child psychology!... And who knows better than a youngster what a 'find' Ex-Lax is! Not only because of its good chocolate taste, but for the way it acts! So effective, yet so nice and gentle! Not too strong, not too mild, Ex-Lax is the 'Happy Medium' laxative... the favorite of grown-ups as well as small fry! As a precaution, use only as directed. Economical 10¢ and 25¢ sizes at all druggists."
A boy comes to the aid of a girl, who was trying to pick up a coin that couldn't be picked up. A curious crowd looks on.
Cass Casmir Jr., of Hammond, Indiana, found a victim for a time-worm April Fool stunt — the elusive wallet. Arthur Jennette of Calumet City went along with the gag. [Hammond Times - Apr 1, 1957]
"Looking for a live one, Brent Lee Hoffman, 5, of San Mateo, Calif., has his trap all baited in hopes of catching an April Fool. But Brent isn't taking any chances of having his little prank backfire — that bulging wallet is filled with play money." [United Press Photo]
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.]
A photographer for the Great Bend Tribune placed a fake snake on the pavement in downtown Great Bend and then hid in a car to capture people's candid reactions:
"Twice boys tried to steal the reptile, and the Tribune photographer had to reveal himself these times to save the snake. One old man kicked at it, but did no damage. Many of the pedestrians walked within inches of the creature without ever noticiing it, proving that a real Python could sun himself at Broadway and Main without disturbing too many residents.
The best picture of all was ruined. A group of girls walked within a foot of the reptile before one of them noticed it. They all jumped and screamed. But it so startled the
Coin on the Pavement Gag.
A Vancouver Sun photographer welded a 50 cent piece to a spike and hammered it into the pavement. Many tried and failed to pick it up, until one man pried it up using a knife of the type used to dig stones from horses' hooves. [Vancouver Sunday Sun - Apr 1, 1961]
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.]
Stuffed Giraffe Stops Traffic.
Motorists passing the Garrison home in Clarkson, New York, saw what appeared to be a nine-foot giraffe tied to a tree. "Jerome the Giraffe" was tied there from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., when the Garrisons had to remove him because he was causing a traffic jam.
The giraffe (stuffed, of course) had originally been made for a store promotion in Texas and had been shipped north to New York as a gift to a friend.
Supreme Court Streaker.
One young woman celebrated April Fool's Day by running naked past the Supreme Court building in Washington D.C.
A pedestrian on a street in Brussels fell victim to the old prank of a paper fish stuck to his back. In French-speaking countries, tagging someone as a "poisson d'Avril" (April Fish) is the equivalent of calling them an April Fool.
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.
Subway Car Surfaces.
Residents of Copenhagen who visited the square in front of the town hall were greeted by a strange sight. One of the subway cars from the city's new subway, which was under construction, appeared to have burst up through the pavement. The subway car actually was a retired vehicle from the Stockholm subway. It had been cut at an angle and loose bricks were placed around it, to give the illusion that it had crashed up from below.
The stunt was sponsored by Gevalia Coffee, whose advertisements had an ongoing theme of vehicles popping up in strange locations, with the tagline "Be ready for unexpected guests."
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.
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."
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.
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.