April Fool's Day Wild Goose Chases
Eduard de Dene.
The Flemish writer Eduard De Dene published a comical poem in 1561 about a nobleman who hatches a plan to send his servant back and forth on absurd errands on April 1st, supposedly to help prepare for a wedding feast. The servant recognizes that what’s being done to him is an April 1st joke. The poem is titled “Refereyn vp verzendekens dach / Twelck den eersten April te zyne plach.“ This is late medieval Dutch meaning (roughly) “Refrain on errand-day / which is the first of April.“ In the closing line of each stanza, the servant says, “I am afraid… that you are trying to make me run a fool’s errand.“
This appears to be the first clear
The Washing of the Lions.
The April 2, 1698 edition of Dawks’s News-Letter reported that “Yesterday being the first of April, several persons were sent to the Tower Ditch to see the Lions washed.” This is the first recorded instance of a popular April Fool's Day prank that involved sending people to the Tower of London to see the "washing of the lions." The joke was that there was no lion-washing ceremony. It was a fool's errand. (For more info, see the Hoaxipedia article: Washing The Lions)
The Great Cave Sell.
On an undetermined April 1 in the 1840s, a story appeared in the Boston Post announcing that a cave full of treasure had been discovered beneath Boston Common. It had supposedly been uncovered by workmen as they removed a tree from the Common. As the tree fell, it revealed a stone trap-door with a large iron ring set in it. Beneath the door was a stone stairway that led to an underground cave. In this cave lay piles of jewels, old coins, and weapons with jeweled handles. As word of the discovery spread throughout Boston, parties of excited curiosity-seekers marched out across the Common to view the treasure. A witness later described the scene: "It was rainy, that 1st of April, the
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.
Gymnast To Ascend Church Steeple.
A notice ran in Chicago papers advertising that on April 1st, at one o'clock, a "famous gymnast" would ascend the steeple of St. Paul's Church from the outside "and stand upright on the summit, returning the same way to the ground — all to be accomplished in the space of twenty minutes." At the time appointed, a crowd of over 300 people gathered, including reporters, pencils in hand. But as the hours wore on, the truth gradually stole over the minds of the sightseers that it was "All fools day," and "the crowd suddenly discovered it was time to go to dinner, which they did with a rush." [Weekly Hawk-Eye (Burlington, Iowa) — Apr 20, 1858]
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.
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.]
Brandenburg Gate Photo.
Hundreds of people, mostly shop girls and women, gathered in front of the Brandenburg gate in Berlin, drawn there by an announcement placed in Berlin papers the night before stating that a motion picture camera was going to take a picture in front of the gate at noon, and that everybody who was in front of the gate would be in the picture. The announcement was a prank perpetrated by a night worker at the papers. The Chicago Tribune foreign news service reported: "Some people stood there for hours before they realized that this was the first day of April, known in Germany as in the United States as April Fools' day." [Chicago Daily Tribune, Apr 5, 1919.]
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.)
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]
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?"
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.
Looking for Charlie Chaplin.
A large crowd and squads of police gathered in Genoa, Italy to greet the arrival of the Riviera train, having been lured there by a report published in numerous newspapers that Charlie Chaplin had recently left Nice and would be arriving that day in Genoa.
A movie manager admitted to having planted the false story, in the hope of attracting attention to one of Chaplin's films.
North Carolina's Twin City Sentinel ran a story on its front page claiming that "a long sleek transatlantic steamer," the S.S. Santa Pinta, had "plowed through the muddy waters of Yadkin River and anchored ten miles west of Winston-Salem." An accompanying photo showed the stranded steamer. Hundreds of people (who hadn't read to the end of the article to see the phrase "An April Fool's Dream!") drove out to see the steamer, resulting in a traffic jam on the highway.
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."
An announcement was made in Berne, Switzerland that a protest was being held outside of the parliament buildings. The protestors were said to be topless women who were demonstrating in support of nude beaches. The announcement caused hundreds of men to descend upon the parliament buildings. Unfortunately for them, they found no women there.
Imelda Marcos Auction.
TagesAnzeiger, a daily Zurich newspaper, reported that an auction of Imelda Marcos's clothes and jewelry was to be held at the Swiss Volksbank. Almost 30 people showed up for it.
Reagan Heads Barstow Parade.
Radio station KIOT in Barstow, California announced that a parade was to be held through the city, and that President Reagan would participate in it as the grand marshal. A few people showed up and waited in the heat for the parade (which had never been scheduled).
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...
15th Annual New York City April Fool’s Day Parade.
A news release sent to the media stated that the 15th annual New York City April Fool's Day Parade was scheduled to begin at noon on 59th Street and would proceed down to Fifth Avenue. According to the news release, floats in the parade would include a "Beat 'em, Bust ';em, Book 'em" float created by the New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle police departments. This float would portray “themes of brutality, corruption and incompetence.“ A “Where’s Mars?“ float, reportedly built at a cost of $10 billion, would portray missed Mars missions. Finally, the “Atlanta Braves Baseball Tribute to Racism” float would feature John Rocker who would be “spewing racial epithets at the crowd.“ CNN and the Fox affiliate WNYW sent television news crews to cover the parade. They arrived at 59th Street at noon only to discover that there was no parade. The police informed them that they had received no notification of a parade. Reluctantly, the reporters
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.
Liverpool Bikini Contest.
Liverpool DJ Kev Seed announced that the first 50 girls to pose in a bikini in the city centre would win racing tickets. Three bikini-clad young women braved the cold weather and appeared at the designated spot, but all for nothing. The contest was an April Fools joke.
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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.