The April Fool Archive:
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April Fool's Day, 1940
World To End Tomorrow. (1940) 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 agent. He had intended to use the fake release to publicize an April 1st lecture at the institute titled "How Will the World End?" Soon afterwards, the Institute dismissed Castellini.
Modern Gulliver Visits Spartanburg. (1940) "Is this Lilliput land? Not at all, it is Main Street in Spartanburg. You can hardly believe your eyes, for you didn't see this skyscraper man towering over four and five-story buildings? Take a look at the date line on this paper and you will understand why today everything is possible and even the camera may live. It's April Fool's Day." [The Spartanburg Herald - Apr 1, 1940]
April Fool Experiment. (1940) 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.]
Dionne Quintuplets Pull Off an April Fool Joke. (1940) "Nurse Cecile Michaud is about to pick up a purse at the door of the sun parlor-playroom in the Dionne Nursery, near Callander, Ont., and have it jerked from her hands to the accompaniment of shrill cries of (l to r) Emilie, Annette, Yvonne, Marie, Cecile, for the Quins have fixed up an April Fool joke on her. April Fool joking is something the little French Canadians picked up from Americans. Among the French, Holy Innocents Day, in December, is the traditional jokesters' day. The nurse is putting on a convincing show of not suspecting anything, whereas she knows by experience anything can happen at the Nursery on April 1." [King Features Syndicate - Apr 1, 1940]
Association for the Prevention of April Fool Jokes. (1940) Fred Orsinger, self-proclaimed chairman of the Association for the Prevention of April Fool Jokes (A.F.P.O.A.F.J.), offered advice to help people avoid becoming the victims of April Fool jokes. "The telephone joker is the most common," he warned. "I figure out he'll consume more than 8,000,000 man hours of work throughout the Nation today."
But he noted that should you see a pocket book lying on the street, it might be the setup for a standard gag, but it was nevertheless worth taking a look because "even if there is no money inside, you may get a good pocket book."
Orsinger's regular job was Director of the National Aquarium in Washington DC. [Oakland Tribune, Apr 1, 1940.]
Woman Murdering Her Husband. (1940) 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."
Hutchins Quits. (1940) The University of Chicago's student newspaper, the Daily Maroon, reported that UC President Robert Maynard Hutchins had resigned due to the unfavorable reaction from his comments on football. A successor was not named, but the article mentioned Postmaster Gen. James A. Farley (said to be an expert in "political science") as a possibility. The article also stated that the French government had presented the university with the luxury liner, the Normandie, as a gesture of goodwill. [The Freeport Journal Standard, Apr 1, 1940.]
War Bird Over Waikiki. (1940) The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported that Norwegian scientist Thorkel Gellison (fellow of the King Haakon Loof Lirpa Society) had invented wings that allowed men to fly. He had recently demonstrated his invention in Hawaii. He had also supplied these wings to the Finnish army, leading the Russians to decide to move for a truce with Finland.
The Usual Gags. (1940) 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."
St. Louis Zoo Changes its Number. (1940) In order to avoid the avalanche of calls on April 1st for Mr. Lyon, Mr. Wolf, and Mr. Fox, the St. Louis Zoo changed its phone number for one day. Sterling 0900, the zoo's regular phone number, was changed to Sterling 0901.