Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes of All Time
As judged by notoriety, creativity, and number of people duped.
Note from the Curator: I created the first version of this list in the late 1990s. Back then, there was hardly any information collected about April Fool's Day pranks, so I had to do a lot of research in newspaper archives to put this together. Luckily I was in grad school, so I had a lot of spare time on my hands ;-).
Over the years I've tweaked the list, rearranging it slightly and adding new entries based on reader feedback and ongoing research, but my top choices have remained pretty much the same.
This list is easily the most popular article I've ever posted on the Museum of Hoaxes. Extracts from it (some attributed, some not) can be found on hundreds of other websites. Plus, it's inspired some spinoffs. A couple of years ago, someone created an iPhone app version of it (which I've never seen because I don't have an iPhone), and the folks at the Drama Pod created a dramatized audio version of it in 2011.
I hope you enjoy it — and if you know of any old hoaxes that I haven't mentioned on the site, send me an email and let me know.
2005: Popular Photography
ran an article titled "Can these photos be saved?" about how to remove unsightly wrinkles from photographic subjects. They chose, as an example of a photo that "needed to be saved," Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother" photo taken in 1936 during the Great Depression. Lange's photo is one of the most widely admired in the world. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to describe it as the Mona Lisa of photographs, and the Migrant Mother's stoic expression is what makes the image great. Nevertheless, the editors of Popular Photography
erased her wrinkles, softened her gaze, and removed her kids, transforming her from an iconic symbol of endurance into a smooth-faced, worry-free soccer mom. Their readers were horrified, not realizing the article was a spoof on the way magazines routinely touch-up celebrity images to remove blemishes and wrinkles. Hundreds wrote in expressing outrage at the defacement of such a classic image. To which the editors replied: Look at the date it was published!
Comic strip fans opened their papers on April 1, 1997 and discovered their favorite strips looked different. Not only that, but in many cases characters from other strips popped up out of place. The reason for the chaos was the Great Comics Switcheroonie. Forty-six comic-strip artists conspired to pen each other's strips for the day. For instance, Scott Adams of Dilbert took over Family Circus by Bil Keane, where he added a touch of corporate cynicism to the family-themed strip by having the mother tell her kid to "work cuter, not harder." Jim Davis of Garfield took over Blondie, which allowed him to show his famous overweight cat eating one of Dagwood's sandwiches. The stunt was masterminded by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott, creators of the Baby Blues
comic strip. When asked why he participated, Scott Adams noted, "You don't get that many chances to tunnel under the fence."
In late March 2007, images of an 8-inch mummified creature resembling a fairy were posted on the website of the Lebanon Circle Magik Co. Accompanying text explained how the creature had been found by a man walking his dog along an old roman road in rural Derbyshire. Word of this discovery soon spread around the internet. Bloggers excitedly speculated about whether the find was evidence of the actual existence of fairies. By April 1 the Lebanon Circle website had received tens of thousands of visitors and hundreds of emails. But at the end of April 1, Dan Baines, the owner of the site, confessed that the fairy was a hoax. He had used his skills as a magician's prop-maker to create the creature. Baines later reported that, even after his confession, he continued to receive numerous emails from people who refused to accept the fairy wasn't real.
The residents of Wellingborough, England woke to find a trail of white footprints painted along the main street of their town. At the end of the trail were the words, "I must fly."
The BBC reported that Big Ben, in order to keep up with the times, was going to be given a digital readout. The announcement received a huge response from listeners shocked and angered by the proposed change. The BBC Japanese service also announced that the clock hands would be sold to the first four listeners to contact them. One Japanese seaman in the mid-Atlantic immediately radioed in a bid.
Magazine reported that physicists had discovered a new fundamental particle of matter, dubbed the Bigon. It could only be coaxed into existence for mere millionths of a second, but amazingly, when it did materialize it was the size of a bowling ball. Physicist Albert Manque and his colleagues accidentally found the particle when a computer connected to one of their vacuum-tube experiments exploded. Video analysis of the explosion revealed the Bigon hovering over the computer for a fraction of a second. Manque theorized that the Bigon might be responsible for a host of other unexplained phenomena such as ball lightning, sinking souffles, and spontaneous human combustion. Discover
received huge amounts of mail in response to the story.
BBC Radio broadcast an interview with an elderly academic, Dr. Clothier, who discoursed on the government's efforts to stop the spread of Dutch Elm Disease. Dr. Clothier described some startling discoveries that had been made about the tree disease. For instance, he referred to the research of Dr. Emily Lang of the London School of Pathological and Environmental Medicine. Dr. Lang had apparently found that exposure to Dutch Elm Disease immunized people to the common cold. Unfortunately, there was a side effect. Exposure to the disease also caused red hair to turn yellow and eventually fall out. This was attributed to a similarity between the blood count of redheads and the soil conditions in which affected trees grew. Therefore, redheads were advised to stay away from forests for the foreseeable future. Dr. Clothier was in reality the comedian Spike Milligan.
London's Capital Radio announced that Operation Parallax would soon go into effect. This was a government plan to resynchronize the British calendar with the rest of the world. It was explained that ever since 1945 Britain had gradually become 48 hours ahead of all other countries because of the constant switching back and forth from British Summer Time. To remedy this situation, the British government had decided to cancel April 5 and 12 that year. Capital Radio received numerous calls as a result of this announcement. One employer wanted to know if she had to pay her employees for the missing days. Another woman was curious about what would happen to her birthday, which fell on one of the cancelled days.
Dave Rickards, a deejay at KGB-FM in San Diego, announced that the space shuttle Discovery had been diverted from Edwards Air Force Base and would instead soon be landing at Montgomery Field, a small airport located in the middle of a residential area just outside of San Diego. Thousands of commuters immediately headed towards the landing site, causing enormous traffic jams that lasted for almost an hour. Police eventually had to be called in to clear the traffic. People arrived at the airport armed with cameras, camcorders, and even folding chairs. Reportedly the crowd swelled to over 1,000 people. Of course, the shuttle never landed. In fact, the Montgomery Field airport would have been far too small for the shuttle to even consider landing there. Moreover, there wasn't even a shuttle in orbit at the time. The police were not amused by the prank. They announced that they would be billing the radio station for the cost of forcing officers to direct the traffic.
Westward Television, a British TV studio, produced a documentary feature about the village of Spiggot. As the documentary explained, the stubborn residents of this small town were refusing to accept the new decimal currency recently adopted by the British government, preferring instead to stick with the traditional denominations they had grown up with. As soon as the documentary was over, the studio received hundreds of calls expressing support for the brave stand taken by the villagers. In fact, many of the callers voiced their intention to join in the anti-decimal crusade. Unfortunately for this burgeoning rebellion, the village of Spiggot did not exist.
All text Copyright © 2011 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.