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.
In 1981 the Herald-News
in Roscommon, Michigan reported that 3 lakes in northern Michigan had been selected to host "an in-depth study into the breeding and habits of several species of fresh-water sharks." Two thousand sharks were to be released into the lakes including blue sharks, hammerheads, and a few great whites. The experiment was designed to determine whether the sharks could survive in the cold climate of Michigan. The federal government was said to be spending $1.3 million to determine this. A representative from the National Biological Foundation was quoted as saying that there would probably be a noticeable decline in the populations of other fish in the lake because "the sharks will eat about 20 pounds of fish each per day, more as they get older." County officials were said to have protested the experiment, afraid of the hazard it would pose to fishermen and swimmers, but their complaints had been ignored by the federal government. Furthermore, fishermen had been forbidden from catching the sharks. The Herald-News
received a flurry of letters in response to the announcement.
In 2000 Miller Beer announced that it had struck an agreement with the town of Marfa, Texas to become the exclusive sponsor of the phenomenon known as the Marfa Mystery Lights. These are spherical lights which appear south of the town each evening, seeming to bounce around in the sky. They're variously rumored to be caused by ghosts, swamp gas, or uranium (though they're probably caused by the headlights from the nearby highway). Miller announced that under the terms of the agreement the Marfa Lights would be renamed the Miller Lites. The local paper, which was in on the joke, printed the news on its front page.
In 1983 the Associated Press
reported that the mystery of the origin of April Fool's Day had finally been solved. Joseph Boskin, a History professor at Boston University, had discovered that the celebration had begun during the Roman empire when a court jester had boasted to Emperor Constantine that the fools and jesters of the court could rule the kingdom better than the Emperor could. In response, Constantine had decreed that the court fools would be given a chance to prove this boast, and he set aside one day of the year upon which a fool would rule the kingdom. The first year Constantine appointed a jester named Kugel as ruler, and Kugel immediately decreed that only the absurd would be allowed in the kingdom on that day. Therefore the tradition of April Fools was born. News media throughout the country reprinted the Associated Press
story. But what the AP reporter who had interviewed Professor Boskin for the story hadn't realized was that Boskin was lying. Not a word of the story was true, which Boskin admitted a few weeks later. Boston University issued a statement apologizing for the joke, and many papers published corrections.
In 1975 the famous naturalist David Attenborough reported on BBC Radio 3 about a group of islands in the Pacific known as the Sheba Islands. He played sound recordings of the island's fauna, including a recording of an alleged night-singing tree mouse called the Musendrophilus. He also described a species whose webbed feet were prized by inhabitants of the island as reeds for musical instruments. Unfortunately, the night-singing tree mice were merely products of Attenborough's imagination, perhaps inspired by that old yarn about the Tree Squeaks, that North American species which lives high in the trees and squeaks every time the wind blows.
On March 31, 1940 the Franklin Institute issued a press release stating that the world would end the next day. The release was picked up by radio station KYW which broadcast the following message: "Your worst fears that the world will end are confirmed by astronomers of Franklin Institute, Philadelphia. 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.
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 began marching out across the Common to view the treasure. A witness later described the scene: "It was rainy, that 1st of April, the Legislature was in session, and it was an animated scene that the Common presented, roofed with umbrellas, sheltering pilgrims on their way to the new-found sell. A procession of grave legislators marched solemnly down under their green gingham, while philosophers, archaeologists, numismatists, antiquarians of all qualities, and the public generally paid tribute to the Post's ingenuity." Of course, the Common was empty of all jewel-bearing caverns, as the crowd of treasure seekers eventually discovered to its disappointment.
On April 1, 1998 the homepage of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced some startling news: the prestigious university was to be sold to Walt Disney Co. for $6.9 billion. A photograph of the university's famous dome outfitted with a pair of mouse ears accompanied the news. The press release
explained that the university was to be dismantled and transported to Orlando where new schools would be added to the campus including the School of Imagineering, the Scrooge McDuck School of Management, and the Donald Duck Department of Linguistics. The fact that the announcement appeared on MIT's homepage added official credibility to it. But in fact, the announcement was the work of students who had hacked into the school's central server and replaced the school's real web page with a phony one.
The citizens of Venice woke on the morning of April 1, 1919 to find piles of horse manure deposited throughout the Piazza San Marco, as if a procession of horses had gone through there during the night. This was extremely unusual, since the Piazza is surrounded by canals and not easily accessible to horses. The manure turned out to be the work of the infamous British prankster Horace de Vere Cole, who was honeymooning in Venice. He had transported a load of manure over from the mainland the night before with the help of a gondolier and had then deposited small piles of it throughout the Piazza. Perhaps he should have been paying more attention to his wife while on honeymoon because, evidently tired by his constant hijinks, she divorced him a few years later.
In 2000 the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) warned that it planned to sabotage the bass fishing tournament in East Texas's Lake Palestine by releasing tranquilizers into the lake before the tournament. Their announcement stated that "this year, the fish will be napping, not nibbling." State officials took the threat seriously and stationed rangers around the lake in order to stop any tranquilizer-toting PETA activists from drugging the fish, and numerous newspapers reported the threat. Eventually PETA admitted that it had been joking.
In 1992, the Moskovskaya Pravda
(Moscow Truth) published a special March 32nd edition in which it announced that the winds of capitalism transforming Russia would bring further changes for the residents of Moscow. Plans had been finalized to build a new Moscow subway system. Of course, there was nothing wrong with the city's current subway. But in the spirit of capitalism, the second system would be built to promote "the interests of competition." The paper had changed its name for that day to the Moskovskaya Nye-Pravda
, or Moscow Un-Truth.
All text Copyright © 2011 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.