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.
Over the years numerous statues of the Virgin Mary have been known to miraculously start weeping, but in 1995 an Italian statue of Lenin in the town of Cavriago joined the club. A huge crowd gathered to witness the milky white tears rolling down the statue's metal cheeks. The crowd remained for hours until the tears were eventually revealed to be a prank.
In 1988 the Soviet newspaper Izvestia
reported that the world-renowned Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona was in negotiations to join Spartak Moscow. The Spartaks were to pay him $6 million to play on their struggling team. Izvestia
later admitted that the story was an April Fool's day joke, but only after the news was disseminated by the Associated Press
, which then had to publish a red-faced retraction. The AP had believed the story because it was the first time in modern memory that a Soviet newspaper had published an April Fool's day hoax. The sudden display of humor was attributed to Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost, or openness.
During the 1990s stories of the ruthlessness of Russian gangsters became increasingly prevalent in the news, but apparently just because the gangsters were ruthless, that didn't mean they weren't fashion conscious. In 1996 Itar-Tass
announced that a military factory had begun manufacturing diamond-encrusted grenades, which it was selling to Russian gangsters concerned about dispatching their enemies with style. "The use of such a grenade will leave your one-time rival in a sea of beautiful sparkling gems rather than in a pool of blood," the article noted.
In 2000 The Independent
reported that Florida researchers had developed a Viagra-like pill to treat sexually frustrated pets, including hamsters. Veterinarians were said to have greeted the news with derision, but the article pointed out that there are few things as sad as a pet suffering from feelings of sexual inadequacy, noting that "It's not unknown for a guinea pig to sit in its cage thinking, 'I haven't had sex for months. Am I so unattractive?'." Owners were instructed to simply grind the pills up and sprinkle them in the pet's food. Laying some newspaper down on the floor once the pills began to take effect was also advised. The pills were to be marketed under the brand name Feralmone.
In 1959 the Kokomo Tribune
, based in Indiana, announced that the city police had devised a plan to cut costs and save money. According to this plan, the police station would close each night from 6 pm to 6 am An answering machine would record all calls made to the station during this time, and these calls would be screened by an officer in the morning. The police reportedly anticipated that the screening process would save the city a great deal of money, since many of the calls would be old by the morning and would not need to be answered. A spokesman for the police admitted that "there will be a problem on what to do in the case of a woman who calls in and says her husband has threatened to shoot her or some member of the family." But in such a situation, the spokesman explained, "We will check the hospitals and the coroner, and if they don't have any record of any trouble, then we will know that nothing happened."
In 1994 residents of Glendale and Peoria, Arizona woke to find yellow fliers posted around their neighborhoods warning them of "Operation Killer Bees." Apparently there was to be widespread aerial spraying later that day to eradicate a killer bee population that had made its way into the area. Residents were warned to stay indoors from 9 am until 2:30 pm. The phone numbers of local television and radio stations were provided. On the bottom of the flier the name of an official government agency was listed: Arizona Pest Removal Information Line (For Outside Operations Listings). The first letters of this agency spelled out "April Fool." Few people got the joke. Radio and television stations received numerous calls, as did the Arizona Agriculture Department. Many worried residents stayed inside all day, anxiously watching out their windows for the pest-control planes to fly overhead.
The April 1999 edition of Red Herring
Magazine included an article about a revolutionary new technology that allowed users to compose and send email telepathically. The company developing this technology was Tidal Wave Communications, led by Yuri Maldini, a computer genius from Estonia. Mr. Maldini claimed that he had developed the technology from the encrypted communications systems he had helped the army put in place during the Gulf War. At the end of the article the reporter recalled a moment when he asked Mr. Maldini how big the market for such a product might be: "Mr. Maldini falls silent. He stares vacantly for several moments out his office window and then says, 'I just sent you an email with my answer.' Upon returning to our office, we find the response waiting: 'It's going to be huge,' reads the email. 'Simply huge.'" Red Herring received numerous letters from readers admitting they had been fooled by the article.
In 1999 the Savings Bank of Rockville placed an ad in the Connecticut Journal-Inquirer
announcing that it would soon begin charging a $5 fee to customers who visited a live teller. The ad, which appeared on March 31, claimed that the fee was necessary in order to provide, "professional, caring and superior customer service." Although the ad was a joke, many customers failed to recognize it as such. One woman reportedly closed her account because of it. The bank then ran a second ad revealing that the initial ad was a joke. The bank manager commented that the first ad ironically "commits us to not charging such fees."
In 1993 London's Independent
announced the discovery by archaeologists of the 3000-year-old village of the cartoon hero Asterix. The village was said to have been found at Le Yaudet, near Lannion, France, in almost precisely the location where Rene Goscinny, Asterix's creator, had placed it in his books. The expedition was led by Professor Barry Cunliffe, of Oxford University, and Dr. Patrick Galliou, of the University of Brest. Supposedly the team found evidence that the small village had never been occupied by Roman forces. They also discovered Celtic coins printed with the image of a wild boar (the favorite food of Asterix's friend Obelix), as well as a large collection of rare Iron Age menhirs (standing stones) "of the precise size favoured by the indomitable Obelix whose job as a menhir delivery man has added a certain academic weight to the books."
The London Times
reported in 1992 that formal negotiations were underway to divide Belgium in half. The Dutch-speaking north would join the Netherlands and the French-speaking south would join France. An editorial in the paper then lamented that, "The fun will go from that favorite parlor game: Name five famous Belgians." The report apparently fooled the British foreign office minister Tristan Garel-Jones who almost went on a TV interview prepared to discuss this "important" story. The Belgian embassy also received numerous calls from journalists and expatriate Belgians seeking to confirm the news. A rival paper later criticized the prank, declaring that, "The Times's effort could only be defined as funny if you find the very notion of Belgium hilarious."
All text Copyright © 2011 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.