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Every few years I decide the site needs a makeover. And recently I felt that feeling growing within me, so that's what I've been doing for the past few days.

The primary change has been to provide only summaries of the blog posts on the front page, rather than the posts in their entirety. This makes it easier to see what's been posted recently. I decided this was the way to go after realizing that a lot of visitors to the site would look only at the top post and miss all the posts below it.

I also centered the entire site in the browser window, rather than having it hug the left-hand side.

Hopefully none of these changes will prove disruptive in any way!
Categories: Miscellaneous
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 09, 2014
Comments (6)
This e-junkie author complains that April Fool's Day marketing has gotten out of hand. There definitely was a huge amount of it this year. But I don't see the trend going away anytime soon, since marketers aren't exactly known for restraint. And to be honest, I'm not really bothered by it like this author is.

Perhaps I'm just easily amused, but I kind of enjoy looking through all the weird stuff advertisers come up with every April 1. Though it is true that the advertisers don't make much of an effort to actually fool anyone. They're primarily aiming for being funny/cute/quirky.

Categories: April Fools Day
Posted by Alex on Sat Apr 05, 2014
Comments (1)
Manchester artist John Hyatt took some photographs of the landscape around Rossendale in Lancashire. But when he later enlarged those he images he noticed they showed tiny winged creatures that looked like fairies.

Hyatt told the Manchester Evening News:
"It was a bit of a shock when I blew them up, I did a double take.
"I went out afterwards and took pictures of flies and gnats and they just don't look the same.
"People can decide for themselves what they are.
"The message to people is to approach them with an open mind.
"I think it's one of those situations where you need to believe to see.
"A lot of people who have seen them say they have brought a little bit of magic into their lives and there's not enough of that around."

Hyatt's fairy photos are currently on display at the Whitaker Museum in Whitaker Park, Rossendale.
When not photographing fairies, Hyatt is director of MIRIAD (the Manchester Institute for Research and Innovation in Art and Design).

So what could those things in his photographs be? I have no idea. Perhaps they're just insects. Perhaps they're bits of floating pollen. Or perhaps they're something else entirely.

I doubt the shapes have been photoshopped in. That seems too easy.

I'm also pretty sure Hyatt didn't prop the figures up with hatpins, which was the technique used by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths to create the Cottingley Fairies.
Categories: Paranormal, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 04, 2014
Comments (12)
NPR succeeded in pulling off one of the most successful April 1 pranks this year, in terms of number of people fooled.

It posted the article below to Facebook that asked in the headline, "Why Doesn't America Read Anymore?"

The provocative question quickly generated hundreds of responses. Some people bemoaned falling standards of education. Others disagreed with the premise, insisting that people do read nowadays.

But what all the responses shared in common was that the people who posted them apparently hadn't bothered to click through and READ THE ARTICLE ITSELF!

If they had, they would have discovered this text:
Congratulations, genuine readers, and happy April Fools' Day!
We sometimes get the sense that some people are commenting on NPR stories that they haven't actually read. If you are reading this, please like this post and do not comment on it. Then let's see what people have to say about this "story."
Best wishes and have an enjoyable day,
Your friends at NPR

Of course, a lot of the people who were fooled subsequently deleted their comments. So now the thousand+ comments on the post are mostly from people laughing about the joke.
Categories: April Fools Day
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 04, 2014
Comments (2)
Found in Mermaids with Other Tales (1882) by Charles Henry Ross : a discussion of broiled mermaids.

Apparently they taste like pork, which isn't surprising since (so it's said) human flesh tastes like pork also.

But I wonder what wine pairs best with mermaid?

In the "Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences," John Jablousky says the skin of meer men and mermaids is of a brownish-grey colour, and their intestines are like those of a hog; their flesh as fat as pork, particularly the upper part of their bodies; and this is a favourite dish with the Indians, broiled upon a gridiron.

Again, Edward Draper elsewhere says, "Mermaids are frequently catched which resemble the human species. They are taken in nets and killed, and are heard to shriek and cry like women. The flesh is much like pork in taste, and the ribs are reckoned a good astringent."

Categories: Cryptozoology, Food
Posted by Alex on Thu Apr 03, 2014
Comments (0)
Seen circulating online with the caption "Just some friendly Australian wildlife".

Of course, emus don't have teeth like that. Looks like someone added a row of shark's teeth to the bird.

I believe the original image (below) comes from wikimedia commons.

Categories: viral images
Posted by Alex on Thu Apr 03, 2014
Comments (3)

The Yankee Rubber Baby was, as the name suggests, an American-made rubber baby doll. Advertisements for it appeared in many newspapers and magazines throughout the 1880s.

The ads claimed the device could simulate the sound of a baby screaming or cooing happily. I'm not sure how it would have done that. Though I'm guessing there must have been some kind of air bladder that you squeezed to make a noise. But the sound certainly doesn't seem to have been as lifelike as the ads suggested. From a review in Punch (Apr 23, 1881)
The Rubber Baby makes a horrid squeaky noise, is easily blown out, and then goes pop, — quite a little Poppet. What an advantage to poor mothers to be able to pop a Baby! Tell this to the School-Board.

Nevertheless, the Yankee Rubber Baby appears to have appealed to pranksters for its potential shock value, as indicated by the story below, which ran in London newspapers in 1887 [via]:
The train was just about to start. There were three of us in the carriage – myself and two ladies – when a young man thrust himself in, carrying a baby. He looked very young to be engaged in such a manner. Young men of about 22 years of age (and he looked no older), do not travel about on the underground railway carrying babies: at least, I had never seen any till now. He seemed very awkward with it, and it protested every now and then. The two ladies began talking, and I listened.
'How nice it is for young men to be so domesticated!'
'Yes, indeed. What a little darling it is too – so quiet.'
'A-a-a! ha a! ha a a!' remarked the little darling.
'Shut up,' said the young gentleman, pinching it.
The ladies assumed a threatening aspect.
'Sir', said one of them, 'babies in convulsions are not usually treated in that manner, and unless you desist at once I shall feel it my duty to call the guard.'
'I'll do what I like,' said the young man, and taking the baby by its long robe, began to swing it round and round, so that its head came in contact with the door frame, after each revolution, the shrieking became terrific.
I got up and pushed him away from the door. Before I could put my head out of the window to summon the guard, however, he laid his hand on my arm, and laid the baby on the seat of the carriage.
'Look here, old man', he said. 'You may call the guard if you like, but recollect that this baby is mine, therefore I've a right to do what I like with it. It's mine – I paid for it.'
'You what, sir?' I gasped.
He sat down violently and said, 'Why what?'
Bang! The train stopped. He got out, leaving on the seat a broken Yankee Rubber Baby.
Categories: Birth/Babies
Posted by Alex on Thu Apr 03, 2014
Comments (0)
April 1, 1937 — The Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung ran a story about Siamese twins joined by their beard.

The story noted: "The brothers have solved all the problems of life joined together by means of their exemplary camaraderie. It is interesting that the phenomenon only manifested itself when the twins reached the age of 14."

Categories: April Fools Day
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 01, 2014
Comments (0)
It seems like the site's server isn't crashing, as it usually does on April 1! So that's good news.

I've been posting a bunch of today's April Fools over at the Hoax Museum Facebook page, since it's easier to post stuff quickly over there.

I'll add the best to the April Fool Archive later.
Categories: April Fools Day
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 01, 2014
Comments (0)
The New York Times does not participate in the custom of April Fool's Day. It's the paper that only publishes "news that's fit to print," and April fool absurdities don't make the cut.

Except for one time that maybe it did publish an April fool story. It was way back on April 1, 1906 when the following story appeared on the front page of the Times.

It's an odd story. It's not really laugh-out-loud funny. But anyone familiar with the climate around the Salton Sea would immediately realize that the idea that it had frozen solid was absurd. And ice skating on the Salton Sea? Never happened.

And six days later, on April 7, the Los Angeles Times called out the story, in a column headlined "A Masterpiece of Fooling".
Under the caption "Nature's Packing Plant" and a special Washington date line, the conservative New York Times of April 1 prints on its first page this remarkable piece of news in all apparent seriousness...

[text of the NYT article]

It seems a pity to spoil an April Fool Day gem like that, but lest some of our visitors get out their skates and stampede to the Imperial country to have a frolic on the ice, it may be as well to mention the fact that the Salton sink is considerably below sea level and, next to Death Valley, the nearest to the infernal regions, in winter or summer, of any spot on the crust of the earth, with a climate appropriate to its location.

The day on which the story appeared in the New York paper, the first of April, is not without significance. It is a peach of a story, but it is no more fantastic than some of the yarns about the Salton Sea and the Imperial country, faked up as real news and published with fake illustrations by Hearst's Los Angeles paper.

Wonder who gave the New York Times that "fill!" Or did that journal deliberately pass it out to the readers of its telegraphic dispatches?

It's possible, as the LA Times speculated, that the NYT was fooled by someone else and didn't intend to publish a fake story. However, the NYT article said that the news was "special to The New York Times," which suggests to me that it was their own story.

The story later got picked up by a few other publications, such as the Daily Public Ledger (Maysville, Ky - Apr 19, 1906), which accepted the news uncritically.

However, The National Provisioner - Apr 28, 1906, noted that the story "may be taken with a liberal allowance of the salt he speaks of."
Categories: April Fools Day
Posted by Alex on Mon Mar 31, 2014
Comments (0)
With April Fool's Day fast approaching, I've been working on the April Fool Archive, trying to add supplementary material, etc. In the course of which, I realized that I didn't have much information about the early history of April Fool's Day in Germany. Specifically, what is the earliest German reference to April Fool's Day? Knowing this would give us an idea of how long the Germans have been celebrating April first.

That question was harder to answer than I had anticipated.

The Diet of Augsburg, 1530
There's a German origin story about April Fool's Day that alleges the celebration started on account of a meeting of the Reichstag in Augsburg in 1530. The meeting was called to address a number of issues, such as trying to unify the Germans against the Turks, addressing religious disputes, and regulating coinage.

Augsburg, circa 1500

According to the story, a special meeting to address the coinage issue was scheduled for April 1, and in anticipation of it many speculators began to trade currency, hoping to profit by anticipating whatever new regulations would be enacted. But then the meeting was delayed. Not once, but several times, which caused a financial crisis among these speculators. A kind of 16th century stockmarket crash. And so these speculators were mocked and became the first April fools.

This origin story isn't very believable. Yes, the Reichstag did meet in Augsburg in 1530. It was scheduled to meet on April 8, but then it was delayed until May 1, and then delayed again until June 20. That much is true. But was there a special meeting to regulate coinage scheduled for April 1? I haven't been able to confirm that. But even if there was, and the speculators were mocked, why would this have inspired a custom of April 1st pranks in other parts of Europe? Because we know that by 1561 the custom of April 1 foolishness was already established in Belgium and the Netherlands. That timeline doesn't make any sense.

Also, there's no historical evidence that backs up this origin story. No literary references, or anything of that kind. The earliest references to it that I can find appear in the late 19th century. For instance, it's described (and dismissed as false) in the 1871 issue of the Dutch journal De Volksvermaken.

The First Reference?
So if we dismiss the Augsburg story as a fanciful tall tale (one of many fanciful tales about the origin of April Fool's Day), then what was the actual, first German reference to the custom of making fools on April 1?

According to the German version of Wikipedia, the earliest reference is the use of the phrase "in den April schicken" in Bavaria in 1618. This phrase is an idiomatic way of saying "to make an April fool". It translates literally as "to send someone in April". There are some regional variations in how the phrase is said, such as "zum April schicken", "um den April schicken", and "für den April schicken".

A lot of online sources repeat this claim. For instance, the magazine Stern says it, as do many other sites.

The problem is, none of these sites provide a citation specifying what text this phrase appeared in back in 1618. Scholarly articles about the history of April Fool's Day in Germany (the few such articles that exist) aren't any better about providing a citation to back up this claim.

But after a lot of searching, I finally found a German dictionary that provided a citation, Trübners Deutsches Wörterbuch (1939). It tells us (once you decode the old-fashioned font) that the phrase appeared in Wolfgang Schönsleder's German-Latin dictionary, Promptuarium Germanico-Latinum, published in Bavaria in 1618.

Trübners Deutsches Wörterbuch (1939), page 117

I thought I'd have to take Trübners' word for it, but when I checked online, I discovered (to my surprise) that Schönsleder's 1618 dictionary has been scanned and is available on Google Books. So I looked through it, but I couldn't find the phrase "in den April schicken" (or any variation of it) in there.

Then I noticed that there was more than one edition of Schönsleder's dictionary, and sure enough, in the 4th edition (published 1647) I found the phrase "in Aprillen schicken," which Schönsleder defined as "calendis Aprilibus circummittere" (i.e. to send around on the calends of April, or on the first of April).

So the editors of Trübners Deutsches Wörterbuch evidently had access to a later edition of the Promptuarium Germanico-Latinum. (If you look at their reference closely, you see that they cite the 5th edition specifically.) They saw that the phrase "in Aprillen schicken" appeared in it, and assumed that the same phrase must also have been in the first 1618 edition, without checking to see if it actually was.

And ever since then people have been repeating the claim that the first German reference to April Fool's Day appeared in 1618. But no, it didn't. If the Promptuarium Germanico-Latinum is the source we're using, we can only say that it listed the phrase 'in April schicken' in 1647.

So when was the actual first April Fool reference in German?
If you look around enough, you'll find a few sites that claim it was in 1631. Though again, they don't specify what text the reference appeared in.

But I repeated the process of looking in old German dictionaries and encyclopedias, and eventually came across the Handwörterbuch Des Deutschen Aberglaubens (1927), which listed 1631 as the earliest April Fool reference in Germany, and cited the Mecklenburgische Volksüberlieferungen (1906) by Richard Wossidlo as the source for that date.

And Wossidlo's Mecklenburgische Volksüberlieferungen, in turn, identified a 1631 leaflet titled "Eigentliche Contrafactur, Wie Kön. May. zu Schweden den alten Corporal Tyllen nach dem Aprill schicket" as being the text in which this April Fool reference appeared.

And yes, this leaflet verifiably exists!

A copy of it was sold last year by the Zisska & Schauer auction house for $900! The auction catalog describes the leaflet as an "Anti-Catholic lampoon, in which Count Tilly is depicted as a vagabond April fool on his way to Rome to seek refuge there from the Swedes." It also lists the publication date as 1632 (not 1631), and provides a small image (below) of the leaflet.

Who was this Count Tilly? He was Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly. Wikipedia tell us that he "commanded the Catholic League's forces in the Thirty Years' War. He had a string of important victories against the Protestants but was then defeated by forces led by the King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden."

Count Tilly

But wait, there's more!
The 1632 April fool reference is a good one, but there's an even older one.

Wossidlo, in his Mecklenburgische Volksüberlieferungen, also draws attention to an article titled "Notizen eines Strassburger Bürgers um 1625" (Notes of a Strasbourg citizen from 1625) in Volume 7 of the Jahrbuch für Geschichte, Sprache und Literatur Elsass-Lothringens (1888).

This article describes a "mess of documents" found in the Strasbourg City Archives. These documents were written by or for Lorenz Fritsch, a glazier (glass maker), in the first decades of the 17th century, up to 1625 (approximately).

The papers included a strange variety of writings: recipes for food and medicines, diary notes, sermons, songs, aphorisms, etc. The article then reproduces some of these writings. And in what appears to be a diary entry for April (year unnoted) we find this line:
Am ersten tag des Appril schickt man die Narren wohin man will.

This is an old German saying. It means, "On the first of April you send fools wherever you want." It's clearly an April Fool reference, and if it was written before 1625, this would make it the earliest known April Fool reference in German.

Of course, it would be nice to check these Strasbourg city archives to verify that these notes really were as old as the 1888 article claimed. But there's really no reason to doubt the veracity of the article in the Jahrbuch für Geschichte, Sprache und Literatur.

So there you have it. The answer to the question, 'What's the earliest German reference to April Fool's Day?" is that the first reference appears to be an entry in a Strasbourg glazier's diary written circa 1625.

What relevance does this have?
Well, apart from being interesting to history nerds like myself who enjoy chasing down obscure references, it tells us that the custom of April Fool's Day was established in Germany by the early seventeenth century. However, we find Dutch references to April Fool's Day that are about 50 years older, dating to the mid 16th century. This indicates that the custom of April Fool's Day was probably imported into Germany from the Netherlands.
Categories: April Fools Day
Posted by Alex on Thu Mar 20, 2014
Comments (1)

St. John's College in Cambridge is inviting the public to view a famous artifact from the history of hoaxes — a first-edition of The History of Formosa written by George Psalmanazar. [link: Belfast Telegraph]

Back in the early 18th century, Psalmanazar posed as a native of Taiwan and had many of Britain's educated elites believing the ruse, even as he invented bizarre stories about the customs of Taiwan.

If there was a real Museum of Hoaxes, this would be a great artifact to have on display. But it also shows the difficulty of ever having such a museum, because it turns out these artifacts are incredibly expensive, making the cost of acquiring them prohibitive.

Unless the museum were full of fake copies of these artifacts. Fakes of fakes.
Categories: History, Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Sat Mar 15, 2014
Comments (2)
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