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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)
Several weeks ago, some wine-industry veterans (Kevin Boyer and Philip James) announced the invention of a gadget that would allow people to make wine at home in only 3 days. They called it the "miracle machine."

The gadget seemed somewhat plausible, given the existence of home-brewing kits for beer. Plus it was promoted by a slick video and accompanying website. So over 600 media outlets took the bait and reported it as news.

But yesterday, the "inventors" issued a press release revealing that the 'miracle machine' was just a hoax. But it was a hoax for a good cause. The idea was to promote a non-profit organization called "Wine to Water," which is trying to provide global access to clean water.
Categories: Food, Websites
Posted by Alex on Thu Mar 13, 2014
Comments (0)
Would you like a small 12 oz beer for $4, or a large 12 oz one for $7? Your pick!

It reminds me of that old Dunkin' Donuts offer: "Free 3 muffins when you buy 3 at the regular half-dozen price!"

Except in the beer case, people were (allegedly) paying more for nothing but a different cup design.
Hockey Fans Suing Arena Over Misleading Beer Prices
By REBECCA BOONE Associated Press

A handful of Idaho hockey fans sued a Boise arena on Tuesday, saying they were duped into thinking a $7 beer contains more brew than a $4 beer. The lawsuit says CenturyLink Arena, home of the Idaho Steelheads hockey team, defrauded customers by charging $3 more for a tall, narrow cup advertised as a "large" that actually holds the same amount of beer as the shorter, wider cup described as a "small."

Categories: Advertising
Posted by Alex on Thu Mar 13, 2014
Comments (0)

Director Tatia Pilieva recently released a video showing 20 strangers who were paired up and then asked to kiss each other. The video quickly went viral, with currently over 37 millions views on YouTube.

But now the video is being outed as a kind of hoax because while it is true that the people were all strangers to each other, they were also professional performers. And the whole video was an ad for clothes, paid for by Wren Studio which is promoting its "Fall 14 collection".

Amanda Hess writes for Slate:
The video peddles the fantasy that beauty can spring from an unexpected connection between two random people, but what it's really showing us is the beauty of models making out. It's like the hipster Bachelor. I doubt that millions of viewers would be so quick to celebrate a video of randos kissing if they were all less thin, hip, stylish, charming, and well-manicured.
In an interesting parallel, Robert Doisneau's famous 1950 photo of a Parisian couple kissing, titled "The kiss at city hall," was also staged by professional models. Doisneau revealed this in 1993 after a couple who claimed to be the pair in the scene sued him, seeking compensation for the use of their image.

Categories: Sex/Romance, Videos
Posted by Alex on Thu Mar 13, 2014
Comments (0)
Recently seen circulating on Twitter with the caption, "Heart glare reflection on the shores of Hawaii".

The picture was taken in Hawaii. That's true. Waikiki beach, to be specific. But the 'heart glare reflection' isn't real.

The photo is a manipulation created by DeviantArt user 'charmbuster' back in April 2008. He wrote: "an experiment... this is a slight photomanip, the shape was so close i had to make it a heart! (waikiki beach)"

It's been floating around the Internet ever since 2008. Sometimes it's titled 'sea heart' or 'beach heart'.

(via PicPedant)
Categories: Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Sat Mar 08, 2014
Comments (0)
In September 1934, Louis Nasch, a department store painter living in St. Paul, Minnesota, alerted the press to the fact that his wife, Martha, hadn't had anything to eat or drink in the last seven years. She hadn't slept either. And yet she was perfectly healthy.

Louis explained that he decided to go public with this information because "I do not want people to think I am starving my wife."

Louis and Martha Nasch

Upon being questioned by the press, Martha insisted it was true, though she conceded that she realized "the world will not believe me."

To back up her claim, her husband, their 12-year-old son Robert, and a girl who lived next door had all signed a statement swearing they hadn't seen her eat or drink anything for the last 7 years. Furthermore, Martha said she was willing to undergo scientific tests to prove she didn't need to eat.

But it doesn't seem like doctors ever took her up on the challenge. In fact, when reporters asked doctors in St. Paul if it could be true that she had lived without any nourishment, they "derided" the idea.

Unfortunately, I have no idea what become of Mrs. Nasch. After the brief flurry of attention in 1934, there was never again a news story about her, as far as I can tell.

According to census records, Martha, Louis, and Robert were all still living in St. Paul in 1940. But after that, nothing. Except that according to Minnesota death records, Louis died in 1964. But I can't find any death records for Martha. Maybe she's still alive somewhere. After all, if she didn't need to eat or drink, it's possible she didn't need to die either.

La Crosse Tribune and Leader-Press - Sep 20, 1934

St. Paul Woman Claims She Hasn't Eaten, Drunk Anything For 7 Years

ST. PAUL, Minn.— A 44-year-old, bob-haired St. Paul housewife, who "knows the world will not believe me," averred today she has taken neither food nor drink for seven years.

Strong enough to cook and do the housework for her husband and son, Mrs. Martha Nasch sat mending socks in the front room of her little home at 642 Half avenue as she stolidly maintained, under questioning of a reporter, that she has not eaten or drunk since 1927.

Across the room sat her husband, Louis J. Nasch, 55-year-old department store painter, who says he has not seen his wife eat or drink since July 29. The husband notified newspaper men of his wife's condition because "I do not want people to think I am starving my wife."

Twelve-year-old Robert Nasch, a student in Theodore Roosevelt junior high school, has, his parents said, smiling, "been telling every one that my mom doesn't eat or drink anything."

Although unable to explain completely what she describes as "my supernatural condition," Mrs. Nasch is willing to undergo a test under constant surveillance to prove her fasting claims.

"Place me under constant watch for any length of time," she said, "and I can prove that I do not need food or water. Let the test run six months if necessary."

Mrs. Nasch contends that when she first observed a change in her life she consulted a St. Paul physician. The result was confinement in the State Insane hospital at St. Peter.

"Somehow the world was not the same," she said. "My body felt and still feels as though it were petrified. I could not eat or drink. I did not want it, although I continued to get meals for my family.

"The doctor told me I had a case of nerves," she continued, "and because I refused to eat I was sent to St. Peter. They thought I was insane, yet they told me I was normal in every other way. I read books, wrote and drew pictures. I hid or threw away the food brought me."

While in the hospital Mrs. Nasch sought through scientific books available to find some explanation of her condition.

"I found a plausible explanation in the Bible," she maintained, "although I never had paid much attention to the Bible up to that time. In the Old Testament I found this: 'They shall see food, but not eat. It shall be of wormwood. They shall see water, but not drink. It shall be as gall.' That describes perfectly my condition, but I cannot understand why this curse should be visited on me."
Categories: Food, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Fri Mar 07, 2014
Comments (4)
Italian social media is all abuzz with the news that the European Commission is offering to pay any EU family 1500 euro a month to host a political refugee from Ukraine — but particularly to host young Ukrainian women "who have always been discriminated against for trivial reasons." In response, many men are taking to Twitter/Facebook and are selflessly offering to host a young Ukrainian woman without receiving any compensation at all!

Unfortunately the offer isn't real. The story comes from an Italian fake news site: Giornale del Corriere. [via blog sicilia]

Categories: Social Networking Sites
Posted by Alex on Thu Mar 06, 2014
Comments (0)
In 1966, Dean Martin contributed a burger recipe to The Celebrity Cookbook, which was a collection of recipes by celebrities put together by Dinah Shore. Martin's simple recipe was as follows:

1 lb. ground beef
2 oz. bourbon---chilled

Preheat a heavy frying pan and sprinkle bottom lightly with table salt. Mix meat, handling lightly, just enough to form into four patties. Grill over medium-high heat about 4 minutes on each side.

Pour chilled bourbon in chilled shot glass and serve meat and bourbon on a TV tray.

In 2010, Martin's burger recipe, scanned from The Celebrity Cookbook, appeared online and quickly went viral. I think it may have first been posted by the culinary site Ladles and Jellyspoons.

Two years later, Martin's recipe again began to do the rounds, but now it was accompanied by what appeared to be Frank Sinatra's response to Martin's recipe. Some sites explained that "upon hearing about the notoriety of Dean’s signature burger recipe and Dinah’s book, Frank immediately went to work perfecting his 'Sinatra Burgers' recipe."

Sinatra's recipe is a funny response to Martin's, and the two letters, as a set, circulated widely. And recently they've been circulating again.

However, there's no evidence that the "Sinatra Burgers" recipe was written by Sinatra himself. In other words, it's a recent creation. The evidence for this:

1) There's no source given by anyone for this supposed recipe by Sinatra.

2) Dean Martin's nickname was Dino, not Deano. Or rather, it was his original name. He was born Dino Paul Crocetti. Sinatra wouldn't have made this mistake.

3) Sinatra's signature on the recipe is identical to a copy of his signature posted on the site Star Wars Autograph Collecting. This suggests that the signature was cut-and-pasted onto the recipe. The typed recipe itself could easily have been created in any word-processing program (note the modern, proportionally-spaced font). And a photoshop filter could finally have been used to make the entire document look like it was written on old paper.

Sinatra's signature,
via Star Wars Autograph Collecting
Categories: Food
Posted by Alex on Thu Mar 06, 2014
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The above photo has recently been circulating on social media purporting to show a "snow snake". A caption provides this warning:
This is the deadly snow snake. It has bitten 3 people in the state of Ohio and one in Pennsylvania. It’s been spotted in other states. It comes out in the cold weather and at this time there is no cure for it's bite. One bite and your blood starts to freeze. Scientist are trying to find a cure. Your body temperature start to fall once bitten. Please stay clear if you have see it. Please forward this and try to save as many people as we can from this deadly snow snake.

The usual skeptics are saying that the creature in the photo is really just a rubber snake, and that there is no such thing as a snow snake. Perhaps.

Or perhaps we can turn to more authoritative sources of information, such as Henry H. Tryon, author of Fearsome Critters (The Idlewild Press, 1939), who offers the following information about the Snow Snake.

Aestatesomnus hiemepericulosus

During the year of the Two Winters, when the July temperature dropped to -62°, these pink-eyed, white-bodied, savage serpents crossed over from Siberia via Bering Strait. They are bad actors; the venom is deadly, with a speed of action second only to that of the Hoop Snake or the Hamadryad.

Hibernating in summer but becoming active in winter, the Snow Snake coils on a low drift where its pure white color makes it wholly invisible to its prey. One strike is sufficient. Mankind is not often bitten as he makes too big a mouthful. But sometimes a Snake will get over-ambitious. When this does happen, tanglefoot oil is the only known remedy.

"I was treed by a Snow Snake" is still a much-used explanation of a late home-coming.

From newspapers, we also learn that the snow snake has long been considered to be the bane of skiers. As reported in the Roswell (N.M.) Daily Record - Dec 24, 1980:
Although zoologists disagree on the exact origin of the snow snake, knowledge of his habits is invaluable to every level of skier. These albino serpents tend to breed and overrun beginners' hills, abrupt drop-offs and large moguls...

He is a skier's scapegoat for stumbling, falling down and looking stupid on the slopes. Skiers can — and often do — blame his attempts to attach himself to a ski or pole for what might, otherwise, be mistaken for the skier's own clumsiness.

Roswell (N.M.) Daily Record - Dec 24, 1980

Because of their remarkable camouflage, snow snakes have rarely been captured, or even photographed. But in the Daily Sentinel (Le Mars, Iowa) - Jan 5, 1965 - we find some information about how one might try to capture a snow snake:
About the only way to capture these elusive creatures is to trick them into making themselves known. One method is to buy some black cough drops and lay them on the snow in a likely place. Then, when the snow snake takes the cough drop, it disappears. All you have to do is grab where the cough drop was but isn't and you have a snow snake. That is, you have one if you are quick enough at grabbing where the cough drop isn't.

Daily Sentinel (Le Mars, Iowa) - Jan 5, 1965
Categories: Animals, Folklore/Tall Tales
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 05, 2014
Comments (0)
On March 3 a video appeared online (with an accompanying website) announcing that a company had created an actual working hoverboard (aka HUVr Board), of the kind seen in the 1989 movie Back to the Future II, using antigravity technology. The video immediately went viral, with over 3 million views already on YouTube.

As many have noted, the video is clearly fake. No one has created a working hoverboard. But it was an impressive fake. Especially noteworthy is the number of celebrities appearing in the video — including Christopher Lloyd, Moby, Tony Hawk, Terrel Owens, etc.

Which raises the question: why did someone go to the considerable expense of creating this video? What's the purpose of it?

A leading theory is that it may be a teaser for an upcoming Back to the Future sequel.

But apparently the comedy site Funny or Die was involved in the video's production, as discovered by sleuths who found that an LA wardrobe stylist mentioned in her online resume having worked on the video for that site.

So maybe the video is just a viral comedy bit for Funny or Die.

Categories: Technology, Videos
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 05, 2014
Comments (0)

On April 1, 2013, Internet commerce site released a new product — the 70s Hairy Chest Sweater.

From the product description:
What makes lumberjacks, 70s television stars and the giant Brown Bears of Alaska so irresistibly attractive to others? Simple. Their long, luxuriant chest hair.
Sadly, the recent 'man-scaping' trend has led to an epidemic of people pedantically plucking their pecs. Oh, the humanity.
Thankfully, we’ve found a solution (while you wait for your rug to regenerate). The 70s Hairy Chest Sweater. This 100% polyester sweater is almost guaranteed to increase your masculinity, virility and ability to chop wood.
Pull it on to cover that embarrassing hairless body, or add it to your existing rug for additional ‘70s style points.

Of course, it was an April Fool's Day hoax, but it's one of those April Fool hoaxes that continue to fool people well past April 1st. For instance, I saw it discussed recently on
Categories: April Fools Day, Fashion
Posted by Alex on Sun Mar 02, 2014
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