6 April Fool’s Day Pranks From History

By Diane Haddad

Tales of April Fool’s Day origins vary. Some say the tradition of playing pranks began about 1562 in France. Pope Gregory introduced the Gregorian Calendar, with the year starting on Jan 1 instead of April 1, but some hadn’t heard of or didn’t believe the date change. When they still celebrated the new year on April 1, their more enlightened countrymen played tricks on them and called them April Fools.

Today we might set all the clocks ahead two hours or put confetti in a spouse’s umbrella (or create an imaginative magazine cover). On a grand scale, some of my favorite April Fool’s Day pranks from history include:

1933: The Madison Capital-Times newspaper reported that the state capitol collapsed due to explosions from gases produced by the debates of state politicians. The article was complete with a doctored photo showing the capitol dome askew.

1949: New Zealand radio announcer Phil Shone told listeners a mile-wide wasp swarm was headed for Auckland. He urged them to take precautions such as wearing socks over their pants and leaving traps outside their doors. Hundreds complied.

1957: The BBC news show Panorama announced a bumper spaghetti crop in Switzerland, with footage of farmers pulling spaghetti strands from trees. Viewers who called the BBC asking how to grow their own spaghetti trees were advised to “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”

1976: An astronomer said during a BBC Radio 2 interview that at 9:47 a.m., Pluto would pass behind Jupiter, causing a phenomenon that would reduce the Earth’s gravity. Anyone who jumped at the exact moment of the planetary alignment would feel a floating sensation. Hundreds claimed to have felt this sensation.

1977: This one is close to my editor’s heart: Britain’s Guardian newspaper published a seven-page supplement about an Indian Ocean holiday spot called San Serriffe. The two main islands, Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse, resembled a semicolon, with towns such as Bodoni and Garamondo, a leader named Gen. Maria-Jesu Pica, and a national bird called the Kwote. Guinness, Texaco and Kodak ran ads. Readers called the paper’s offices all day for more information, and travel agencies and airlines complained that customers were insisting on vacationing in the islands. The San Serriffe Liberation Front even wrote the Guardian editor protesting the paper’s pro-government slant.

1996: Taco Bell took out full-page ads in major newspapers, announcing the company had bought the Liberty Bell and renamed it the Taco Liberty Bell. The Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, which houses the Liberty Bell, was flooded with angry calls.

I don’t have any stories of pranksters in my family. How about you?