As I noted yesterday, by the late seventeenth century April Fool’s Day was an established fact in Europe at least. With the formalized scheduling of a day free to prank without impunity, the challenge was on! Once again I will direct to The Museum of Hoaxes for historical examples. Here are a few I thought were fabulous and/or interesting.
The Train to Drogheda
One of the early hoaxes, as reported in the April 6, 1844 edition of the London Times, is as follows:
During the final week of March, 1844, placards appeared around Dublin advertising a free train ride on April 1st to all who desired it, transporting passengers to the town of Drogheda and back. Early on the first of April a large crowd gathered at the station. As a train approached, the crowd surged forward, eager to secure their free seats. But the conductors and overseers intervened to keep the people away from the train, informing them that there was no free ride. The crowd grew displeased, and a riot broke out. “The labourers on the road supported the overseers—the victims fought for their places, and the melee was tremendous.” The following day a number of people went to the police station to lodge official complaints, but the police dismissed all complaints “in honour of the day.”
“Please to Admit the Bearer and friend, to view the ANNUAL CEREMONY OF WASHING THE LIONS on Wednesday, April 1st, 1857.”
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries cards similar to the one here from 1857 were handed out on the streets of London to unsuspecting tourists. Versions of the prank varied, some saying the lions were to be washed in the moat around the Tower while others instructed to enter through the “White Gate” which did not exist. Whatever the version, this so-called “white goose chase” prank sent gullible travelers to the Tower where, of course, there were no lions period, let alone being washed!
The “washing the lions” prank can be traced to the April 2, 1698 edition of Dawks’s News-Letter that reported “Yesterday being the first of April, several persons were sent to the Tower Ditch to see the Lions washed,” giving it the distinction as the oldest known April Fool’s Day hoax.
Pranks Gone Bad
In 2008 full-page ads and press releases announced the new dining choice for lefties, in which placement of condiments like pickles was rotated 180 degrees, “thereby redistributing the weight of the sandwich so that the bulk of the condiments will skew to the left, thereby reducing the amount of lettuce and other toppings from spilling out the right side of the burger.” Many people earnestly asked for the new sandwich, Burger King later releasing a statement saying it was all a cruel joke.
In 1977 the Guardian published a seven-page “special report” about San Serriffe, a small country located in the Indian Ocean consisting of several islands that make the shape of a semi-colon. The two main islands were called Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. They did an in-depth series of articles on the history, geography and daily life on these idyllic islands.
The Guardian’s phones rang all day as readers wanted more information about the perfect-sounding fictional holiday spot, and the hoax began a tradition in newspapers to try fooling their readers.
In 1957 a news show broadcast by Panorama aired a three-minute segment about a bumper spaghetti harvest in southern Switzerland. This was apparently because of an unusually mild winter and the “virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil,” with video footage of a Swiss family pulling pasta off spaghetti trees and placing it into baskets. The show said: “For those who love this dish, there’s nothing like real, home-grown spaghetti.”
Hundreds of people phoned the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To this query the BBC simply said: “Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”