Another April Fool’s Day and it only makes sense to laugh at the excellent pranks and tricks that have been pulled on a large scale. As always, the best place on the web for a complete catalog of hoaxes dating as far back as the Middle Ages, no lie, is The Museum of Hoaxes. They hunt down tricks played on gullible folks from the past and present. The ones I chose to share today are more of my favorites. In previous years I’ve blogged on the history of this silly holiday, and covered a few other pranks I consider awesome. Links are below if interested.
The Great Comic Strip Switcheroonie
April 1, 1997: When comic strip fans opened their papers, they discovered that their favorite strips looked different with characters from a wide array of popular comics popping up where they didn’t belong.
The chaos was caused by “The Great Comic Strip Switcheroonie” masterminded by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott, creators of the Baby Blues daily newspaper comic strip. Forty-six syndicated comic strip artists joined in the fun, agreeing to team up and pen each other’s strips for one day. Wikipedia has the full list of artists and strips. It was a scheduling nightmare between so many artists and a number of newspapers, but a tremendous success.
Below are two examples. Some have been lost to time, but THIS BLOG has collected quite a number of them.
Hawaiian Tax Refund
April 1, 1954: Hawaiian DJ Hal “Aku Head” Lewis announced on KHON radio in Honolulu that the U.S. Senate had not only approved Statehood for Hawaii but had also provided for an “immediate” refund of all 1953 Federal taxes to Island residents. The announcement seemed plausible because a Hawaiian tax refund had been in the news recently when Congressman Joseph Farrington had suggested that islanders should be given a refund of all federal taxes if Hawaii wasn’t granted full statehood.
The news caused massive turmoil throughout Hawaii. Radio stations, newspapers, and the Internal Revenue Bureau were flooded with calls from people seeking more information. Many banks received calls from people who wanted to place orders for stock and bond purchases with their forthcoming refund.
The uproar was so intense that the Associated Press had to officially set the record straight, calling it “the greatest commotion in Hawaii since the Pearl Harbor attack.” The general manager of the radio station publicly apologized, going on to say that DJ Hal Lewis was fired. Honolulans, proving they could take a joke, flooded the radio station with calls to protest the firing, only to find out later in the day that the firing and the “general manager” were all part of the joke too!
Not everyone loved the joke, particularly the local IRS office, but in the end no harm was done. Hawaii finally did achieve statehood, in 1959, but islanders’ taxes were never refunded.
Digital Big Ben
April 1, 1980: The BBC’s overseas news service reported that Big Ben, in order to keep up with the times, was going to be given a digital readout. The segment included people’s nostalgic reminiscences about the world’s most famous clock, such as anecdotes about the day it stopped and when it chimed 13 instead of 12. Finally, the service announced that the clock hands, being no longer needed, would be given away to the first four listeners to contact them. One Japanese seaman in the mid-Atlantic immediately radioed in, hoping to be among the lucky callers.
However, the BBC was shocked when it then began receiving a massive volume of calls from listeners who were furious that Big Ben was going to be meddled with. “Surprisingly, few people thought it was funny,” admitted Tony Lightley of the service. The BBC had to spend several days apologizing to listeners for upsetting them.
King’s College Choir Uses Helium
April 1, 2014: One does not immediately think of King’s College Choir, one of the oldest and most renowned choirs in England (founded by King Henry VI in 1441) as to go-to group for pranks and farce. Most assuredly this is why their April Fool’s Day trick in 2014 was a hilarious success.
The video below was posted on YouTube on March 31, the Reverend Richard Lloyd Morgan, King’s College Chaplain announcing that complex regulations had made it impractical to continue featuring young boys in the choir, and that they had been forced to find other ways to replicate the high pitch of the boys’ preadolescent voices.
“High male voices have been part of the choir sound for more than 500 years. After a lengthy consultation process, during which we learned that the surgical solution was surprisingly unpopular with the choral scholars, someone in the chemistry department came up with a simple solution — and now all we need is a very large tank of helium.”
The short video has, as of today, nearly 9.7million views. Be sure to keep an eye on the boy on the far left!
April 1, 1965: BBC TV interviewed a man they claimed was a London University professor, who had perfected a technology called “Smell-o-vision” allowing the transmission of smells over the airwaves. Viewers, he proclaimed, would be able to smell aromas produced in the television studio in their own homes. The “professor” explained that his machine broke scents down into their component molecules which were then transmitted through the screen, demonstrating by placing some coffee beans and onions into the Smell-o-vision machine. He asked viewers to report whether they had smelled anything, and numerous calls came in from across the country to confirm that they had distinctly experienced these scents. Some even claimed the onions made their eyes water! Oh, the power of suggestion!
To be fair to the gullible, there was a factual precedence, that being largely unsuccessful attempts to add aromas to theaters. As early as 1906 there had been schemes to waft smells into the air to wow audiences. AromaRama and Smell-o-vision competed in theaters for several years in the 1960s, failing miserably well before the BBC played this April Fool’s Day prank.
Taco Liberty Bell
April 1, 1996: A full page ad appeared in six major American newspapers (The Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, and USA Today) announcing that the fast food chain Taco Bell had purchased the Liberty Bell.
In a second press release, Taco Bell assured that the Liberty Bell would be shared between Philadelphia and the company headquarters in Irvine, California. They went on, boasting that, “Taco Bell’s heritage and imagery have revolved around the symbolism of the bell. Now we’ve got the crown jewel of bells.”
The response was enormous. Thousands of outraged citizens called Taco Bell headquarters and the National Park Service in Philadelphia to complain. The latter were not in on the joke so had no idea how to reply! Two Democrat US Senators got involved, which is rather hilarious since they should have known that the Liberty Bell is a protected heirloom belonging to the City of Philadelphia. There was a great deal of criticism from those who have no sense of humor and/or use any excuse to pretend to be offended. However, it appears that most people appreciated the joke… once assured the Liberty Bell was staying put in Philadelphia!
In truth, the image of the Liberty Bell had been used in dozens of advertisements over the years, and the actual bell itself in a plethora of publicity stunts. In the end, Taco Bell had an enormous boost from the publicity as they surely hoped for, but so did the Liberty Bell. Per the plan from the outset, the Taco Bell company donated $50,000 for the Bell’s upkeep. Additionally, renewed public awareness of a relatively minor artifact of American history was a boon for all involved with the Liberty Bell.
Are you a fan of April Fool’s Day pranks?
Share any great stories of tricks pulled in the comments!