Freeport News Network — On this day April 1st day in 1700, it is said that English pranksters begin popularizing the annual tradition of April Fools’ Day by playing practical jokes on each other.
Although the day, also called All Fools’ Day, has been celebrated for several centuries by different cultures, its exact origins remain a mystery.
Some historians speculate that April Fools’ Day dates back to 1582, when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, as called for by the Council of Trent in 1563. People who were slow to get the news or failed to recognize that the start of the new year had moved to January 1 and continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 became the butt of jokes and hoaxes.
These included having paper fish placed on their backs and being referred to as “poisson d’avril” (April fish), said to symbolize a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.
Historians have also linked April Fools’ Day to ancient festivals such as Hilaria, which was celebrated in Rome at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises. There’s also speculation that April Fools’ Day was tied to the vernal equinox, or first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, when Mother Nature fooled people with changing, unpredictable weather.
But what are the best April Fool’s day hoaxes of all time played on the general public? We’ve compiled a list and some of them may just surprise you.
Some of you may even remember a few of them.
#1: The Taco Liberty Bell
April 1, 1996: The Taco Bell Corporation took out a full-page ad that appeared in six major newspapers announcing it had bought the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Hundreds of outraged citizens called the National Historic Park in Philadelphia where the bell was housed to express their anger. Their nerves were only calmed when Taco Bell revealed, a few hours later, that it was all a practical joke. The best line of the day came when White House press secretary Mike McCurry was asked about the sale. Thinking on his feet, he responded that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold. It would now be known, he said, as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.
#2: Instant Color TV
April 1, 1962: Sweden’s SVT (Sveriges Television) brought their technical expert, Kjell Stensson, onto the news to inform the public that, thanks to a new technology, viewers could convert their existing sets to display color reception. At the time, there was only the one TV channel in Sweden, and it broadcast in black and white, so this was big news. Stensson explained that all viewers had to do was pull a nylon stocking over their tv screen, and the mesh would cause the light to bend in such a way that it would appear as if the image was in color. He proceeded to demonstrate the process. Thousands of people were taken in. Many Swedes today still report remembering their fathers rushing through the house trying to find stockings to place over the TV set. Regular color broadcasts only commenced in Sweden on April 1, 1970.
#3: Nixon for President
April 1, 1992: National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation revealed that Richard Nixon, in a surprise move, was running for President again. His new campaign slogan was, “I didn’t do anything wrong, and I won’t do it again.” Accompanying this announcement were audio clips of Nixon delivering his candidacy speech. Listeners responded viscerally to the announcement, flooding the show with calls expressing shock and outrage. Only during the second half of the show did the host John Hockenberry reveal that the announcement was a practical joke. Nixon’s voice was impersonated by comedian Rich Little.
#4: The Body of Nessie Found
April 1, 1972: Newspapers around the world reported the sensational news that the dead body of the Loch Ness Monster had been found. A team of zoologists from Yorkshire’s Flamingo Park Zoo had come across it while working at the Loch. The researchers tried to take the Nessie corpse back to Yorkshire, but Scottish police promptly stopped them, citing an old law that made it illegal to remove “unidentified creatures” from Loch Ness. However, subsequent examination of the creature determined that it wasn’t actually Nessie. Instead, it was a large bull elephant seal from the South Atlantic. But how had it gotten to Loch Ness? This was revealed the next day when the Flamingo Park’s education officer, John Shields, confessed responsibility. The seal had died the week before at Dudley Zoo. He had shaved off its whiskers, padded its cheeks with stones, and kept it frozen for a week, before surreptitiously dumping it in the Loch, intending to play an April Fool’s prank on his colleagues. He admitted the joke got somewhat out of hand when the police became involved.
#5: The Left-Handed Whopper
April 1, 1998: Burger King published a full page advertisement in USA Today announcing the introduction of a new item to their menu: a “Left-Handed Whopper” specially designed for the 32 million left-handed Americans. According to the advertisement, the new whopper included the same ingredients as the original Whopper (lettuce, tomato, hamburger patty, etc.), but all the condiments were rotated 180 degrees for the benefit of their left-handed customers. The following day Burger King issued a follow-up release revealing that although the Left-Handed Whopper was a hoax, thousands of customers had gone into restaurants to request the new sandwich. Simultaneously, according to the press release, “many others requested their own ‘right handed’ version.” Left-handed products of various kinds are actually an old joke on April first, but Burger King’s announcement quickly became, by far, the most famous version of the joke.
#6: Hawaiian Tax Refund
April 1, 1954: Hawaiian DJ Hal “Aku Head” Lewis announced on KHON radio 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 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 announcement seemed plausible because a Hawaiian tax refund had been in the news recently. Congressman Joseph Farrington had suggested that islanders should be given a refund of all federal taxes they had ever paid if Hawaii wasn’t granted full statehood. In reality, Hawaii only achieved statehood in 1959, not 1954, and islanders’ taxes were never refunded.
#7: Texas Honors the Boston Strangler
April 1, 1971: The Texas House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution honoring Albert DeSalvo, noting he had been “officially recognized by the state of Massachusetts for his noted activities and unconventional techniques involving population control and applied psychology.” The Texas politicians were embarrassed when it was later revealed to them that DeSalvo was better known as the “Boston Strangler.” He had confessed to killing 13 women. The resolution had been submitted by Representatives Tom Moore and Lane Denton, who said they did it to demonstrate that “No one reads these bills or resolutions.”
#8: The Swiss Moon Landing Hoax
April 1, 1967: Swiss Radio interrupted its regularly scheduled program with a news flash: U.S. astronauts had just landed on the moon. For the next hour, listeners heard a series of elaborately staged updates, complete with reports from correspondents around the world and interviews with experts. Belief was near total. Telephone exchanges became jammed, and even U.S. authorities in Switzerland, unsure what to believe, began to celebrate. The broadcast concluded with the report that the “moonship” would take off from the moon at 7 p.m., and listeners were told they could see it return to Earth by watching from a high vantage point, away from the city lights. In Zurich this prompted a mass exodus of people out of the city up to nearby Mt. Uetliberg. The railroad had to add additional trains to handle the sudden rush of passengers. It was another two years before U.S. astronauts actually did land on the moon.
#9: Thomas Edison Invents Food Machine
April 1, 1878: After Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, Americans firmly believed that there were no limits to his genius. So when the New York Graphic announced on this day that Edison had invented a machine that could transform soil directly into cereal and water directly into wine, thereby ending the problem of world hunger, it found no shortage of willing believers. Newspapers throughout America copied the article, heaping lavish praise on Edison. The conservative Buffalo Commercial Advertiser was particularly effusive in its praise, waxing eloquent about Edison’s brilliance in a long editorial. The Graphic subsequently took the liberty of reprinting the Advertiser’s editorial in full, placing above it a simple, two-word headline: “They Bite!”
#10: The Robbery of the U.S. Treasury
April 1, 1905: The Berliner Tageblatt broke the news of a shocking and massive crime — all the gold and silver in the U.S. Federal Treasury had been stolen. A group of thieves funded by American millionaires, the paper explained, had tunneled beneath the Potomac River and then beneath the Treasury, robbing it from below and getting away with over $268,000,000. The U.S. Government was said to be desperately trying to conceal the crime, even as its forces chased the criminals across the oceans of the world. Much of the German media accepted the story without question and reprinted it, making it a major news story throughout Europe. Some newspapers even created illustrations to show the exact location of the tunnel dug by the thieves. When word reached America, most U.S. newspapers were bemused by the gullibility of their European counterparts. However, there were a few calls for a congressional investigation of the crime. It was noted that European editors probably accepted the story so readily because many of them were already firmly of the opinion that America was a country in the grips of millionaire criminals.
#11: The 26-Day Marathon
April 1, 1981: The Daily Mail ran a story about an unfortunate Japanese long-distance runner, Kimo Nakajimi, who had entered the London Marathon but, on account of a translation error, thought that he had to run for 26 days, not 26 miles. Nakajimi was reported to be somewhere out on the roads of England, still running, determined to finish the race. Various people had spotted him, though they were unable to flag him down. The translation error was attributed to Timothy Bryant, an import director, who said, “I translated the rules and sent them off to him. But I have only been learning Japanese for two years, and I must have made a mistake. He seems to be taking this marathon to be something like the very long races they have over there.”
#12: Wisconsin State Capitol Collapses
April 1, 1933: The front page of the Madison Capital-Times announced with large headlines that the Wisconsin state capitol building lay in ruins following a series of mysterious explosions. The explosions were attributed to “large quantities of gas, generated through many weeks of verbose debate in the Senate and Assembly chambers.” Accompanying the article was a picture showing the capitol building collapsing. The picture probably wouldn’t fool many people nowadays, but by all accounts it fooled quite a few people at the time. Many readers were outraged. One reader wrote in declaring the hoax “was not only tactless and void of humor, but also a hideous jest.” In fact, the “capitol building exploding because of a buildup of hot air” was a fairly old joke, even in 1933. But the Capital-Times’s photo has come to be considered the classic representation of the joke.
April 1, 1965: BBC TV interviewed a London University professor who had perfected a technology called “Smellovision” that allowed the transmission of smells over the airwaves. Viewers 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. The professor demonstrated by placing some coffee beans and onions into the smellovision machine. He asked viewers to report whether they had smelled anything. Numerous viewers called in from across the country to confirm that they had distinctly experienced these scents. Some even claimed the onions made their eyes water.
#14: 15th Annual NYC April Fool Parade
April 1, 2000: A news release informed the media that the 15th annual New York City April Fool’s Day Parade would begin at noon on 59th Street and proceed down to Fifth Avenue. It would include a “Beat ’em, Bust ’em, Book ’em” float created by the New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle police departments, portraying “themes of brutality, corruption and incompetence.” There would also be an “Atlanta Braves Baseball Tribute to Racism” float featuring John Rocker “spewing racial epithets at the crowd.” CNN and the Fox affiliate WNYW promptly sent news crews to cover the parade. They arrived at 59th Street at noon and patiently waited for the parade to start. It never did. The prank was the handiwork of long-time hoaxer Joey Skaggs, who had been issuing press releases announcing the nonexistent parade every April Fool’s Day since 1986 (and, as of 2015, he’s still maintaining the tradition).
What is your best April Fools day joke that you’ve played on someone? Chime in below and tell us.