April Fool’s Day: A History of Hoaxes

Each year, April 1st rolls around and causes a mix of emotions.  Pranksters plan their attack weeks in advance, hoping to catch unaware those of us gullible enough to believe anything on this day.  People like me go on high alert…prepared for anything fishy that may come our way, and remain skeptical of all news until 11:59pm.

But, where the heck did April Fool’s Day come from?  Why do so many cultures around the globe celebrate this unofficial holiday?  No one really knows for certain, but there are a few theories.

One idea involves the changing of the Julian calender to the Gregorian by French King Charles IX, in 1582.  This officially changed the first of the year from April 1st to January 1st.  Those who refused to accept the new calender were considered “April Fools”, and people teased them, likely sending them on impossible missions, hence the name, “fool’s errand”.

Others speculate that April Fool’s Day has its origins in the days of Constantine.  It is said that on April 1st, Constantine put his court jester on the throne for the day.  He then declared April first to be “The day of Absurdity”.

While these seem to be the most popular theories, more exist.  Go Here has an extensive list of possible historic and religious traditions that may have led to the celebration of April 1st as a day of fools.

So, what are some of the best April Fool’s Day pranks ever attempted?  Here are just a few:

The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest

In 1957, the BBC played a lovely prank on viewers by running a segment claiming that the Swiss were having a wonderful season for their Spaghetti harvest.  The segment featured images of limp spaghetti noodles hanging from trees, while happy Swiss farmers plucked them from the branches.  While this seems incredibly silly, BBC was apparently inundated with calls requesting information on how to plant a spaghetti tree to which they reportedly replied, “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”  View the segment as it ran below:

Nixon’s Second Term

In 1992, “Talk of the Nation” a popular show on National Public Radio announced that Richard Nixon had decided to run for a second term.  His new slogan?  “I didn’t do anything wrong, and I won’t do it again.”   Angry listeners flooded the station with calls, only to find out that it was a prank, and the voice of Nixon was played by impressionist Rich Little.

Taco Bells Purchases the Liberty Bell

http://www.possivel.cc/edit-my-essay-online/In 1996, Taco Bell ran the following ad in major newspapers:

“In an effort to help the national debt, Taco Bell is pleased to announce that we have agreed to purchase the Liberty Bell, one of our country’s most historic treasures. It will now be called the ‘Taco Liberty Bell’ and will still be accessible to the American public for viewing. While some may find this controversial, we hope our move will prompt other corporations to take similar action to do their part to reduce the country’s debt.”

This caused a bit of a stir, prompting many Americans to contact their Representatives with complaints!

Alabama Changes the Value of Pi

This one cracks me up for it’s utter nerd factor.  The year is 1998.  New Mexicans for Science and Reason runs an article claiming that the Alabama state legislature had voted to change the value of Pi from  from 3.14159 to the ‘Biblical value’ of 3.0.

The article began to be spread via email and soon went viral.  Written by an apparently cheeky physicist named can you drink orange juice while taking amoxicillin,  the prank news item caused the Alabama legislature to be flooded with protests.   Love it!

Mount Edgecumbe Errupts

In 1974, residents of Sitka, Alaska were filled with alarm as they looked to the summit of long dormant Mount Edgecumbe, and watched as it began to belch forth billows of black smoke.  People ran out of their houses in fear as they stared toward their newly awakened volcano.  Would it soon erupt??

Luckily, it was nothing more than an incredibly successful ruse by a local practical joker named Porky Bickar, who airlifted hundreds of old tires into the volcano’s crater and then lit them on fire.

Richard Branson’s UFO in London

A clever deception. The craft is quite convincing when airborn.

March 31, 1989 was the day aliens made contact in London.  Well, not really.  As motorists looked to the sky that day, they witnessed a glowing flying saucer descending on their city. Many of them pulled over to stare in awe at the shiny silver craft as it began it’s descent.

Police were called, an invasion was apparently imminent.  When the craft touched down, police swarmed the area.  One brave cop trepidatiously approached the craft, truncheon in hand.  His bravery was short lived.  When the door on the saucer opened and a silver-suited figure emerged, the officer ran away in fear.

Finally, the jig was up.  It turns out the flying saucer was a specially built hot air balloon constructed by Virgin Records chairman Richard Branson.  His initial plan was to park the craft in London’s Hyde Park on April 1. Unfortunately, the wind blew him off course, and he was forced to land a day early in the wrong location.

Flying Penguins of the BBC

This one is my favorite based on pure whimsy.  Watch the video below:

In 2008, the BBC announced that camera crews filming near the Antarctic for its natural history series Miracles of Evolution had captured footage of Adélie penguins taking flight.  The host, Terry Jones, explained that the most unique attribute of these penguins is that rather than huddling together for warmth, they fly to the warmer climate of South America to “spend the winter basking in the tropical sun.”

 

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