The Museum of Hoaxes
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The Origin of April Fool’s Day. ()
In 1708 a correspondent wrote to the British Apollo magazine asking, "Whence proceeds the custom of making April Fools?" The question is one that many people are still asking today. The puzzle that April Fool's Day presents to cultural historians is that it was only during the eighteenth century that detailed references to it (and curiosity about it) began to appear. But at that time, the custom was already well established throughout northern Europe and was regarded as being of great antiquity. How had the tradition been adopted by so many different European cultures without provoking more comments in the written record?
What are the rules and customs of April Fool’s Day?. ()
April Fool's Day is a celebration of mischief and misbehavior, but it's not a complete free-for-all. There are rules about how it should be observed. Unwritten rules, but ones that nevertheless hold the weight of hundreds of years of tradition. And even for those who do not plan to play pranks, there are customs about what are appropriate activities to engage in on the day. Do No Harm (and nothing illegal)The first of April is a time for lighthearted humor, and pranks perpetrated on the day should reflect this. Ideally an April Fool's Day prank should be funny to everyone involved when it's all over. At least, that's the goal. The essence of an April first prank is to fool a victim. Therefore, pranks that involve no deception are considered out of place. Traditional April fool pranks include gluing a coin to the pavement, putting salt in a sugar bowl, and tricking someone into believing their shoelaces are untied. A typical April Fool's Day prank: gluing a coin to the sidewalk and watching as people try to pick it up On Halloween, by contrast, pranks often assume a darker, more malevolent quality and do not necessarily involve any deception. Traditional Halloween pranks include More…
What’s the correct spelling of April Fool’s Day?. ()
The issue here is the placement of the apostrophe. Should the apostrophe be placed before the 's': as in, April Fool's Day. Or after the 's': as in, April Fools' Day. Both spellings, it turns out, are correct. Or rather, neither spelling is demonstrably wrong. Valid arguments can be made for both. So for the foreseeable future, we shall doubtless continue to see both forms used. However, "April Fool's Day" is the more popular spelling, and arguably has the better case for being correct, which is why that's the version used here on the Museum of Hoaxes. But let's review the arguments for both options. April Fools' DayThe case for April Fools' Day rests on the assumption that the phrase refers to all fools in general. Therefore, to indicate the plural form, the apostrophe must come after the 's'. Proponents of this spelling point to All Fools' Day, which is an alternative (now archaic) term for the celebration. Because All Fools is clearly plural, we might assume that April Fools is also so. A number of authorities, including Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Macmillan Dictionary, Encyclopedia Britannica, and Wikipedia use this spelling. April Fool's DayHowever, if the fool in April More…
What’s the origin of April Fool’s Day?. ()
I delve into the mystery of the origin of April Fool's Day in greater detail elsewhere, so I'll provide the condensed version here. The folklorist Alan Dundes once noted, while discussing April Fool's Day, that "ultimate origins are almost always impossible to ascertain definitively." To this, another folklorist, Jack Santino, later added, "Explanations for the origins of April Fool's Day are many, and often as foolish as the day itself." So if we keep in mind that we're never going to be able to pinpoint a precise moment in time when the custom of making April fools began, nor an exact reason why, and that most of the origin theories in circulation are somewhat far-fetched (to be charitable), then there are really only two things we can say with any certainty about the origin of the day: that the celebration is most likely a rite of spring;and that it was well established by the middle of the 16th century.Rites of SpringRites of spring can be found in most cultures, and they usually follow a similar pattern. They're festive occasions when, for a brief period of time, social rules can be flouted and a certain amount of misbehavior, mischief, and deception is allowed. In the More…
How is April Fool’s Day celebrated in different countries?. ()
April Fool's Day has become a global phenomenon, but there are regional variations in its customs and how it's celebrated. Fool's ErrandsFrom the 16th to 18th centuries, the prank that was most closely associated with April 1 was the fool's errand — also known as a wild goose chase or (archaically) a 'sleeveless errand'. This emphasis still endures, at least linguistically, in certain areas. In Flemish-speaking parts of Belgium and the Netherlands, April 1 is referred to as Verzenderkesdag (fool's errand day). Likewise, in Scotland and parts of northern England, April 1 was traditionally known as Huntigowk Day, on account of the old custom of "hunting the gowk" on the first. A gowk was a cuckoo, but on April 1 it referred to the victim who was sent on a "gowk hunt". He was asked to deliver a note that, unbeknownst to him, read, "Never laugh, never smile, Hunt the gowk another milk" (or some variation of that). Recipients of this note would duly redirect its bearer elsewhere until the victim had been run all over town. "Hunting the Gowk" - illustration by Freeman Martin (1975) Icelanders had a custom of hlaupa april ("running April") very similar to the gowk hunt, but More…
What’s the earliest reference to April Fool’s Day?. ()
This is another way of asking, how long have people been celebrating April Fool's Day? The earliest unambiguous reference that is currently known is found in a poem by the Flemish writer Eduard De Dene, published in 1561 (more details below). So we can say that April Fool's Day has existed since at least the mid-sixteenth centuy. However, some other possible earlier references have been suggested. These earlier possibilities are problematic, but let's review them. ChaucerWithin the past decade, an argument has gained popularity online claiming that Chaucer alluded to April Fool's Day in The Canterbury Tales, completed circa 1392. If true, it would be the first time the celebration was mentioned in any language. In fact, it would predate any other reference by a good margin. Geoffrey Chaucer The claim derives from a line in the Nun's Priest's Tale which describes the tale as taking place "Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two" (i.e. 32 days since March began). This would place it on either April 1 or 2. Coupled with the fact that the tale involves trickery (a fox fooling a rooster, and then getting fooled back), this suggests that Chaucer (so the argument goes) purposefully More…

What are the best books and articles about April Fool’s Day?. ()
There's been a great deal written about April Fool's Day. Every year for the past 100 years, whenever the day rolls around, newspapers and magazines have been producing articles about the history and customs of the celebration. Unfortunately, most of what's been written is not very good. The same small nuggets of information (and generous heapings of misinformation) are repeated uncritically over and over again. To find better analyses of April Fool's Day, one needs to turn to folklorists, who have produced the bulk of the few serious studies of the celebration that exist. Listed below is the best of the bunch. It's arranged in chronological order, to make it easier to see the most recent studies. Brand, John. (1853). Observations on Popular Antiquities of Great Britain. A new edition, revised and greatly enlarged by Sir Henry Ellis. Henry G. Bohn: 131-141. Dickens, Charles Jr. (1869). "All Fools' Day." The Gentleman's Magazine. 2: 543-548. Lemoine, Jules. (1889). "Le poisson d'Avril en Belgique." Revue des Traditions Populaires. 4: 227-30. Bolton, H. Carrington. (1891). "All-Fools' Day in Italy." The Journal of American Folklore. 4(13): 168-170. Walsh, William S. More…
Zoo Gets Giant Grasshopper. (1929)
The Dutch magazine Het Leven reported that the Hague zoo had acquired a new animal — a giant grasshopper. A photo showed zoo workers taking the creature to its enclosure. More…
The Madmen of Gotham. (circa 1200)
British folklore links April Fool's Day to the town of Gotham, the legendary town of fools located in Nottinghamshire. According to legend, it was traditional in the 13th century for any road that the King placed his foot upon to become public property. So when the citizens of Gotham heard that King John (1166-1216) planned to travel through their town, they refused him entry, not wishing to lose their main road. When the King heard this, he sent soldiers to the town. But when the soldiers arrived in Gotham, they found the town full of lunatics engaged in foolish activities such as drowning fish or attempting to cage birds in roofless fences. Their foolery was all an act to make the King believe they were insane. The King fell for the ruse and declared the town too foolish to warrant punishment. Ever since then, according to legend, April Fool's Day has commemmorated their trickery. (The thumbnail shows a 1630 woodcut depicting a citizen of Gotham trying to trap a bird inside a roofless fence.)
The Nun’s Priest’s Tale. (1392)
In the Nun's Priest's Tale (written around 1392), Chaucer tells the story of the vain cock Chauntecler who falls for the tricks of a fox, and as a consequence is almost eaten. The narrator describes the tale as occurring: When that the monthe in which the world bigan That highte March, whan God first maked man, Was complet, and passed were also Syn March bigan thritty dayes and two Some scholars have suggested this is a veiled reference to April 1st, since thirty-two days "Syn March bigan" (since March began) would be April 1. It is intriguing to think that Chaucer might have chosen this date purposefully, setting the tale on April 1st because of the tradition of tricks and foolery associated with the day. It would be appropriate for a story of a foolish cock and sly fox. If it is a reference to April Fool's Day, then it would be the earliest recorded reference to the day. However, Chaucer's choice of words is extremely ambiguous, and most scholars think he meant May 3, since that would be "thritty dayes and two" after March "was complet." More…
Eloy d’Amerval. (1508)
In 1508 Eloy d'Amerval, a French choirmaster and composer, published a poem titled Le livre de la deablerie. It consisted of "a dialogue between Satan and Lucifer, in which their nefarious plotting of future evil deeds is interrupted periodically by the author, who among other accounts of earthly and divine virtue, records useful information on contemporary musical practice." The poem would principally be of interest to historians of music, except that it includes the line, "maquereau infâme de maint homme et de mainte femme, poisson d'avril." The phrase "poisson d'avril" (April Fish) is the French term for an April Fool, but it is unclear whether d'Amerval's use of the term referred to April 1st specifically. He might have intended the phrase simply to mean a foolish person. More…
A Meeting in Augsburg. (1530)
According to legend, a meeting of lawmakers was supposed to occur in Augsburg on April 1, 1530 in order to unify the state coinage. Unscrupulous speculators, who had knowledge of it beforehand, began to trade currencies in preparation, to profit from the change. However, because of time considerations, the meeting didn't take place, and the law wasn't enacted. So the speculators who had bet on the meeting occurring, lost their money and were ridiculed. German folklore has it that this was the origin of the custom of playing pranks on April 1. More…
Eduard de Dene. (1561)
The Flemish writer Eduard De Dene published a comical poem in 1561 about a nobleman who hatches a plan to send his servant back and forth on absurd errands on April 1st, supposedly to help prepare for a wedding feast. The servant recognizes that what’s being done to him is an April 1st joke. The poem is titled “Refereyn vp verzendekens dach / Twelck den eersten April te zyne plach.“ This is late medieval Dutch meaning (roughly) “Refrain on errand-day / which is the first of April.“ In the closing line of each stanza, the servant says, “I am afraid… that you are trying to make me run a fool’s errand.“ This appears to be the first clear More…
French Calendar Reform. (1563)
In 1563 King Charles IX reformed the French calendar by moving the start of the year from Easter Day to January 1. His edict was passed into law by the French Parliament on Dec. 22, 1564. This aligned legal convention with what had long been the popular custom of celebrating the start of the year on January 1. Later, in 1582, Pope Gregory issued a papal bull decreeing sweeping calendar reform, which included moving the start of the year to January 1, as well as creating a leap-year system and eliminating ten days from the month of October 1582 in order to correct the drift of the calendar. The Pope had no formal power to make governments accept this reform, but he urged Christian nations to do so. France immediately accepted the reform, since it had already instituted part of the reform (changing the start of the year) in 1564. This sixteenth-century calendar reform is frequently cited as the origin of the custom of April Foolery. Supposedly the people who failed to realize the start of the year had been changed had pranks played on them on April 1st. There are a number of problems with this theory. First, the start of the year was changed from Easter day, not April 1st. Second, More…
When Alva Lost His Glasses. (1572)
On 1 April 1572, Dutch rebels captured the town of Den Briel from Spanish troops led by Lord Alva. This military success eventually led to the independence of the Netherlands from Spain. A Dutch rhyme goes: "Op 1 april / Verloor Alva zijn Bril." This translates to: "On April 1st / Alva lost his 'glasses'". "Bril" means glasses in Dutch, but is also a pun on the name of the town, Den Briel. According to Dutch legend, the tradition of playing pranks on April 1st arose to commemorate the victory in Den Briel and humiliation of the Spanish commander.
The Washing of the Lions. (1698)
The April 2, 1698 edition of Dawks’s News-Letter reported that “Yesterday being the first of April, several persons were sent to the Tower Ditch to see the Lions washed.” This is the first recorded instance of a popular April Fool's Day prank that involved sending people to the Tower of London to see the "washing of the lions." The joke was that there was no lion-washing ceremony. It was a fool's errand. (For more info, see the Hoaxipedia article: Washing The Lions) More…
Escape of the Duke of Lorraine. (1634)
At the beginning of the 17th century, Lorraine was a duchy within the Holy Roman Empire, but during the conflict of the Thirty Years' War, the Kingdom of France decided to annex it and mounted a successful invasion. The Duke of Lorraine, Nicholas Francis, and his wife were ordered to be held as prisoners within the walls of Nancy, the capital city of Lorraine. However, immediately the Duke began to plot his escape. He laid the groundwork by repeatedly circulating false rumors of his getaway. The Count de Brassac, French governor of Nancy, upon hearing these rumors would send a soldier to see if they were true or not and always found the Duke and Duchess under the watchful eye of their More…
Bickerstaff’s Predictions. (1708)
An almanac released by Isaac Bickerstaff in February 1708 predicted that a rival astrologer, John Partridge, would die on March 29 of that year. On March 31st Bickerstaff released a follow-up pamphlet announcing that his prediction had come true. Partridge was dead. Partridge (who was still very much alive) was woken on April 1st by a sexton outside his window announcing the news of his death. Isaac Bickerstaff was actually a pseudonym for Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels. Swift’s intention was to embarrass and discredit Partridge, apparently because he was annoyed by the astrologer’s attacks upon the church. More…
The First Newspaper April Fool. (1774 or 1789)
There are two different stories describing the first April Fool's Day hoax by a newspaper, but both stories claim it was a German paper. The first story claims that in 1789 a Berlin newspaper reported that hailstone the size of pigeon eggs had fallen on the streets of Potsdam, which caused a mass migration of curiosity seekers hoping to see this unusual weather phenomenon. Though, of course, no hailstones were seen. The second story claims that in 1774 a German paper claimed that it was possible to change the color of the eggs a chicken laid simply by painting the area in which the chicken lived. Neither story has been confirmed. More…
Signor Gaudentia de Lucca. (1800)
"On Tuesday the First of April, a few hand-bills were struck up in Kendal, purporting that a person, who styled himself Signor Gaudentia de Lucca, or The Little Devil, would perform the most surprising and extraordinary feats on the tight rope, that had ever been exhibited to the public, at the Old Castle Yard, on the Tuesday evening following. The bill contained a great deal of unintelligible jargon, which no person was able to make out, but which was supposed to be Welsh, from the great number of consonants in it. Notwithstanding the unintelligibleness of the bill, a concourse of people assembled, at the time appointed, to the number of five hundred, and upwards: the owner of the castle More…
Ah! You April Fool!. (1826)
"Sir, there's something out of your pocket." "Where?" "There!" "What?" "Your hand, sir—Ah! You April fool!" More…
The Great Cave Sell. (circa 1845)
On an undetermined April 1 in the 1840s, a story appeared in the Boston Post announcing that a cave full of treasure had been discovered beneath Boston Common. It had supposedly been uncovered by workmen as they removed a tree from the Common. As the tree fell, it revealed a stone trap-door with a large iron ring set in it. Beneath the door was a stone stairway that led to an underground cave. In this cave lay piles of jewels, old coins, and weapons with jeweled handles. As word of the discovery spread throughout Boston, parties of excited curiosity-seekers marched out across the Common to view the treasure. A witness later described the scene: "It was rainy, that 1st of April, the More…
The Train to Drogheda. (1844)
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 More…
Street Urchins. (1847)
"Hurly-Burly what a time! dogs, boys, fops, ladies, carts and wagons. Of all places cities are the greatest on the first of April. The quiet dandy; the romping maid; the mischevious News Boys are all in confusion; the dandy has become the laughing stock of the whole street—he walks along, he rubs his modest moustache—he feels his dignity—he swells; he sees the ladies smile—oh! ye Gods what a happy man! he walks on further—bright Phoebus shines resplendently— he looks to see the sun set forth the latest Parisian Fashion and he beholds his form adorned with papers— he swears, he looks round and sees a gang of boys with their fingers to their faces, he More…
April Fool, or The Evils of Deception. (1852)
"The custom of playing tricks on the first day of April is one of very general prevalence. Many persons encourage children to practice those tricks through a mistaken idea of their innocence. The object of this little book is to exhibit some of the evils of deception, even when practiced in a form so apparently harmless and so pleasing to many. It will also indicate to parents and teachers the decided opposition with which they ought to discountenance this, together with every other evil, and 'appearance of evil.' It is from such beginnings that the young too often have their morals corrupted, and their souls destroyed." [from April Fool; or, The Evils of Deception, printed by the More…
The Brick in the Hat Trick. (1854)
"Did anybody ever see one pass by an old hat on the sidewalk, without giving it a kick? We do not believe such a thing ever happened." [Albany Register, Jun 10, 1854] More…
Washing the Lions. (1857)
"Please to Admit the Bearer and friend, to view the ANNUAL CEREMONY OF WASHING THE LIONS on Wednesday, April 1st, 1857." Pranksters handed out these cards on the streets of London to unsuspecting out-of-towners. The joke was that there was no lion-washing ceremony at the Tower of London. By 1857, there weren't even lions at the Tower. Versions of this prank had been regularly perpetrated since the 17th century, making it the oldest April Fool's Day joke on record. More…
Gymnast To Ascend Church Steeple. (1858)
A notice ran in Chicago papers advertising that on April 1st, at one o'clock, a "famous gymnast" would ascend the steeple of St. Paul's Church from the outside "and stand upright on the summit, returning the same way to the ground — all to be accomplished in the space of twenty minutes." At the time appointed, a crowd of over 300 people gathered, including reporters, pencils in hand. But as the hours wore on, the truth gradually stole over the minds of the sightseers that it was "All fools day," and "the crowd suddenly discovered it was time to go to dinner, which they did with a rush." [Weekly Hawk-Eye (Burlington, Iowa) — Apr 20, 1858] More…
The Purse on a String Prank. (1861)
[Harper's Weekly — Apr 1, 1861] More…
The Procession of the Animals. (1866)
Several hundred people showed up at the gates of the London Zoological Society demanding entrance in order to see the "procession of the animals." However, the Society was closed that day, it being Easter Sunday, and the guard refused to admit them. The members of the crowd insistently showed the guard their tickets and again demanded entrance. The tickets, which had cost them one penny each (considerably cheaper than the usual sixpence admission), read: Subscribers Tickets—Admit bearer to the Zoological gardens on Easter Sunday. The procession of the animals will take place at 3 o'clock, and this ticket will not be available after that hour.—J.C. Wildboar, Secretary. The guard More…
Grand Exhibition of Donkeys. (1864)
On March 31st, 1864, the Evening Star of Islington announced that a "grand exhibition of donkeys" would be held the next day at the Agricultural Hall. Early the next morning a large crowd gathered outside of the hall. Slowly it dawned on them that they themselves were the donkeys. More…
Phony Church Meeting. (1866)
"A shameful April fool hoax was perpetrated by a lady in Philadelphia, who sent to the pulpit in a Methodist church, a notice of a meeting to be held in aid of another church. Names of prominent clergymen were mentioned as to take part in the exercises. The preacher read the manuscript to his large congregation without hesitation, until he came to a passage announcing that a certain layman would sing a comic song, when he became confused, suddenly remembered the day and abruptly sat down." [The Elyria Democrat — Apr 25, 1866] More…
Young Boys on April 1st. (1874)
[The Daily Graphic — Apr 1, 1874] More…
Edison’s Food Machine. (1878)
After Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877, Americans were sure there was no limit to his genius. So when the New York Graphic announced on April 1, 1878 that Edison had invented a machine capable of transforming soil directly into cereal and water directly into wine, thereby ending the problem of world hunger, it found a willing audience of believers. Newspapers throughout America copied the article and heaped lavish praise on Edison. The conservative Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, in particular, waxed eloquent about Edison's genius in an editorial that dwelled upon the good fortune of a man like Edison having been born in the progressive nineteenth century when his genius could More…
The Monster of Deadman’s Hole. (1888)
The San Diego Union reported that two hunters had killed a bizarre, half-human half-animal beast in an out-of-the-way location called Deadman's Hole northwest of San Diego. The creature was said to have the body of a bear, but stood upright like a man and had a human face. The hunters were reportedly bringing the body into the city for public exhibit. The next day the paper boasted, "throughout the day the police station was visited by a number of persons who were anxious to view the body of the strange being that was reported killed. They were told to come in next April Fool's day and see it." More…
Rattlesnake Bite. (1893)
"Monday forenoon we received by stage from Captain Jackson of the Jackson ranch a beautiful pair of rattlesnakes which had been captured by some of his cowboys. We were arranging to forward them to Chicago and left the box for an hour or so on the front steps of The Kicker office. For fear that some idiot would come along and stick his finger into one of the holes bored for ventilation we printed and hunt out a sign of "Don't Poke!" It hadn't been out 10 minutes when that old critter of a Bill Henderson came along, and being about half slewed he took the sign and the box for an April fool joke and deliberately poked. We got out just as he yelled, one of the snakes having bitten him, of More…
A fool’s cap and a plate of ice cream. (1896)
Peter Newell (artist), Harper's Bazaar — Apr 4, 1896 More…
Mr. Smarty and his April Fool Joke. (1897)
1. Mr. Smarty of Hayseed Cents thinks up a great April Fool joke. 2. Which is the rather ancient one of nailing ten-cent pieces to the board walk. 3. A pair of wayfarers play the game. 4. But soon find a way to get ahead of it. 5. How Mr. Smarty enjoyed the joke. 6. And how the others liked it. [The Sunday World — Apr 4, 1897] More…
“Sold”. (1895)
"This is 'all fools' day,' and judging by the number of people who are passing along the sidewalk with strings and rags dangling from their coat tails, the custom of making people appear ridiculous is not obsolete. What delight the youngsters take in covering a few bricks with an old hat, and leaving it temptingly upon the sidewalk, while they withdraw into some nook to watch the bait and halloo at the person who is thoughtless enough to kick it." More…
The Brick in a Hat—a perennial favorite. (1896)
"It is strange that there has been little or no improvement in the jokes of April first. Reliable authorities assert that the old gentlemen of colonial days were made victims of hat hidden bricks just as old gentlemen are today and that the small boy has been invariably the culprit in all the ages." [Lemars Globe — Apr 1, 1896] More…
April Fool Cigars. (1896)
"All Fools' Day was not unremembered yesterday, although the practical jokes incidental to it are not as much relished or looked forward to in America as in England and France. Street hawkers did a lively trade downtown in so-called April Fool cigars, which were offered at 5 cents each and were said to be explosive. Some of the Custom House clerks laid in a stock of them, which they presented to brokers. To the amazement and disgust of the buyers, who expected the cigars to go off like firecrackers when they were well started, they smoked quite as comfortably to the end as was to be expected of cigars at that price, fooling the foolers completely. Chocolate stuffed with cotton was More…
Sweating Silver Vault. (1896)
Hundreds of people gathered outside the New York Sub-Treasury vault, located on Pine Street, lured there by a rumor that the vault was "sweating" because of the warm weather, causing the silver contained inside it to exude through the marble walls. Specks of mica were pointed out in the walls to prove the theory. [New York Times, Apr 2, 1896.] More…
The Fool at the Phone. (1896)
"Hello! Well, what is it? Yes this is — hello! I can't hear you plainly—stand closer, you know. (The idiot talks with his mouth full of dough). I say, I'm not deaf, darn you; don't holler so! Yes, this is (confound it), why can't you go slow? You want to see who? Spell it—"F, double O L—first name is April!" Oh, hell—hello! (Consigns him to regions unmentionable below)." More…
Dentist summoned to cemetery. (1896)
"There was the usual number of April fool jokes sprung yesterday, and the young dentist who went over on West Main street as far as the cemetery to do some work, in response to a bogus call, returned fully convinced that the fool business was being overdone." [The North Adams Daily Transcript, Apr 2, 1896.] More…
Man regrets scaring wife. (1896)
"Near Nashville yesterday John Ahrens, a farmer, planned an April fool joke on his wife with disastrous results. He disguised himself as a tramp, fastened a white mask over his face, and knocked at the door. When she appeared he ordered her to get dinner for him. To his horror his wife fell to the floor in a faint and died an hour later. Ahrens has been married only a few months and idolized his wife. Her death has crazed him with grief and remorse, and he threatens to take his own life." [Des Moines Daily News, Apr 3, 1896.] More…
April Fool Whistle. (1899)
"An April Fool whistle can be made as shown in the illustration, and filled with flour, which will fly into the face of any one who tries to blow it. A B (Fig. 1) is a tin tube, stopped by two pieces of cork. One at the end has holes in it and a glass tube through it, as shown in Fig. 2. The other figures explain themselves. [The Young Folks' Cyclopedia of Games and Sports, 1899] More…
Mouse in Egg Prank Goes Bad. (1900)
Edith Walrach, a nineteen-year-old woman of a "very nervous temperament" was in serious condition as a result of an April Fool's Day joke that went bad. While visiting friends in Binghampton, New York, a practical joker "procured a small live mouse, which he put in an egg-shell, covering the opening with plaster of Paris. This was brought in with the breakfast and when Miss Walrach broke the shell and the liberated mouse jumped out she screamed and fainted away. During the day she had three nervous fits, and her physician pronounced her condition critical." The young man was wild with grief. He was her fiancee. [Fort Wayne Evening Sentinel, Apr 3, 1900] More…
San Francisco Jokers. (1900)
• Was told his house was burning, but found out it was April Fool's Day • Trying to take "Bad Money" off the side walk • Had April Fool umbrellas to give away More…
Herman & Hess Fine Clothing. (1900)
"Do You See Y You'll have an "April fool" on yourself if you miss coming to our store tomorrow?" More…
De Ole Hat Trick. (1900)
McGee — "Here's de ole hat trick again. I'll kick it to please the boys." The Plumber — "Holy Smoke! Police! Fire!!!" More…
Echinocereus dahliaeflorus. (1900)
A German garden journal, Möllers Deutsche Gärtner Zeitung (15:148), printed details about a fictitious species of cactus, Echinocereus dahliaeflorus, in its April edition. The editor of the journal apparently forgot his own joke because he indexed the cactus name at the end of the year. [The Cactaceae] More…
April Fool’s Day (a poem). (1900)
Talk about yer Chris'masses Fourth o' Julys and cirkusses— They ain't in it for the real fun That's to be had on April one; Even Hallowe'en is very tame To April first—that is 'f yer game. I think that April first must be Ind'pendence Day fer kids like me, When we kin play all sorts of jokes And not be punished by our folks— Though pa, he says, in a threat'nin' way: "Bill, no nonsense from you today!" When Jim's pants legs are found sewed up; When ma of coffee takes a sup And finds the sugar tastes like salt— I say, quite inn'cent, "Taint my fault." They frown and say, half-scold, half-laugh, "This here is some of Willie's chaff." The teacher has her troubles too More…
The Horrid April Fool. (1900)
And now the cheerful idiot marches promptly to the front, To blight his race and curse the age, as ever is his wont, In harmless little "practicals," which mark the dismal way, And though he spoil one's life he claims "'twas only done in play." The first, though not the greatest fool, is he who seeks to air And advertise his lunacy by jerking back one's chair, Just as one's "brakes" are taken off, from ankle up to neck, When, in the place of sitting down, one strikes the floor — a wreck. More…
Sunflower Lamps. (1901)
The German Gardener's News, edited by Herr Möller, issued an April Fool's Day edition that discussed various botanical discoveries, such as varieties of flowers that were so phosphorescent they gave sufficient light to read by. "Under proper conditions the flowers of the clematis glow like stars, while sunflowers, if correctly nurtured, make it quite possible to read a newspaper by their unaided light." A photograph showed Herr Möller reading by the light of sunflower lamps in his garden at 10 o'clock at night. More…
School Quarantined. (1901)
Pranksters placed a yellow quarantine sign outside the Central school building in Waterloo, Iowa: The quarantine signal was placed in the most conspicuous place on the building. The lads who are responsible for the misdemeanor probably thought it would be a great joke and possibly be the means of permitting them to a holiday... The teachers and high school scholars entered the building at the main entrance, but did not go into the room just back of the sign until assured that there was no danger. It was only a short time until the news that the west side Central building was quarantined spread pretty well over the town and Mr. Hukill and Mrs. Couch, who use the high school room, were kept More…
A New Bunch of Practical Jokers. (1901)
"A few of the unsophisticated and unwary who were made victims of practical jokers on All Fools' Day and the methods used to accomplish their undoing and furnish amusement for the gaping spectators." [The San Francisco Call - Apr 2, 1901] More…
Leno and Campbell Edit the Sun. (1902)
As a publicity stunt, the popular British comedians Dan Leno and Herbert Campbell were given free rein to edit the April 1 edition of the London Evening Sun. The resulting paper sold close to 3 million copies, although it received mediocre reviews from readers who complained that the jokes were stale. Later that same year, the duo recreated their day spent as editors for a film, titled "Dan Leno and Herbert Campbell Edit the Sun," which was shown around the world. This marked the first time that April Fool's Day pranks were recorded on film. More…
A Premium for Pennies. (1902)
A New York newspaper reported that, due to a "fault in the die," pennies minted in 1894 were being recalled by the U.S. Treasury, which would pay a premium of 50 cents for each coin returned. As a result of this story, Treasury offices soon had to start turning away numerous people who showed up wanting to redeem their pennies. One woman reportedly came with a bagful of pennies that she said she had paid 20 cents each for, insisting that they be redeemed for the full advertised premium. More…
An April Fool Temptation and Its Just Penalty. (1902)
Cartoon published in the Boston Post - Mar 30, 1902. More…
The Associated Order of April Fools. (1903)
Cartoon by Fred Bartholomew, published in the Minneapolis Journal - Apr 1, 1903. More…
Run on Bank. (1903)
On April 2, almost half the depositors of the Chicago bank of Kaspar & Karel lined up outside its front door, demanding to withdraw their money. The mass withdrawal of funds, almost $200,000 by the end of the day (all that the bank had on hand), nearly caused the institution's collapse. The cause of the run was traced to a false rumor that had circulated the day before alleging that the bank was in serious financial difficulty. Exactly who started the rumor isn't clear, but it apparently had been intended as an April Fool prank. Some sources claim that the rumor was begun by a milkman who had jokingly told a woman on his route that Kaspar's was closing, knowing that the woman had funds in the bank. More…
April Fool Riot. (1903)
On the night before April 1, students from Austin College stole a Union Army cannon from the campus of the neighboring Illinois College of Photography. In response, the students of the photography school marched on Austin College the next day, demanding their cannon back. The young women of the school marched at the front. But the Austin students turned out en masse to defend their stolen treasure, and a fight ensued, during which a number of students were seriously injured. More…
One born every minute. (1904)
April Fool cartoon in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. More…
Anarchist Plot Against Pope. (1904)
"Rome, April 1 — The apocryphal plot against the life of the pope, which was reported in a London newspaper a few days ago and promptly ridiculed by the Vatican authorities, had a sequel today in an ill-timed 'April fool' story published by an insignificant newspaper here. This story was that two anarchists, who intended to make an attempt on the pope's life, had been arrested at a door of the Vatican with bombs in their possession. The Osservatore Romano, the Vatican organ, most indignantly contradicts the story and points out the bad taste of such a joke." More…
Four Words. (1904)
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The Hundred-Million-Dollar Robbery of the U.S. Treasury. (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 had tunneled beneath the Treasury and robbed it from below, 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. Some newspapers even created illustrations to show the exact location of the tunnel dug by the thieves. When word reached America, there was reportedly a public outcry for a congressional investigation of the crime. More…
Moon Flies Out Of Orbit. (1905)
Large headlines in the Cincinnati Enquirer declared that the moon had flown out of its orbit and assumed a new position in the sky. The movement was said to have been accompanied by a "remarkable pyrotechnical display." The accompanying article explained that astronomers did not anticipate further shifts in the moon's orbit and assured everyone that there was no imminent danger. However, the moon would now cast so much more illumination that street lights would no longer be necessary. A few days later, the Enquirer boasted that their "exclusive story of the moon's escapade completely sold thousands of people" who had spent the night of April 1st "looking for a repetition of the phenomenon," before they had realized what day it was. More…
Calling the Roll - Fifty-Seven Thousand Varieties. (1905)
Editorial cartoon in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The fools in line are all wearing scarves that identify what kind of fool they are, such as "Get rich quick investor," "Member of Cassie Chadwick school of bankers," "Gold brick buyer," "Dupe of oriental fakirs," "Scientist who thinks he can create life," etc. More…
Salton Sea Freezes. (1906)
On its front page, The New York Times announced that the Salton Sea in Southern California had frozen and that local residents were ice skating on it. A few days later, the LA Times applauded the NY Times for this "masterpiece of fooling," but noted the implausibility of the report since the Salton Sea, being next to Death Valley, was "the nearest to the infernal regions, in winter or summer, of any spot on the crust of the earth." However, a few publications did reprint the story as genuine news. This appears to be the only April Fool joke the New York Times ever published. More…
Chicago Invaded By Dinosaurs. (1906)
A double-page, illustrated feature in the Chicago Tribune detailed the city's invasion by "hordes of prehistoric monsters dealing death and destruction." More…
The Philadelphia Iceberg. (1906)
The Philadelphia Record announced that a massive iceberg had been secured off the banks of Newfoundland and was being towed to the city. Its arrival was expected later in the day and was anticipated to relieve the region's ice shortage. Hundreds of people reportedly went down to the river hoping to see the iceberg's arrival. More…
The Clemson April Fool Parade. (1907)
Students at South Carolina's Clemson Agricultural College (now Clemson University) held a parade on April 1st, which angered the college president, Patrick Hues Mell, since the school was also a military academy and he objected to the sight of the cadets "parading around with their shirttails out in a most unmilitary exhibition for men in uniform." He banned the cadets from repeating April Fool pranks in the future. The next year many of the cadets defied this order, with harsh consequences for them. More…
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