The Geneva Tribune
reported that on April 1 a French aviator flying over a German camp dropped what appeared to be a huge bomb. The German soldiers immediately scattered in all directions, but no explosion followed. After some time, the soldiers crept back and gingerly approached the bomb. They discovered that it was actually a large football with a note tied to it that read, "April Fool!" [The Atlanta Constitution
, Aug 2, 1915.]
The student body of Cornell University was thrown into turmoil when the Cornell Daily Sun announced on its front page that school officials had decided to cancel spring recess.
The reason given was that "a sub-committee appointed at the last meeting of the faculty to investigate student marks at the end of the first six weeks discovered that marks were so far below the required standard that they felt some immediate drastic action was necessary." The local railroad reported receiving frantic calls from students trying to get refunds on tickets they had already purchased to travel home.
On March 31, 1940 the Franklin Institute issued a press release warning that the world would end the next day. The release was picked up by radio station KYW which announced, "Scientists predict that the world will end at 3 P.M. Eastern Standard Time tomorrow. This is no April Fool joke. Confirmation can be obtained from Wagner Schlesinger, director of the Fels Planetarium of this city."
The public reaction was immediate. Local authorities were flooded with frantic phone calls. The panic only subsided after the Franklin Institute assured people that it had made no such prediction. The prankster responsible for the press release turned out to be William Castellini, the Institute's press agent. He had intended to use the fake release to publicize an April 1st lecture at the institute titled "How Will the World End?" Soon afterwards, the Institute dismissed Castellini.
The Eindhoven Dagblad
reported that the Dutch town of Eindhoven would be destroyed the next day by an "atomic mist" blowing into the town. Panic resulted. Town residents made frantic plans to leave, especially those living near the Philips Incandescent Lamp Company's factories and laboratories, Eindhoven's main industry. Numerous radio announcements were made to calm residents and assure them that the story was false. Municipal authorities considered legal action against the newspaper.
Residents of Sitka, Alaska were alarmed when the long-dormant volcano neighboring them, Mount Edgecumbe, suddenly began to belch out billows of black smoke. Did this mean that the volcano was active again and would soon erupt? Terrified residents spilled out of their homes onto the streets to gaze up at the volcano, and calls poured into the local authorities.
Luckily it turned out that man, not nature, was responsible for the smoke. A local prankster named Porky Bickar had flown hundreds of old tires into the volcano's crater and then lit them on fire, all in a (successful) attempt to fool the city dwellers into believing that the volcano was stirring to life. Six years later when Mount St. Helens erupted a Sitka resident wrote to Bickar to tell him, "This time you've gone too far!"
The Channel 7 news in Boston ended with a special bulletin announcing that a 635-foot hill in Milton, Massachusetts known as the Great Blue Hill
had erupted, and that lava and ash were raining down on nearby homes. Footage was shown of lava pouring down a hillside. The announcer explained that the eruption had been triggered by a geological chain reaction set off by the recent eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington. An audio tape was played in which President Carter and the Governor of Massachusetts were heard declaring the eruption to be a “serious situation.“
At the end of the segment, the repoter held up a sign that read “April Fool.“ However, by that time local authorities had already been flooded with frantic phone calls from Milton residents. One man, believing that his house would soon be engulfed by lava, had carried his sick wife outside in order to escape. The Milton police continued to receive worried phone calls well into the night. Channel 7 was so embarrassed by the panicked reaction that they apologized for the confusion later that night, and the executive producer responsible for the prank was fired.
Greece's state-controlled National Radio Network issued a warning that pollution had reached emergency levels in downtown Athens, and that the city would have to be immediately evacuated. All schools were called upon to close immediately, and the children to be sent home. Furthermore, anyone driving a car was asked to abandon it and flee to open ground.
Many people took the broadcast seriously and attempted to leave the city, since pollution was (and is) a serious problem in Athens. Within three hours the Radio Network had retracted the broadcast, revealing it to be a joke, but by then the damage had been done. One man sued the network for $820,000, claiming the prank had caused him mental distress. The director of the network submitted his resignation over the incident, and the originator of the hoax was fired.
On March 31, British policemen were sent to investigate a glowing flying saucer that had settled down in a field in Surrey. As the policemen approached the craft with their truncheons held out, a door opened in the bottom of the ship and a small figure wearing a silver space suit walked out. The policemen immediately took off in the opposite direction. The alien turned out to be a midget, and the flying saucer was a hot air balloon that had been specially built to look like a UFO by Richard Branson, the 36-year-old chairman of Virgin Records.
Residents of Glendale and Peoria, Arizona woke to find yellow fliers posted around their neighborhoods warning them of "Operation Killer Bees." Apparently, there was to be widespread aerial spraying later that day to eradicate a killer bee population that had made its way into the area. Residents were warned to stay indoors from 9 am until 2:30 pm. The phone numbers of local television and radio stations were provided. On the bottom of the flier the name of an official government agency was listed: Arizona Pest Removal Information Line (For Outside Operations Listings). The first letters of this agency spelled out "April Fool." Few people got the joke. Radio and television stations received numerous calls, as did the Arizona Agriculture Department. Many worried residents stayed inside all day, watching anxiously for the pest-control planes.
newspaper ran a front-page article describing the landing of three extraterrestrial spaceships the previous night in the desert outside the town of Jafr
, in eastern Jordan.
Many of the residents of Jafr, unaccustomed to April 1st hoaxes, believed the article to be true. Frightened students didn't go to school, and the Mayor of Jafr considered evacuating all of the town's 13,000 residents (but ultimately decided not to). Security personnel searched for the aliens in the desert, but found nothing.
managing editor later apologized for the article, saying "We meant to entertain, not scare people."