In early 1708, a previously unknown London astrologer named Isaac Bickerstaff published an almanac in which he predicted the death by fever of the famous rival astrologer John Partridge on March 29 of that year. Partridge indignantly denied the prediction, but on March 30 Bickerstaff released a pamphlet announcing that he had been correct: Partridge was dead. It took a day for the news to settle in, but soon everyone had heard of the astrologer's demise. And so, on April 1st the joke came to full fruition (suggesting it was a deliberate April Fool joke) when Partridge was woken by a sexton outside his window wanting to know if there were any orders for his funeral sermon. Bickerstaff, it turned out, was a pseudonym for the satirist Jonathan Swift. His prognosticatory prank worked so well that Partridge was eventually forced to stop publishing almanacs, unable to shake his reputation as the man whose death had been foretold.
"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.]
"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.]
The mayor of Santa Fe, New Mexico announced that the perfectly preserved bones of a prehistoric boy and girl had been found in the badlands near San Rafael. The bones were located in a white stone house that was partially buried in lava. The prehistoric couple had apparently been overwhelmed by a volcanic eruption. Their skeletons were covered with a thick yellow plaster. Even the reddish-brown hair of the girl had been preserved. The girl had been wearing two turquoise earrings, that now rested beside her head. The find generated great interest among scientists. However, a few days later the mayor was forced to admit that there were no skeletons. He had been the victim of an April Fool's Day hoax. [The Washington Post
, Apr 11, 1920.]
In Milwaukee, the city morgue received over 150 calls within an hour and a half from people asking to speak to Mr. Graves or Mr. Stiff. Consequently "the morgue failed for an hour and 45 minutes to inform the coroner of the death of a patient and asking that the body be removed." The coroner appealed to the public to stop making such calls on April 1st. [Sheboygan Press
, Apr 1, 1920.]
Undertakers in Reno, Nevada reported that they received calls all day from people asking, "Someone there want me?" The undertakers soon began responding, "If you're a dead one, yes." [Reno Evening Gazette
, Apr 1, 1925.]
The Los Angeles Times
reported that police officers were kept busy responding to fictitious reports of "big fires" throughout the city. They also responded to a report of a "woman murdering her husband" on N. Gower St: "The woman, mystified when a squad of detectives rushed to her home demanding the body and the suspect, soon joined the officers with a hollow laugh which somehow lacked the humor which the prankster probably expected."
The Chicago Daily Defender
interviewed Otto Ebar, the man responsible for answering the phones at the Cook County Morgue on April 1st, the day when numerous calls are received for Mr. Stiff, Mr. K. Dever, Mr. Casket, Mr. Graves, Mr. Rigor, or Mr. Mortis. Ebar said, "he has to brace himself for when business executives and general office girls discover they have been tricked by some of their associates, some let their venom out on him. 'But the vast majority are terribly nice about it.'"
"Ebar said the calls average about four or five a minute and that the men are more likely to berate him than the women who readily admit their embarrassment and refuse to give their name.
One important lawyer called, Ebar disclosed, and asked if he could speak to 'Mr. Stiff.' His secretary had left the message for him, he added.
When Ebar finally got around to telling him it was the County Morgue number his secretary had given him, but that for him to call any time he liked, the lawyer replied:
'Don't worry, you'll be hearing from me real soon because my secretary will be visiting you. Her name will be Mrs. Stiff.'"
[The Chicago Defender
, Apr 2, 1959.]
Israel Radio broadcast that Nabih Berri, leader of the Shi'ite Amal movement, had been assassinated. The news caused an immediate flaring of tensions in the region. However, Israeli officials quickly denounced the report as a hoax. The false report was traced back to an army intelligence officer who had planted the news item in the broadcasts of the Israeli Army's intelligence monitoring unit, from which it had been picked up by Israel Radio. Israel's Defence Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, announced that the unnamed officer would be court-martialed. Most commentators found the hoax to be in poor taste. "Berri Berri funny," one foreign correspondent commented.