In which victims are tricked into calling the zoo to ask for Mr. Lyon, Mr. Fox, Jim Panzee, etc. Victims are also occasionally directed to aquariums, botanical gardens, or the city morgue
"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.
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 explained that the tickets were not valid, and that they were all victims of an april fool's day prank. Upon hearing this, the crowd grew restless, insisting loudly that they had paid their admission and were determined to see the animals of the zoo all walk in procession. Before the situation became out of hand, an extra force of constables arrived and dispersed the crowd.
The Zoological Society investigated the situation and discovered that the tickets had been sold by Mrs. Sarah Marks, a bookseller. The Society pressed charges against her, but withdrew them when she wrote a letter apologizing for her behavior.
The Los Angeles Times
reported that the Selig Zoo, in east LA, was swamped by calls on April 1. "Messages were left on various temporarily vacated desks in town and requests were made over phones to the unwary to ring up Dr. Lyon, Mr. Bear, Mrs. Fox, Miss Wolf and the Widow Campbell. Several people even were trying to locate certains Miss Cats. The only animals which escaped attention during the day were Mr. Hippopotamus, Mrs. Rhinoceros and Miss Elephant, who are too big to answer calls, over the wire anyhow." [Los Angeles Times
, Apr 4, 1920.]
(No calls for Mrs. Rhinoceros or Miss Elephant? Had people not heard of Ryna Soris and Elle Font back in 1920?)
In an effort to sidestep the flood of calls asking for Mr. Fish, the New York aquarium asked the telephone company to disconnect their service for the day. [Oakland Tribune
, Apr 1, 1925.]
In order to avoid the avalanche of calls on April 1st for Mr. Lyon, Mr. Wolf, and Mr. Fox, the St. Louis Zoo changed its phone number for one day. Sterling 0900, the zoo's regular phone number, was changed to Sterling 0901.
When pranksters called the Toledo Zoo on April Fool's Day, the laugh was on them. Because when they jokingly asked for Mr. M. Key, they got an answer in monkey talk. Bob the Performing Chimpanzee was manning the receptionist desk, all ready to receive the flood of phone calls.
"The army wants men, but in this atomic age it doesn't believe its recruits must be so ferocious looking they'll scare the foe to death. Cpl. Donald Barnes (left), Batavia, Ill., received a telegram Sunday that 'Joe Buschmann' would be 18 Monday, so Barnes was on hand early to enlist Joe for the Chicago army recruiting station. When he got to the address he found himself at the Lincoln park zoo, and Joe turned out to be Bushman, 550 pound gorilla, who celebrates his eighteenth birthday on April Fool's day." [Associated Press]
The New York Times
reported that "The Bronx Botanical and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens are awaiting, wearily, their usual calls for Messrs Astor, Bush and Flower, and the Planetarium the usual requests for Mr. McCloud or Mr. Starr." However, the employees of the Bronx Zoo and the Coney Island Aquarium were given secret numbers to use, so that all calls to the regular numbers could be intercepted by the telephone company, "and the joke victims told the hard truth." The telephone company estimated that it intercepted well over 5000 prank calls. [New York Times
, Apr 1, 1959.]
The New York Telephone Company announced it had prepared for April Fools Day, as it had done so for the past thirty years, by assigning special operators to intercept all calls to the Bronx Zoo. Only legitimate calls would be allowed through. When the day came, it intercepted 2561 calls to the zoo from people seeking to speak with Mr. Lion, Mr. Fox, Mr. Wolf, Mr. Beaver, etc. This was only half the number of calls made the previous year. [Chicago Daily Tribune
- Apr 2, 1960.]
In the week before April 1st, the New York Telephone company announced that it planned to use a new transistorized device called a "Glossoresonator" to intercept prank calls to the Bronx zoo. It noted that on the last April 1, 929 prank calls had been made to the zoo. However, it declined to explain exactly how the glossoresonator worked.
But when April 1st arrived, the company admitted that no such device existed. Nor had its announcement done anything to deter pranksters from calling the zoo. 755 hoax calls were intercepted by operators.
The Cincinnati Zoo reported receiving over 1000 calls from pranksters (or victims of pranksters) on April 1st. There were 224 calls specifically asking for "Mr. Lion." In anticipation of the calls, the zoo had given the job of answering the telephone to six girl members of the Junior Zoologist Club:
Linda King, one of the club members, said she received one call for President Nixon and another from someone wanting to know if "Batman was fighting the Penguin." Then there were callers who had been duped into calling the zoo number thinking they were calling someone else. The owner of a blacktopping firm called saying he had been asked to telephone about a "seal job." A department store clerk called to say the handkerchief order was ready for "Mrs Lion" to pick up. Another woman reportedly became upset when she thought she had been calling an exclusive downtown store about girdles.
Anticipating the annual flood of prank calls on April 1st, the Blank Park Zoo
in Des Moines set up four hotlines that pranksters were invited to use. The hotlines were for "Mr. Albert Ross," "Mr. C. Lyon," "Ms. Anna Conda," and "Mr. Don Key." Each hotline played a prerecorded message to let callers know they'd been fooled.