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The Eruption of Mount Edgecumbe -- April Fool's Day, 1974
Residents of Sitka, Alaska woke on the morning of Monday April 1, 1974 to a bright, clear day. They could see right across Sitka Sound to Kruzof Island, where the familiar sight of Mount Edgecumbe, a volcano dormant for 400 years, loomed. But today something was different about the view. A menacing plume of black smoke was rising from the crater. It looked like the volcano was preparing to blow!


Photo taken by Harold Wahlman, April 1, 1974, who was walking across the Alice Island footbridge when he noticed smoke rising from Mt. Edgecumbe, so he ran home to get his camera.

Concerned residents spilled out of their homes onto the streets to gaze up at the volcano. Calls poured in to local authorities. The Coast Guard commander radioed the Admiral in Juneau who ordered a chopper be sent out to investigate.

As the Coast Guard pilot approached Mt. Edgecumbe, the plume of smoke grew in size. Finally he was right above it, and he peered down into the crater. At first, he couldn't believe what he was seeing. He looked more closely, and then he laughed. Stacked in the cone of the volcano, burning with a greasy flame, was a huge pile of old tires. And spray-painted in the snow beside the tires, in 50-foot-high black letters, were the words "APRIL FOOL."

Pulling Off the Prank
The fake eruption of Mt. Edgecumbe was the work of a local prankster, 50-year-old Oliver "Porky" Bickar. The idea to ignite the volcano had occurred to him in 1971. As soon as he thought of the idea, he knew he had to do it. So he collected 70 old tires that he kept in an airplane hangar. But he had to wait three years, until April Fool's Day 1974, until the visibility conditions were just right for the prank.

When he woke that morning on April 1, he looked out his window and could see right across the sound. So he looked at his wife, Patty, and said, "I have to go do it today." She replied, "Just don't make an ass of yourself."


Views of the eruption

Although Porky had prepared the tires, he hadn't arranged for a chopper pilot to fly the tires out to the crater — and this detail almost foiled his plan. The first two pilots he contacted refused to do it, but then he phoned Earl Walker, in Petersburg, who agreed to come over as soon as the morning fog in his area cleared.

Porky also secured the assistance of some friends — Harry Sulser, Ken Stedman, and Larry Nelson. They were all part of a group calling itself the "Dirty Dozen" that used to meet every week for coffee and conversation at Revard's Restaurant.

As the pranksters waited for the chopper, they piled the tires into two, large canvas slings. Soon the pilot had arrived, and they attached one of the slings to a hook on the bottom of the chopper. They also took along some smoke bombs, several gallons of kerosene, and some rags. Then they headed out to the crater.


Porky Bickar in November 1973, at the Alaska Loggers
Association Convention in Anchorage. He's showing off the
hard hat he crushed with the spar tree.

After the chopper dropped the first load of tires into the crater, Porky got out and began stomping the words "APRIL FOOL" in the snow, as the chopper headed back for the second load.

When the chopper returned, all the men piled the tires into a stack. Then they lit them on fire and headed home.

The pranksters had taken the precaution of notifying the FAA controller of their plan. As the group returned to Sitka, the controller radioed them: "You have clearance. And by the way, the son-of-a-(gun) looks fantastic."

They had also warned the local police, but they forgot about the Coast Guard, which is why it wasn't long before the Coast Guard pilot was retracing their path out to the mountain.

The Reaction
The prank succeeded beyond Porky's wildest dreams. News of it got picked up by the Associated Press and ran in papers around the world.

The reaction of people in Sitka, once they realized the volcano wasn't really erupting, was almost uniformly positive. Even the Coast Guard wasn't too mad about the stunt. Porky met the Admiral years later at a Fourth of July party. As the Admiral walked over to meet him, Porky was afraid he was going to be chewed out, but instead the Admiral told Porky he thought the prank was classic.

Alaska Airlines also liked it. The company included Porky's prank in ad campaign the following year, 1975. The campaign highlighted the irreverent spirit of Alaskans by collecting together brief accounts of great "brags" pulled off by Alaskans. Porky's brag read:

On April Fool's Day, I hired a chopper and flew 70 old, kerosene-soaked tires on top of the dormant volcano, Mt. Edgecumbe, that looms over Sitka. I set the tires on fire, and the billowing, black smoke created one hell of a commotion in Sitka. I dare you to top that April Fool's joke."




Detail from the Alaska Airlines ad

Porky's favorite response to the prank came in 1980. He received a letter from an attorney in Denver, inside of which was a clipping from the Denver Post with a photo of Mt. St. Helens erupting. Attached was a note that read, "This time, you little bastard, you've gone too far."

Porky Bickar
Porky was born November 1, 1923 in Chehalis, Washington. As a young man, he fought in World War II and took part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy — for which he was later awarded the Normandy Medal of the Jubilee of Liberty by the French government.

He married his wife Patricia (Patty) in 1950, and they had three children together. The family moved to Sitka in 1960, while Porky was working for the Barton and Reynvaan Logging Co. In 1964, he started his own business, Porky's Equipment Inc., selling and servicing logging gear.


Porky was a talented logger and was famous for the ending act he performed every year at the All-Alaska Logging Championships. He felled the spar tree so that it hit a target on the ground. The target was usually a hard hat, but sometimes it was a bottle of hooch.

Porky was also an artist who worked with metal. One of his projects was the fashioning of heavy steel outline maps of Alaska out of pipe left over from the Alaska oil pipeline. He gave these as gifts to friends. He also made metal cutouts of moose, deer, and bears, which he placed in public locations around town, as a kind of guerrilla art project.


Porky in 1972, showing off a chainsaw

But Porky was best known as a prankster — a reputation he enjoyed even before the 1974 stunt. Some of his other pranks included using a backhoe to drop an entire tree in the middle of a friend's driveway, placing plastic flamingoes in trees to confuse tour boats looking for wildlife, and holding a chainsaw sale at his store — one for the price of two! But it was the eruption of Mt. Edgecumbe that made him a legend throughout Alaska.

Porky died on August 11, 2003, age 79.


Eruption of Mount Edgecumbe Haiku (submitted by Hoax Museum readers)
Lava’d trailerparks
Modern echoes of Pompeii:
End comes in Edgecumbe
(by Paul)

Links and References
  • Bernard, Chris (Mar 29, 2002). "April Fool's Day: Sitka Legend Lives On," Daily Sitka Sentinel: 13.
  • "Services set Monday for Oliver J. 'Porky' Bickar," (Aug 15, 2005), Daily Sitka Sentinel: 6.
  • "One of the greatest April fool's pranks EVER, orchestrated by Porky Bickar," sitka.com.
  • "Porky's April Fool's Day Adventure...," olyopen.com.
Sadly, Porky passed away a few months ago, but his legend lives on.
Posted by Kate  in  Sitka  on  Thu Apr 01, 2004  at  12:04 PM
This same stunt was done by a University of New Mexico fraternity in the 1950s in one of the extinct volcanos on the west mesa of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Posted by tk  in  Bloomington, Indiana, USA  on  Thu Apr 01, 2004  at  03:59 PM
jokes can go so far before they aren't funny any more
Posted by ace maverick  in  WA  on  Thu Apr 01, 2004  at  05:11 PM
That was one his his best, as most SE Alaska folks know he was on of the "dirty dozen" pranksters that have a long list of such great stunts to their credit. Yes, he will be missed.
Posted by Joe DeTemple  in  Washougal, WA  on  Fri Apr 02, 2004  at  12:56 AM
Cruel joke, but I thought this bit was priceless.

"a Sitka resident wrote to Bickar to tell him, "This time you've gone too far!"
Posted by Ian  on  Sun Nov 28, 2004  at  10:49 PM
I am from SE Alaska, and I think that this joke was rad! HAHAHHA Root for the little man, rock on AK!
Posted by Erica Lynn  in  Douglas AK  on  Wed Mar 30, 2005  at  03:57 AM
This one should be #1. Most of these pranks were done by TV news, radio stations, and newspapers. Any mass media can pull off a hoax on a large audience, but it takes a special kind of person to pull off something of this magnitude single-handedly. Rock on.
Posted by Adam  in  New Orleans  on  Sat Apr 02, 2005  at  05:53 PM
I was there in 1974 as a 12 yr old and it made a lasting impression on me. (Porky's wife was my Algebra teacher) I remember my dad (Doc Spencer) telling me that he got a $50 fine for that prank. Small price for fun. His boys and my brothers liked to throw dynamite in the lake off their boat too. Had to find someway to have fun!
Posted by Mary  in  Texas  on  Tue Oct 25, 2005  at  08:48 PM
Yes, I have just heard of this when I climbed edgecumbe a couple of weeks ago. Indeed, it shoudl be placed higher on the list, though I was not expecting to find this on the internet.
Posted by Ely Cyrus  in  Sitka, Ak  on  Tue Nov 15, 2005  at  04:09 PM
The sad thing is I remember this happening (dam I'm getting old)... Porky Was indeed one interesting fellow.
Posted by AlaskanMan  in  Alaska  on  Wed Dec 21, 2005  at  02:51 AM
Oh wow I had a teacher several years ago who explained he had some invovlement about this volcano prank. I never thought it was true until I found this now!!!
Posted by Dusty  on  Sat Mar 25, 2006  at  07:11 PM
LOL This is awesome. The best jokes are the ones that trick people, without making the person look stupid and gullible. I love it.
Posted by Jo  in  Spain  on  Sun Apr 02, 2006  at  06:47 AM
This is quite a joke pulled off by one man but think about the pollution it caused
Posted by Seattle  in  Washington  on  Mon Apr 03, 2006  at  01:18 PM
Surely not as much pollution as new york or even juneau puts out in one day. It was a great joke, classic
Posted by ely  in  Sitka  on  Mon Apr 03, 2006  at  02:05 PM
I was there too----I took my study hall out so they could watch. It took several years to pull of since it had to be a clear day to be seen 13 miles away---the previous 4 years had been overcast. The helicopter pilot came from Petersburg as the local pilot was afraid to take part. Police dept, Fire Dept and FFA had all been notified to prevent any catastophes. Three other members of the Dirty Dozen helped load the tires at the Sitka starting point. Polution??? No one could smell it from Sitka. By the way it took 100 tires to make that much smoke. Porky's wife.
Posted by Patty Bickar  in  Sitka  on  Tue Apr 04, 2006  at  03:42 AM
This is just one of many great stunts that Porky gave to his fellow Sitkans. There is yet another great one he pulled off with a Lady Godiva look alike during a downtown parade. As to the pollution comment, TOUGH! This is Alaska! We get a lot more pollution from the cruise ships than Porky's stunts ever caused!
Posted by Dave  in  Sitka  on  Wed Jun 21, 2006  at  10:04 PM
I remember my being told that story when I was little. It makes me smile every time I hear it.
Grandaughter of Porky's brother Lewis.
Posted by Lindsay Tross  in  Lake Tahoe  on  Fri Aug 11, 2006  at  08:28 PM
I think this should be #1

My uncle Larry helped with this prank, which I didn't know until he passed away last week. When I found this, I laughed so hard I about cried.
Posted by Kayla  in  Denver, CO  on  Thu Dec 28, 2006  at  07:47 PM
Really funny!

"this time you've gone too far!" :-D
Posted by amgm  on  Wed Jan 03, 2007  at  01:52 PM
Mrs. Bickar, if you ever get back on this thread, my appreciation and gratitude to your late husband for one of the best hoaxes ever. That one was just flat-out inspired! If he had lived closer to a major population center with an innocent, idle volcano nearby, it would have been world-famous. Ranier, Hood, Vesuvious, Fuji.

If he had only been born Porkii Bikiyara and pulled it off on Mt Fuji instead!!
Of course no 50 buck fine. The Japanese would have slapped him in prison after half of Tokyo and Yokohama fled as if Godzilla was after them....
Posted by Chris Ford  on  Sun Jan 21, 2007  at  08:44 AM
No fine, and no prison sentence--but the prisons matron was serving lunch at the time and she kept getting phone calls and her deliveries to prisoners would be interrupted by phone calls. She would just lift up the receiver and say "look at your calendar".
Posted by Patty Bickar  on  Sun Jan 21, 2007  at  05:09 PM
In 1998, as we were passing by Mt. Edgecumbe on the way out from Sitka, the M/S Jubilee's cruise director told us the story of Porky's prank and all the passengers had a great laugh :-D
Posted by Jose  in  Miami, Florida  on  Sat Mar 31, 2007  at  11:34 AM
I first lived in Sitka in 1989 and it wasn't a few days before I heard about Porky and his awesome jokes. He was a contruction man and I had heard that he was once doing some street work in downtown Sitka. Apparently he fooled tourists by pulling up large rocks painted gold and yelling that he'd struck paydirt. I wish I could have been there! A few years ago, when I was again living in Sitka, he pulled another fast one. There is a metal sculpture of a moose at Swan Lake in town. On April 1st, he replaced it with a similar metal sculpture of meat hanging and a person cooking over a fire. That kind of pranking doesn't fly most places down south. God bless small-town America! God bless you Patty!
Posted by Scott Ford  in  Oakley, CA  on  Sun Apr 01, 2007  at  04:38 PM
The people on this thread who know first hand about Porky should write a wikipedia entry. Quite honestly, anybody who can pull off a prank of this scale deserves to have some encyclopedic content kept for peoples' reference.
Posted by dfn_doe  in  Oakland, CA  on  Tue Apr 03, 2007  at  01:31 AM
Was up in Sitka this past week and heard the story and met Patty Bickar. Seems this sort of thing exemplifies the attitude in Alaska - it can be a hard life but it can be fun. I also heard about Porky putting plastic flamingoes in the trees for the tour boats looking for wildlife.
Posted by Mike  in  Baltimore  on  Sat Aug 11, 2007  at  07:42 PM
The pilot from Petersburg was named Earl Walker. He retired from flying in 1978 and died in 1994. His role in this prank made him an honerary member of "The Dirty Dozen Club."
Posted by Heard the Story from the Pilot  in  Alaska  on  Fri Dec 21, 2007  at  07:29 PM
I recently went fishing in Sitka Alaska with my grandfathr and everyone at the Kingfisher's Lodge knew about this prank and told me all about it.
Posted by Nick Saldana  in  Roseville California  on  Tue Apr 01, 2008  at  12:55 AM
I first found out about this is a brochure put out by the city commerce of Sitka when I was planning a trip there. I think it is great that people there have a sence of humor. I think this should be #1 also.
Posted by Paddi Tudor  in  Montana  on  Tue Apr 01, 2008  at  11:47 AM
Growing up in Sitka my father and I used to tell this story to tourists, most didn't look like they believed us, but telling the story always made me smile. Thanks for the tall tale and rest in peace Porky.
Posted by Cody Campbell  in  Formerly Sitka  on  Tue Apr 01, 2008  at  09:15 PM
I work with a guy that was there and he told me the story a few years back. Just hilarious! Should be #1 - I agree. I also like the idea of tourists looking through binaculars and finding 'native' pink flamingos in the trees. Wish I had known Porky.
Posted by Eric Brock  in  Seattle  on  Tue Apr 01, 2008  at  09:16 PM
lmfao!!!! what a great prank to pull. just think how bad he was laughing. i wish i had been there to witness it. this story/prank makes me proud to be an Alaskan!
Posted by Takpaan  in  Barrow AK  on  Wed Apr 02, 2008  at  09:40 AM
I remember one year when Porky called up our local radio talk show (problem corner) on April 1st. He announced that his shop was having a big chainsaw sale, one for the price of two! A friend of mine raced down in his pickup, grabbed two chainsaws, and didn't realize it was a joke until he saw that the price was doubled! Porky was a true Alaskan - and an exceptional one.
Posted by Sam  on  Wed Apr 02, 2008  at  07:49 PM
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