April Fools Day Photo

In 1933, the front page of the Madison Capital-Times in Wisconsin ran this historic fake photo showing the Wisconsin State Capitol collapsing. The headline read "Dome Topples Off Statehouse." The subtitle read, "Officials Say Legislature Generated Too Much Hot Air."

ASHLAND -- Although no one is certain of the exact origin of April Fools’ Day or All Fools’ Day, there are certainly many theories.

Many cultures celebrate this hilarious holiday which includes harmless pranks performed in various methods. With the progress made in pranking over the centuries, maybe the name should be changed to International Dupe Day.

An early recorded association between April 1 and foolishness occurred around 1392 in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The prologue to the “Nun’s Priest Tale” tells the story of a vain cock Chantecler who falls for the tricks of a fox. There is mention of the date March 32 and readers took this to mean April 1 but this idea has been found meaningless by historians.

April Fools Banner

On April 1, 1992, Hollywood Park personnel laid out an 85 foot, yellow banner with 20 foot high red letters that said "Welcome to Chicago." Any air travelers landing at LA International Airport thought they had mistakenly landed in Chicago.

Another early theory dates back to 1582 when Pope Gregory XIII ordered a change from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar as called for by the Council of Trent in 1563. The new calendar changed the new year from April 1 (about the time of the vernal equinox) to Jan. 1. Many of the French failed to recognize the new calendar or didn’t get the news right away.

They often continued to celebrate the new year on Jan. 1 and became the source of many pranks and jokes. They were called “April Fools” because of their naivety. One of the pranks played on them was placing a paper fish on a fool’s back and calling him or a “poisson d’avril” (April fish.) This meant the person was a young, easily caught fish and a gullible person.

Others believe April Fools’ Day is completely tied to the vernal equinox, or first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere because Mother Nature fooled people with ever changing and totally unpredictable weather patterns. This clowning holiday has also been tied to “Hilaria” an ancient Rome festival where people dressed up in disguises and mocked other citizens, including magistrates and other people of importance.

Whoopee cushion

The whoopee cushion or any device imitating flatulence loudly is still an April Fool's Day favorite.

April Fools’ Day also became popular throughout Britain during the 18th century. In Scotland, the tradition became a two-day event, starting with “hunting the gowk,” in which people were sent on fake errands. Gowk is a word for a cuckoo bird which is a symbol for a fool.

That day was followed by Taily Day, which involved pranks played on people’s behinds, such as pinning fake tails or placing “kick me” signs on them. In England tricks were only played in the morning hours and a person who was spoofed was called a “noodle.”

In Ireland, it was traditional to entrust the “victim” with an "important letter" to be given to a named person. The person would read the letter, then ask the victim to take it to someone else, and so on. When the letter was opened, it contained the words "send the fool further.”

Many other countries worldwide also honor their own April Fool’s Day traditions which include many of the same things we do here in the United States or something similar.

The average trickster may play simple pranks such as telling someone their shoe lace is untied, scaring a co-worker with a rubber snake or spider, or patting them on the back while leaving behind a sticky note. Computer pranks such as turning a display on a computer screen upside down, signing people up for annoying junk emails, or placing tape under someone’s computer mouse have also become popular.

Using the emoji for … which indicates someone is typing you a text on your phone is also popular.

In more modern times though, great lengths have been taken to create elaborate April Fools’ Day hoaxes that involve the masses, especially with the development of movies, videos, radio, Internet and social media.

In 1957, the BBC who is well-known for April 1 antics, reported Swiss farmers were experiencing a record spaghetti crop and showed footage of people harvesting noodles from trees. The prank was called the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest and the BBC were soon flooded with requests to purchase spaghetti plants which forced them into revealing the hoax the next day.

In 1985, Sports Illustrated writer George Plimpton pranked his readers when he ran a fake news article about a rookie pitcher named Sidd Finch who could throw a fastball over 168 miles per hour.

On April 1, 1982, The Daily Mail printed an article titled, “Do Not Adjust Your Set – It Could Be Your Bra!” The British newspaper reported a local manufacturer had made 10,000 underwire bras that were equipped with a specially treated copper designed for use in fire alarms. When the wire came in contact with body heat and nylon, it emitted static electricity that affected television broadcasts.

The hoax went on to show a model performing a test to see if her bra was one of the 10,000 by shaking it a few inches over a TV. One of the readers who was fooled by the story was the chief engineer of British Telecomm who contacted his office and requested the bras of all female employees be tested to ensure their bras were not interfering with any electronic equipment.

In 1996, Taco Bell announced it had agreed to purchase Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell and planned to rename it the Taco Liberty Bell. In 1998, Burger King advertised a “Left-Handed Whopper,” and clueless customers requested the fake sandwich.

Google performed their first prank in 2000 and had become very well-known for their April Fool’s Day tomfoolery. The company got one over on those who loved new technology and needed to be the first to have it. They introduced Gmail Motion, which was a new technology that allowed people to write emails using only hand gestures.

The technology used a computer’s webcam and a “spatial tracking algorithm” to track gestures and translate them into words and commands. This was one of their more believable April 1 gags.

So, I have to ask, what far-fetched buffoonery have you been a victim to, performed yourself, or what other infamous pranks do you recall? Do you remember any of the big hoaxes from other countries that got world attention?

There are too many more to list here, but we would love to hear from our readers!

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