Happy April Fools Day
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Posted 01 April 2019 - 05:25 AM
Some things never change, and for some people, the height of humour is seeing someone else hurt themselves. Pretty sure that’s where the 1854 prank reported in New York’s Albany Register started, and it’s a bizarre one.
The Brick-in-the-Hat “Trick”, 1854
The report states that someone had come up with the brilliant idea of covering a strategically-placed, fairly large rock with a plain-looking, unsuspecting hat. Counting on a person’s tendency to absentmindedly kick the hat as they were walking along…. you can see where this is going. The first victim was a young man who, upon kicking the hat-covered rock, “picked up his toe in both hands, hopped about, and became emphatic in his language”.
Another man tried to hit the hat with a cricket bat, and, as you might guess, failed. The paper reports that they stayed long enough to see roughly a dozen people attempt to kick the hat and each time, it ended pretty much the same way.
The Tragic Coffin Prank, 1858
Jeremy Clay and the BBC tell the story of a Victorian prank with tragic consequences (although the date of the prank isn’t clear). According to the story, a group of Lancashire girls were walking home at dusk when they came across a coffin lying in the road. The coffin groaned and shuddered as they approached, and they predictably ran off screaming. They then encountered another local, who asked them to show him what they’d seen. When they went back to the scene, they found two men picking up the coffin and walking off – undoubtedly laughing as they went.
They told everyone at the pub about it later, and that was at the same time that 13-year-old Martha was dying. It was determined that she had died from shock, and the men were arrested and put on trial for manslaughter.
Found not guilty by the jury, they were set free after being held for a few months as they waited to face the consequences of their deadly prank.
April Fools’ Day Prank: Washing the Lions, 1856
A very official-looking invitation was sent out in the spring of 1856. It bore the seal of the Tower of London, the signature of a senior warden named Herbert de Grassen, and a red wax seal. It was an exclusive invitation to come to the tower and witness an incredible annual event: the Washing of the Lions.
It’s not as far-fetched as it initially sounds. The Tower was, after all, home to a menagerie of wild animals that had been accumulated by the British Crown. There was even a polar bear, who had special permission to head down to the Thames and fish for his own dinner, the Guardian reports.
People who didn’t notice the significance of the date still showed up to see the lions washed, and even more surprising is just how long the prank lasted. Reports of invitations being issued to the Washing of the Lions ceremony date back to at least 1698, when it became the first known report of an April Fools’ Day prank.
And it seems like it was repeated often. In Reminiscences of an Old Bohemian, author Gustave Louis Maurice Strauss wrote about 1848 crowds that gathered to see the lion's annual bath. They were so outraged when they found there wasn’t going to be a washing that the Tower’s warders had to send for military reinforcements to deal with the public disorder that followed. Once the menagerie at the Tower was closed, pranksters started sending people to London Zoo instead.
The Grand Exhibition of Donkeys, 1864
In spite of the fact that donkeys are intelligent animals with such a strong self-preservation instinct that’s given them the reputation of being stubborn, calling someone a donkey is a major insult. As far back as Aesop’s fables, donkeys often played the character of the fool, and there’s even a philosophical paradox that states a donkey between a food source and a water source would eventually die of hunger and thirst because he couldn’t rationalize choosing one over the other. It’s where we get terms like ‘jackass’, and anyway you slice it, it’s not a name many like to be called.
So in 1864, London’s Evening Star newspaper took advantage of the approaching April Fools’ Day holiday and the slang terms to do some serious shaming. They announced that on April 1, there would be a “Grand Exhibition of Donkeys” held at the city’s Agricultural Hall.
Crowds gathered outside the hall, but it didn’t take long for them to realize that they weren’t attending a grand exhibition of donkeys – they were a part of it.
Edison’s Food Machine, 1878
The late 19th century was an exciting time when people couldn’t wait to see what Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison were going to invent next. According to the Museum of Hoaxes, that made Edison the perfect bait in an 1878 April Fools’ Day prank.
It was the year after he invented the phonograph, so when the New York Graphic announced that he had just patented a machine that would turn dirt straight into cereal and water into wine without any of those pesky middle parts of the process, people bought the story hook, line and sinker. And the story was pretty fantastic, claiming the machine would put an end to world hunger, and boasting that it was proof that Edison was going to solve all of the world’s problems.
It started running in newspapers across the country, making Edison the target of great praise for his genius. A major editorial in Buffalo’s Commercial Advertiser even spoke of how grateful everyone should be that Edison was born in their time, not at a time when he would have been accused of witchcraft, heresy, and all other potentially life-threatening social pitfalls.
The Graphic quoted the editorial at length when it ran its story exposing the whole episode as an April Fools’ Day prank, with the headline: They Bite.
The Beast of Deadman’s Hole, 1888
Throughout the first part of the century, the later-named Deadman’s Hole was a popular stopover for travellers heading from Oak Grove to Warner Springs in California. The story goes that it was one such group of travellers that stopped there in 1858 and while getting a drink from the natural spring, they found a dead body staring back up at them.
Thereafter, the spring was known as Deadman’s Hole, and its reputation soon began living up to its name when a series of grisly murders took place there. In 1888 – on April 1 – the San Diego Union reported on another sighting there. Two hunters had, it claimed, stumbled onto a creature they thought was a bear… until it turned, and they saw it had a human face. After killing it, they followed its tracks back to a cave near Deadman’s Hole. On investigating, they found five skulls and more human bones. The monster seemed to be the beast responsible for the deaths in the area, and its body would be taken to San Diego and put on public display.
The San Diego police department fielded countless requests to see the beast that the following day and the paper ran a follow-up article informing readers that they’d have to come back the following year – on the next April Fools’ Day.
The Procession of the Animals, 1866
In 1866, April Fools’ Day and Easter Sunday fell on the same day, which meant that when hundreds of people turned up at the London Zoological Society, they were expecting to see The Procession of the Animals. They’d bought tickets, after all, for one penny each, and they were expecting to see a 3 o’clock procession.
When officials at the society told the assembled crowd of a few hundred people that they weren’t going to get to see the animals parade through the grounds, after all, the crowd did what many crowds would do – even on Easter Sunday: they threatened to riot.
Police was called in to disperse the angry mob. When they looked into where the tickets came from, they found their prankster. She was a bookseller named Sarah Marks, and she escaped prosecution for the stunt by sending what we imagine must have been a very carefully-worded letter of apology.
The Train to Drogheda, 1844
Drogheda is a town in County Louth, just north of Dublin, and in late March of 1844, signs started popping up around Dublin stating that trains would be offering a one-day-only, free ride to Drogheda and back. The day of the ride was, of course, April 1, and needless to say, a massive crowd showed up at the train station for their free ride.
When station workers tried to explain to them that there was no free ride, things went sideways very, very quickly. When pushing and shoving to get on the train turned into an outright riot, police were called in to restore the peace. Once they found out what the problem was, all charges – on both sides – were dropped.
The German Gardener’s News, 1901
The April edition of a publication called the German Gardener’s News was filled with April Fools’ Day jokes of a botanical variety. The editor, a Herr Moller, reported significant findings that plants grew better when they had some music to listen to, so devoted gardeners should try picking up a guitar if they wanted results. Vegetables, though, didn’t like more recent music and grew best to the old classics, he clarified.
Moller also claimed that they had discovered a group of flowers that gave off so much light that it was possible to read a newspaper by their glow – and included a cartoon as an illustration how this was possible. The research came about after a scientist realized that people didn’t need light to see by when they were walking through gardens at night, and went on to say that the clematis emitted a glow similar to starlight, while the aptly named sunflowers were the brightest in the garden.