The Best of April Fools

A lot of sites and publications will be running crazy stories as true to try to trick you today.

We're not.

Instead, we celebrate the absolute best April Fools jokes of the past, executed by absolute experts. Don't try this at home.

1933: The Madison Capital-Times ran a front-page story on April 1 to report that the state capitol dome had collapsed. "Wisconsin's beautiful $8 million capitol was in ruins today," the report said, "following a series of mysterious explosions which blasted the majestic dome from its base." The explosions, it continued, "sent showers of granite chips down upon the heads of pedestrians." The headline: "Dome Topples Off Statehouse". The subhead: "Officials Say Legislature Generated Too Much Hot Air".

"Authorities were considering the possibility that large quantities of gas," the article explained, "generated through many weeks of verbose debate in the Senate and Assembly chambers, had in some way been ignited, causing the first blast."

An accompanying photo showed the destruction:

Photo of destroyed capitol dome.

That explanation, of course, was just too believable: even though the story ended "April Fools" (and that was noted under the photo, too), readers raced to downtown Madison to see the destroyed building, and were gobsmacked to see it was fully intact. "I was filled with indignation over your April Fool joke on the front page of the Capital-Times of April 1," a reader complained, once he figured out the date of the story (or perhaps looked more closely and saw the "April Fools" note and realized he was one of the fools). "There is such a thing as carrying a joke too far and this one was not only tactless and void of humor, but also a hideous jest."

The story and photo were created by reporter Cedric Parker. It was far from his last gag: on April 1, 1966, a Parker story told about a man who lived on Lake Waubesa who had trained ducks to tow his rowboat out whenever he wanted to go fishing. Parker created a picture that showing ducks harnessed to the boat, with the man sitting back rather than having to row.

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1957: The April 1 edition of the British TV show Panorama ran a two-and-a-half-minute story about how the Swiss harvested fresh spaghetti from trees (see below). It was a great crop that year, the show reported, thanks both to perfect weather and the "virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil." The shows Very Dignified Host Richard Dimbleby concluded that "For those who love this dish, there's nothing like real, home-grown spaghetti."

Brits fell for it hook, line, and sinker: hundreds inquired of the BBC how they might grow spaghetti at home. The BBC, continuing the joke, simply told them to "Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."

The report, thought to be the first televised April Fools joke, was thought up by Panorama cameraman Charles de Jaeger (who was Austrian, not Swiss, but he filmed the spot on a side-trip while in Switzerland). He was given a £100 budget for the props and film.


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1977: Newspaper map of the islandsThe April 1 edition of the London Guardian newspaper included a 7-page supplement about the Indian Ocean island nation of San Serriffe. These days, anyone with a good laser printer might know printer terms and font names ("sans serif" means without serifs -- the little "decorations" on letters, such as the "feet" which can be seen in serifed fonts.)

If the more obscure place names (click graphic to enlarge it) like Bodoni (a font face), Gill Sands (Gill sans [serif] is a font face), or "Upper and Lower Caisse" weren't clues enough, the semi-colon shape of the islands could be seen from across the room.

Naturally, hundreds of readers called the Guardian for more information, including asking how they might book vacations to the islands.

The paper's Special Reports editor, Philip Davies, came up with the idea. "The Financial Times was always doing special reports on little countries I'd never heard of," Davies said. "I was thinking about April Fool's Day 1977 and I thought: why don't we just make a country up?"

The paper even managed to get advertisers to play along, which means they even made money on the joke:

newspaper page
Kodak: "If you've got a photograph of San Serriffe, Kodak would like to see it."

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Now ask yourself: can any of the lame attempts at jokes today beat these classics?

Posted April 1, 2016

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