The best April Fools’ Day pranks of the past

By Harriet Piercy

Published Apr 1, 2021 at 12:58 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes


It’s just me in my flat this week, and I unsuccessfully thought that because of that, I could escape today’s usual April Fools pranks. Alas, I woke up to a one week to leave eviction notice, followed by my flatmate’s FaceTime call—to say I was ready to take the whole world to court is an understatement. While I was in full Kris Jenner mode, my flatmate buckled: “Do you pay any attention to what date it is, like ever?! I’ve already put salt in everyone’s coffee and lined the loo seats with clingfilm.”

Today is the first of April: April Fools’ Day. A day of expecting the worst from people. This particular April Fools also lands on Holy Thursday (also known as Maundy Thursday), which has slightly dampened the lust for tomfoolery, for some. We’re also in the midst of the greatest non-joke of all time, a global pandemic, so opportunities to place whoopee cushions under a stranger’s chair in a public restaurant are less likely to be available, unfortunately. However, to commemorate this day’s wonderful worth, let’s do what this past year has taught us to do best—reminisce.

April Fools pranks from history

Obviously, I’m starting with the very first recorded April Fools’ Day. Although exact origins of the day are uncertain for understandably confusing reasons, one common theory is that the tradition stems from when the Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582 across continental Europe. Pope Gregory XIII called for New Year’s Day to be celebrated on 1 January instead of the end of March, which led to the joke of those who were left out of this new calendar rule were considered to be ‘April fools’.

Bathing lions in London

According to Alex Boese, the curator of the Museum of Hoaxes who said that in 1698, “People in London were told to go see the annual ceremony of the washing of the lions at the Tower of London, they showed up at the Tower of London, but”—alas—“there was no annual lion-washing ceremony.” And yes, I probably would have been one of those disappointed people in a crowd had I been alive.

The spaghetti harvest

In the mid 20th century, 1957, it was said that pasta could be harvested. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) told viewers that there had been an “exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop” in Switzerland that year, and showed footage of spaghetti harvesters hard at work, picking noodles from trees, leading a surprising amount of people calling in to ask where they could possibly find one of these spaghetti bushes.

A man in a bottle

The peak of great human expectations. In January of 1749, London newspapers advertised that in an upcoming show, a man would squeeze his entire body into a wine bottle and sing, “during his stay in the bottle, any person may handle it, and see plainly that it does not exceed a common tavern bottle.” There was obviously no man in a bottle singing, no performer showed up at all in fact, but the show was inevitably booked out leaving the crowd blurry eyed and fuming. Apparently, the advertisement was the result of a bet between the Duke of Portland and the Earl of Chesterfield, where by the duke bet on the fact that anything could be advertised and would still “find fools enough in London to fill a playhouse and pay handsomely for the privilege of being there.”

Virgin Airlines dogging UFOs

It turns out rich people really can do whatever they want, because the billionaire founder of the Virgin Group, Richard Brandson, played his annual April Fools prank a day early, on 31 March—outrageous cheek! That evening, unexpectant residents outside of London spotted a flying saucer (an alien transporter-mobile, if you didn’t know). Police attended the scene, and surprisingly, they actually found the UFO. As they approached, a door slowly opened, and a silver-clad figure walked out. The cops ran away.

You want the truth? Well, Branson himself was hiding out in the UFO with his silver-clad companion, and the two of them had initially planned on landing (the hot air balloon rebirthed as a spaceship) in Hyde Park on the actual April Fools’ Day, but changing winds set them off course. Shame.

On that note, I bid you farewell and good luck on this untrustworthy day. Have a little fun, because duh—fun is fun, and so is a good sense of humour.

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