You pick up the receiver at work to answer a call to your business, and find no answer. The phone line sounds like it is dead in fact. And yet even though you answered the call, the phone just keeps on ringing.
Then you finally notice it…someone has taped down the ‘plunger’ on your telephone’s main box. When you picked up the handset to answer, the plunger stayed down, so you were in fact talking to no one when you answered the call. April Fool’s! Someone just got you with one of the oldest office pranks in the world.
Today is that day, April Fools Day, and all around the world there are people playing practical jokes on one another. The exact origins of this day are unclear, but there are a few stories that make sense down through history.
One traces all the way back to the Biblical story of Noah, when after the flood he sent a raven off in search of dry land too early. Tradition says that he did this on the first day of the Hebrew month corresponding with April.
Another story traces it’s origin back to the 16th century and King Charles IX of France, who changed the beginning of the year there from April 1st to January 1st. Those who continued to celebrate the old April 1st date were called ‘April Fools’.
A similar story comes again from that 16th century and the adoption of the Gregorian calendar, which replaced the centuries-old Julian calendar as the still utilized standard around the world, and referred to those who continued to follow that Julian calendar as ‘April Fools’.
Also, many pre-Christian cultures are said to have celebrated May 1st, or ‘May Day’, as the first day of the summer planting season. Those who jumped the gun and planted in April were called ‘April Fools’.
There have been some well-known public April Fools jokes played over the years on a large scale.
One in 1996 had the folks at Taco Ball claiming that they had purchased the Liberty Bell and renamed it the ‘Taco Liberty Bell’. White House press secretary Mike McCurry was asked about the purchase in a press conference, and dead-panned that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold and renamed the ‘Lincoln Mercury Memorial’.
Not to be outdone by their fast-food rivals, Burger King revealed in 1998 the ‘left-handed Whopper’, which was designed that the condiments would drip out of the right side. The campaign was so sincere that day that people actually ordered the product at many stores, and some others even specified that they wanted the old ‘right-hand Whopper’ instead.
That same year of 1998, radio DJ’s Opie & Anthony were on the air in Boston, and issued an alert claiming that Boston mayor Thomas Menino had been killed in a tragic car accident. The rumor spread like wildfire and was excacerbated by the fact that Menino was on a plane flight and could not be reached. The pair was fired in the aftermath when numerous news stations had to issue alerts regarding the hoax.
In the 1950’s, Dutch television news reported that the ‘Leaning Tower of Pisa’ had finally fallen over, and the station was bombarded with telephone calls for more information. In 1957, early gullible television viewers in Britain bombarded the BBC with calls after a program showing the harvesting of spaghetti from trees, wondering how these trees could be purchased.
In 2003, the producers of the television game show ‘Hollywood Squares’ played a prank on host Tom Bergeron by inserting two actors as the contestants, and instructing them to be ‘difficult’. The actors proceeded to give horrid answers and act in otherwise annoying fashion.
One of the most famous modern April Fools jokes was perpetrated by Sports Illustrated and legendary writer George Plimpton, who penned a 1985 article about a young New York Mets pitching prospect named Sid Finch who possessed a fastball that had been clocked at 168 miles per hour, and who had pinpoint accuracy.
On the web in 2003, numerous Chinese and South Korean sites ran with a story that claimed CNN was reporting the assassination of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, which resulted in a 1.5% drop in the Korean stock markets.
In 2005, the official NASA website had a link to what they said was a photo that revealed ‘water on mars’. When visitors clicked on the link, it took them to a picture of a glass of water sitting atop a Mars candy bar.
Whether it is done the old fashioned way in person, or over the phone, or on television or radio, or here on the internet, April Fools Day remains a favored day in the hearts of pranksters everywhere.
Watch out, because today you never know from where the next one may come.