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Who was the real fool on April 1?

Fri, Mar 30th, 2007
Posted in Commentary

Last week as I was checking my emails I came across an article The Old Farmer's Almanac had sent dealing with April Fools' Day. Reading the article, I was instantly transported back nearly 50 years ago when I was a pre-schooler playing on the sidewalk near our house. It was a Saturday, I recall, because one of the neighborhood boys, about 10 years older than me, was out doing some yardwork.

"Hey Charlie," he shouted, "why are you wearing a dress?" I looked down at my clothes. I wasn't wearing a dress. I was wearing what most youngsters wore in the late-1950s: Redball Jets, blue jeans, a sweatshirt, and a baseball cap. I was terribly embarrassed, just the same. I thought the world of Jerry Matheny, and didn't understand why he thought I was wearing a dress.

Jerry could see I'd bit hook, line, and sinker. Then he shouted, "April fools!" and retreated to the garage.

Puzzled, I walked into the house and asked my mother what Jerry was talking about. Since that time, I have always enjoyed April Fools' Day and attempted to dream up pranks to torment others and entertain myself.

But what's the history behind April Fools' Day, which just occurred this past Sunday? Thanks to OFA, read on, and become educated!

According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, the history behind April Fools' Day is a little gray, although many people agree the tradition began in 1582 when France switched to the Gregorian calendar and moved New Year's Day from March 25 back to January 1. Prior to this change, the New Year's celebration had lasted a full week, from March 25 to April 1. Those who were unaware of the change were called April fools.

In France, the tradition is for children to secretly stick paper fishes on the backs of victims and shout "Poisson d'Avril!" ("April Fish!"). Scots call the holiday "Huntigowk Day" and send people to "hunt the gowk another mile" - a wild goose chase. Worldwide, people seem to dream up mischief on April 1.

In New York City, there has been an April Fools' Day Parade on Fifth Avenue every year since 1986. Media hoaxer Joey Skaggs sends out press releases detailing each year's theme, and a bevy of camera crews and spectators arrive on the scene to secure a spot. Of course, there's no parade.

In celebration of the jests and jesters everywhere, The 2007 Old Farmer's Almanac reports on some of the most famous pranks played over the years.

Here are a few:

Cave of the treasures

In the mid-1800s, an April Fools' Day article in the Boston Post reported that workmen removing trees from the Boston Common had uncovered a hidden trapdoor leading to a cave filled with treasure. Treasure seekers flocked to the Common, but, alas, no door was found.

See the spaghetti grow

In 1957, the BBC aired a newsreel explaining how the mild winter had produced a higher-than-normal harvest for Swiss spaghetti farmers. Swiss women were shown plucking strands of pasta from trees, while a well-known broadcaster noted that the disappearance of the "spaghetti weevil" had also boosted growth. The broadcaster noted that years of careful cultivation had allowed the spaghetti to grow to a uniform length. Viewers were so intrigued they called the BBC and asked where they might buy their own spaghetti bushes.

Internet spring cleaning

A flurry of e-mails warned that the Internet would be out-of-service for cleaning for 24 hours between March 31 and April 2, 1997. Users were advised to disconnect all devices. This was an updated version of an old phone joke, in which customers were instructed to place bags over phone receivers to catch dust blown out during phone line cleaning.

They're moving the school!

My own father, who was in the weekly newspaper business for more than 50 years, pulled a good one on the readers of the Brownton Bulletin back in the 1960s. Mn/DOT had earlier announced plans to reroute Highway 212 around town to help speed up traffic flow. Plans were to move it about a mile south of town.

April 1 landed on a Thursday, which was the day the Bulletin hit the streets. So my father ran a large picture of the school and a banner headline across the top of the front page proclaiming that Mn/DOT's plans had changed and the entire school had to be moved. He concocted an entire story, quoting factious officials, and continued the story to the back page. There he explained people were reading the article on April 1, which was April Fools' Day. Not everyone finished reading the article, and didn't realize it was a prank. A number of irate citizens called the school superintendent, their county commissioners, and even their state Representative. When they found out they had been dooped by my father, they didn't all think it was funny. Needless to say, Dad received a few phone calls from folks who didn't have the same sense of humor my father has.

I'm not certain, but I think that was the last time Dad pulled an April Fools' Day trick on his subscribers.

Charlie Warner lives in Canton.

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