5 Classic April Fools’ Day Hoaxes

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Anyone who has ever been targeted by a great April Fools’ Day prank knows the feeling. There’s the moment of humiliation, then the brief flash of anger. Next comes the realization: “That really was funny” — unless it wasn’t funny, and you immediately start devising a way to get even. It’s always much more fun to see someone else fall for a hoax. Although its origins are a bit murky, April Fools’ Day has been celebrated around the world for hundreds of years, and each April 1 brings the expectation that someone, somewhere will fall for a big prank. Here are some of the most notable April Fools’ Day hoaxes through the years.

 

5. Hotelicopter: Flying Hotel Promises Luxury

A website touted an 18-room luxury “hotelicopter.” Credit: Fair use

Many of the best April Fools’ hoaxes are born as marketing stunts. In 2009, the fledgling hotel search site Hotelicopter.com, concocted a story about a giant luxury hotel/helicopter. Billed as the world’s first flying hotel, the hotelicopter supposedly had “18 luxuriously appointed rooms,” with a mini bar, WiFi and “all the luxurious appointments you’d expect from a flying five star hotel.” While a clever hoax, the aircraft’s design was actually based on the design of the old Soviet Mil V-12 helicopter. Such is the prevalence of this prank that Snopes.com did a story to shoot it down.

 

4. Crowds Flock to See Space Shuttle (Not) Land at Tiny Airport

The Space Shuttle never landed at a small airport in San Diego. Credit: NASA

DJ Dave Rickards of KGB 101.5 FM in San Diego thought he had the perfect April Fools’ Day joke back in 1993. He told listeners that the Space Shuttle Discovery had been diverted from Edwards Air Force Base and would land at San Diego’s tiny Montgomery Field, a 3,400-foot strip in a residential neighborhood. Hundreds of people jammed local roads during morning rush hour, eager to see the once-in-a-lifetime landing, which of course never happened. If some of them were mad, their anger paled in comparison to local police, who billed the radio station for the extra time officers worked directing traffic.

 

3. Taco Liberty Bell: Fast-Food Company ‘Buys’ National Icon

Taco Bell doesn’t own the Liberty Bell. Fair Use

In an age when corporate sponsorship is everywhere, it seemed entirely plausible in 1996 when Taco Bell rank full-page ads in seven U.S. newspapers, claiming the company had purchased the famous Liberty Bell. The new name: The Taco Liberty Bell, of course. The company claimed the move had been made to reduce the national debt. Not surprisingly, thousands of outraged citizens called the National Park Service and Taco Bell to complain, before the company admitted the ads were a hoax.

 

2. Spaghetti Trees: BBC Hoax Baffles Viewers

Fast fact: Spaghetti does not grow on trees. © BBC

Even if we don’t understand exactly how spaghetti is made, we at least know it doesn’t grow on trees … right? Yet on April 1, 1957, a BBC program ran a purported documentary segment showing a Swiss family harvesting pasta from a “spaghetti tree.” The network went all out to sell the hoax. They created a back story, about how the family was thankful they’d eradicated the dreaded “spaghetti weevil.” And they got respected BBC newsman Richard Dimbleby (the UK’s version of Walter Cronkite) to do the voiceover. The hoax worked — hundreds of viewers phoned the network asking how they could plant and grow their own spaghetti tree.

 

1. Sidd Finch: Fictional Mets Pitcher Stuns Baseball World

George Plimpton turned his Sports Illustrated story on Sidd Finch and his 168 mph fastball into a novel. Fair Use

Nothing sells an April Fools’ Day hoax better than a high-profile media outlet’s participation. So when Sports Illustrated concocted a totally bizarre, outlandish hoax for its April 1, 1985 issue, plenty of people were totally fooled. Well-known author George Plimpton penned a tale, The Curious Case of Sidd Finch, about a New York Mets prospect who could throw a fastball up to 168 mph (even the fastest pitchers rarely top 100 mph). If that wasn’t enough of a hint that this was an AFD hoax, Plimpton explained how Finch pitched with only one shoe on — a hiking boot — and stood undecided between a baseball career and playing the French horn. Oh, to add to Finch’s mystique, the story reported he grew up in an orphanage, attended Harvard and spent time studying mysticism in Tibet.

In retrospect, it’s easy to think that no one would believe this crazy tale. Yet countless people fell for it. One local reporter complained to the Mets for letting Sports Illustrated have the exclusive (the Mets had played along with the gag by allowing “Finch” to pose with team personnel, and they put up a “Finch” locker in the Mets clubhouse). The truth came out when the national media showed up April 2 for a press conference, as the man who had portrayed Finch in the SI photos, a teacher named Joe Berton, announced his “retirement.” Plimpton would go on to publish a novel based on his hoax/story.

 

More: Flying Penguins Supposedly Prove Evolution

In 2008, the BBC produced a short film trailer entitled, Miracles of Evolution. The trailer shows computer-animated penguins supposedly migrating from Antarctica to the South American rainforest, which would be quite a feat for a flightless bird. The flying penguins were touted as evidence of evolution. Narrated by Terry Jones (member of the Monty Python group), the video speaks for itself.

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