Celebrating Cultures, Promoting Integration
5. San Serriffe
April 1, 1977: The Guardian published a special seven-page supplement devoted to San Serriffe, a small republic said to consist of several semi-colon-shaped islands located in the Indian Ocean. A series of articles affectionately described the geography and culture of this obscure nation. Its two main islands were named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. Its capital was Bodoni, and its leader was General Pica. The Guardian‘s phones rang all day as readers sought more information about the idyllic holiday spot. Only a few noticed that everything about the island was named after printer’s terminology. The success of this hoax is widely credited with launching the enthusiasm for April Foolery that gripped the British tabloids in subsequent decades.
4. The Sydney Iceberg
April 1, 1978: A barge towing a giant iceberg appeared in Sydney Harbor. Sydneysiders were expecting it. Dick Smith, a local adventurer and millionaire businessman, had been loudly promoting his scheme to tow an iceberg from Antarctica for quite some time. Now he had apparently succeeded. He said that he was going to carve the berg into small ice cubes, which he would sell to the public for ten cents each. These well-traveled cubes, fresh from the pure waters of Antarctica, were promised to improve the flavor of any drink they cooled. Slowly the iceberg made its way into the harbor. Local radio stations provided blow-by-blow coverage of the scene. Only when the berg was well into the harbor was its secret revealed. It started to rain, and the firefighting foam and shaving cream that the berg was really made of washed away, uncovering the white plastic sheets beneath.
3. The Eruption of Mount Edgecumbe
April 1, 1974: The residents of Sitka, Alaska woke to a disturbing sight. Clouds of black smoke were rising from the crater of Mount Edgecumbe, the long-dormant volcano neighboring them. People spilled out of their homes onto the streets to gaze up at the volcano, terrified that it was active again and might soon erupt. Luckily it turned out that man, not nature, was responsible for the smoke. A local practical joker named Porky Bickar had flown hundreds of old tires into the volcano’s crater and then lit them on fire, all in a (successful) attempt to fool the city dwellers into believing that the volcano was stirring to life. According to local legend, when Mount St. Helens erupted six years later, a Sitka resident wrote to Bickar to tell him, “This time you’ve gone too far!”.
2. Instant Color TV
April 1, 1962: Sweden’s SVT (Sveriges Television) brought their technical expert, Kjell Stensson, onto the news to inform the public that, thanks to a new technology, viewers could convert their existing sets to display color reception. At the time, there was only the one TV channel in Sweden, and it broadcast in black and white, so this was big news. Stensson explained that all viewers had to do was pull a nylon stocking over their tv screen, and the mesh would cause the light to bend in such a way that it would appear as if the image was in color. He proceeded to demonstrate the process. Thousands of people were taken in. Many Swedes today still report remembering their fathers rushing through the house trying to find stockings to place over the TV set. Regular color broadcasts only commenced in Sweden on April 1, 1970.
1. The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest
April 1, 1957: The respected BBC news show Panorama announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. It accompanied this announcement with footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. Huge numbers of viewers were taken in. Many called the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To this the BBC diplomatically replied, “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.” Even the director-general of the BBC later admitted that after seeing the show he checked in an encyclopedia to find out if that was how spaghetti actually grew (but the encyclopedia had no information on the topic). The broadcast remains, by far, the most popular and widely acclaimed April Fool’s Day hoax ever, making it an easy pick for number one.