Nobody is certain when the custom of setting aside the first day of April to pull pranks on the unsuspecting began. Records of pranks go back centuries. There are reports of people hoaxing their fellows as far back as the early 16th century in France, at a time when the New Year was celebrated on March 25, one week earlier than April 1. Pranks were considered part of the New Year celebration. By the late 16th century, the event was recorded in the Low Countries, and it appeared in the British Isles a century or so later. In England, public announcements of a ceremony to wash the lions – statues at the Tower of London – appeared in 1698, though no such event took place.
In any event, throughout the history of the western world, April 1 became the date when harmless pranks were pulled on friends and strangers – and some have been epic. News organizations, governments, and private individuals have generated hoaxes for their own amusement and for the entertainment of others, at the same time demonstrating both their power and the gullibility of sections of the public. Here are some of the best April Fools pranks of all time, which when perpetrated demonstrated the brilliance of the prankster, and the foolishness of those taken in.
1. The Curious Case of Sidd Finch, April 1, 1985
Just before Opening Day, 1985, Sports Illustrated ran an article in their April 1 edition describing a unique phenomenon in the New York Mets training camp. His name was Hayden Siddhartha Finch – known to his teammates as Sidd – and he was capable of throwing a baseball at the unheard of speed of 168 miles per hour, with astonishing accuracy. He was a master of yoga, a dropout from Harvard University, disliked wearing shoes, and preferred playing the French horn to baseball. The article was accompanied by photographs, and the Mets organization played along, assigning both a locker and a uniform number to the fictitious pitcher (21). The response from the public and other media was immediate.
Mets fans called the team’s offices for additional information about Sidd. Sportswriters flocked to the Mets spring training facilities for a glimpse. A press conference was held on April 2, attended by the three major networks at the time, during which Sidd’s retirement was announced. The story, which had been written by George Plimpton, was revealed to have been an April Fools’ joke on the fifteenth of that month, but by then an uncounted number of people had been taken in. The absurdity of the tale and the absence of Finch in camp aside, many believed the story, and the Mets continued to field questions about the pitcher who never was for weeks.