Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fool's of the Past

I've been the butt of April Fools Day pranks in the past. The first one that I fell for was when I was around 7 or 8 years old. I was with my parents visiting my aunt and uncle, and their daughter, my cousin who was three years younger than I, offered a piece of chocolate to me. What kid turns down chocolate? So I took the candy and munched away. Everyone started snickering at this. I was suspicious but did not know the reason for their contained laughter. My cousin offered a second piece to me. The first one tasted fine, so I took another. Upon eating it, my aunt could not contain herself any longer and burst out with laughter. This got everyone going. I was still perplexed. My uncle offered me the box that held the chocolate. It was dog treats.

Not such a great trick compared to ones others have pulled throughout history. I always like the one Thomas Jefferson pulled on John Hancock. It seems that Jefferson had made a duplicate of the Declaration of Independence, got all the signers of the original (except Hancock) to redo their signatures on the duplicate. He then waited until the following year. On April 1st, 1777, Jefferson stormed into Hancock's home waving the fake Declaration, and demanding to know why Hancock had had his signature removed. Hancock stared at the historical paper in disbelief. His signature was no longer there. John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were outside Hancock's window listening to Hancock protest his innocence and bewilderment. Adams and Franklin were doubled over giggling like school girls. Jefferson called for George Washington and his soldiers, who immediately entered Hancock's home, and ordered that Hancock be put under arrest for treason. John Hancock started babbling through his tears that everyone in the Continental Congress had seen him sign the document, that he had no idea what had happened to his signature. He plead with Jefferson to let him sign it again. As Washington's men were putting shackles on Hancock, Franklin could not keep back his chortles. Franklin broke into a uncontrolled spasm of laughter. He was physically rolling on the ground, hee-hawing like a donkey. Well, this got Jefferson and Washington chuckling. The soldiers fell to their knees with humor. No one could maintain a straight face. It took a moment for Hancock to realize that a prank had been pulled on him. "You guys..." he exclaimed. "You got me good."

It was a shame that Franklin ended the gag. John Paul Jones was in the harbor awaiting to pretend to deport Hancock to England. His sailors would all act disgusted with the treasonous man. The plan was to take Hancock a little offshore, the sailors feigning to want there own justice and make Hancock walk the plank. Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, and Adams would be in a dingy to pull Hancock out of the water shouting "April Fools!"

I also enjoyed the joke Henry Ford pulled on the American public. On April 1st, 1910, Ford had placed a full page advertisement in all the major city newspapers stating that his Model T could be run on milk when gasoline was unavailable. Thousands of Model T owners fell for the joke. Not only did Henry Ford howl at the stupidity of some of customers, he had put a boon on the milk industry. Dairies across America were depleted of the milk supply by car owners. When people called Ford to complain that the milk did not combust, that their cars were dead in the roads, Henry had instructed his phone operators to ask the automobile owners what type of milk they were using. When they replied "cow milk," they were then told that "only llama milk was to used as fuel. Only idiots would use cow milk." The Model T owners would not want to admit that they were idiots, so the complaint ended there.

Some pranks can backfire like the one pulled by FDR. Shortly after being elected President, Roosevelt hosted a party in the White House. Coincidentally the party was to be on April 1st, 1933. His wife, Elenore, was a lousy dancer and would constantly step on Franklin Delano's feet. To avoid having to dance with his wife at the affair, FDR pretended to be paralyzed and insisted at going to the dance in a wheel chair. When the public heard about Roosevelt being paralyzed, an outpouring of sympathy cards, telegraphs, and phone calls came into the White House. Franklin knew if he ever showed up in public walking, he would lose his public support and any possible re-elections. So for the rest of his life, FDR was pushed around in a wheel chair.

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