Infamous April Fool’s Jokes of the Victorian Age

April Fool’s has been notorious for pranks since its beginning centuries ago during the Spring Equinox of 1582. During the Victorian Era there was a widespread enthusiasm for the holiday, where it even lasted for multiple days in areas such as Scotland.

Many newspapers got in on the fun, publishing comics with new prank ideas. In 1878, a New York publication, The Daily Graphic, published their own April Fool’s prank. Thomas Edison had recently invented the phonograph, and people thought there were no limits to what the famous inventor could do. The publication fabricated an article attesting that Edison had invented a brand new machine that could turn water into wine, soil into cereal, and even create meat without killing an animal. Newspapers across the nation picked up and published the story immediately, not noticing the fine print at the bottom of the story, subtly declaring the entire article was a practical joke. Two days later, The Daily Graphic published a new article titled “They Bite,” pointing out other publishers’ rash decisions to share the story as fact without consulting whether it was truth or hoax.

Even the newspaper personal ads were in on the fun. A few young women got together to write a passionate letter, declaring their love for a supposed young man and asking him to meet her that evening. Would an unassuming gentleman actually read the advertisement and show up to meet the young woman that night? A surprising 52 young men showed up outside the post office wearing a white rosette in their buttonhole, just as the advertisement had requested. 

Some pranks, however, were quite horrific. One man thought it would be rather humorous to pour gunpowder in the pepper shaker. When the cook started breakfast, he was nearly scared to death as he tried only to season the food in a cast iron pan, causing small explosions in the kitchen. Meanwhile, some took death as a prank a bit too far. Many people would create straw dummies and place them on railroad tracks or hanging from the ceiling of a barn, often ending with police and a coroner on site only to discover the prank. This prank routine was quite tolling on the drivers who thought they had killed someone, and was also sometimes very shocking to the coroner who would come to witness the offensive scene.

On a lighter note, a prank in Kansas during the early 1900s had the police department in on the joke for once. It was noted that a hunter had caught a beast that was half human and half animal. The rumor said he dragged it into town to the police station so the public could view the body. People were wildly curious and went out of their way to come to the station to get a sight of the creature. Once there the police would tell them to check back in next April 1. 

Share your own wildest April Fool’s Day pranks in the comments below!

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