Happy April Fools’ Day!
While humans have generally been good at recording the roots of traditions and celebrations all around the world, there still seems to be a lot of debate on when the first April Fools’ Day was celebrated. Sure, there are many theories and a whole load of speculation, but one thing that can be rest assured — it’s the universal day of pranks, hoaxes, and jokes that’s celebrated all over the world.
So with that in mind, we’re commemorating this jocular day by honing in on some great travel destinations that have inspired or experienced some of the most outrageously successful April Fool’s pranks in history AND some recommendations on how to find some laughs when you get there.
New York City and the Curious Tale of Baseball Prodigy Sidd Finch
Fans of the New York Mets were cock-a-hoop over an article in the April 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated, which reported that a talented young prodigy had just been signed by their team. The unknown young player, Sidd Finch, could pitch faster than any previous record. Even though he had never played baseball before, the young Finch had mastered the art at a Tibetan monastery (The Iron Fist of baseball?). The hermit, who practices yoga and rejects the material temptations of life in the outside world, was now ready to unleash his awesome talent at batters. Fans inundated the magazine with requests for more information on this star player, but little did they know Finch was a fictional creation of writer George Plimpton.
So if you’re ever in New York, consider taking a break from the world famous museums, restaurants, and shopping and head out to the Mets’ home: Citi Field in Queens. Starting April 3 (opening day), you can catch a game and visit the Mets Hall of Fame & Museum. We’re pretty sure you won’t find anything about Finch there, but it’ll be fun to ask. If you’re still in the mood to have your rib tickled, check out any one of New York’s famed comedy clubs when you’re done, including Carolines, The Comedy Cellar, and Dangerfield’s.
Philadelphia and the Taco Liberty Bell
Angry callers flooded the lines to the Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia in April 1996. The cause? Taco bell’s full page ad in six newspapers that it had recently purchased the iconic and historic Liberty Bell, which would now be known as the “Taco Liberty Bell.” The fury dissipated only after Taco Bell revealed that it was all a prank a few hours later. The best joke of the day although, had to be attributed to White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry. When he was asked about the sale, he quipped that the Lincoln Memorial was also sold, and would henceforth be called the “Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.”
Any tourist’s first visit to the city of brotherly love pretty much requires swinging by the Independence National Historical Park, which is home to not only the Liberty Bell, but also the building where the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were signed. If you take the tour, be sure to ask your guide about the time a fast food company “bought” the bell! If that doesn’t get you laughing, check out two pillars of the city’s comedy scene: Helium Comedy Club and the Philly Improv Theater.
Sydney, Australia and the Great Sydney Iceberg
In 1978, Sydney’s denizens were thrilled to hear that millionaire business man Dick Smith had succeeded on his longstanding desire to have an iceberg towed all the way from Antarctica. He had finally done it! Smith had even touted the frozen water as being so pure that it would immediately improve any drink it was sunk into, and stated that he would sell cubes of it to the public for a reasonable price. As a barge pulled in the apparent frozen mass into Sydney’s famed harbor, local media enthusiastically reported its progress, but that enthusiasm soon melted when it started raining — and the firefighting foam and shaving cream that made up the mirage was washed away, leaving behind only the plastic sheets that held up the hoax.
No visit to Australia’s most popular city is complete without a stroll around the city’s famous harbor and look out over the water, just like the crowds waiting for Smith’s “iceberg.” After you’ve done that, you can keep up the laughs by exploring Sydney’s comedy scene. Be sure to pop by Giant Dwarf for its renowned mix of storytelling events and improv theatre. And if you’re around April 24 to May 21, you’ll be able to catch Sydney’s annual comedy festival (now in its 13th year).
Sweden and the Magical Color TV Convertor
Swedes were running frantically through their homes looking for nylon stockings on April 1, 1962. The main cause for the commotion was a news segment on the SVT channel. The channel’s technical expert put on his best poker face to deliver the latest news that the black and white broadcast viewers were seeing on their screens (color broadcasts in Sweden began in 1970) could now easily be converted to color – all by just pulling a nylon stocking over their TVs. His explanation that the stocking would bend light in order to produce color and the fact that he demonstrated the whole act on TV managed to fool even the most skeptical Swede.
The irony of this famed prank is that Sweden is filled with such colorful landscapes and natural beauty throughout the country that any visit will be awe-inspiring. Swedes also have a pretty good sense of humor, which is why SWIMP (the Sweden International Improv Festival) attracts so much hilarious talent from all around the world every March. That international talent means even non-Swedish speakers will be able to find performances that crack them up. You can also check out the famed Lund Comedy Festival at the end of August (in the city of Lund, duh), which is also known to invite international comedians who perform in English.
London, England and Richard Branson’s UFO
On March 31, 1989, motorists on London’s highways were astounded to see a UFO with blinking lights hovering over the city. The UFO was reported to have landed in a field right outside London, and the police rushed to the scene after thousands called in the sighting. Imagine the fear felt by the poor bobby who approached the saucer…to be greeted by a little person in an ET costume. It was later revealed that the UFO was in fact a hot air balloon that was made to look like an alien craft in an elaborate prank by Virgin Records Chairman and upstart Richard Branson. Branson himself was also in the balloon, and even though his plan was to land in London’s Hyde Park on April 1, uncooperative winds had forced him to land a day earlier — much to the surprise of all and sundry.
There are plenty of reasons to visit London, from its history to its cosmopolitan culture, but the famed British humor isn’t bad either (you’ll notice that Brits are connected to a large number of these pranks). In London, you can check out a whole museum dedicated to the history of British comedy, see one of the countless comedic plays running in the city’s theater scene, or crack up at Downstairs at the King’s Head, one of the oldest comedy clubs in the UK.
Madagascar and the Exotic Island of San Seriffe
When the UK’s Guardian newspaper published a 7-page supplement about the exotic island of San Seriffe in 1977, readers were immediately attracted to it as the ideal holiday destination. Of course, a lot people didn’t find anything weird about the fact that the island cluster was completely made up of semi-colon-shaped land masses, or that its two main islands were called Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse…or that its capital was called Bodoni…or its leader was General Pica. Yes, San Seriffe was a completely made up location that just used printing-related terminology to flummox readers. The hoax was important in igniting the British media’s fascination in faithfully publishing pranks in decades to come.
Alright, so picking a real destination that matches up to a fictional island created for one of the most hilarious pranks in media history is probably impossible, but if we’re going to have to suggest just one…it’d be Madagascar. Aside from being an exotic locale renowned for welcoming tourists, this island off the southeast coast of Africa is home to a diverse assortment of wildlife, including the lemur: nature’s jester. So if you’re looking for an outdoor-lover’s paradise with some laughs, there’s nothing better than lemur-spotting in Madagascar.
Switzerland and the Spaghetti Tree Affair
The BBC’s current affairs show Panorama had a very credible reputation and was watched by a huge audience across the UK and the world. So viewers didn’t bat an eyelid when a 3-minute segment on the show in April 1957 featured a Swiss family picking spaghetti from trees. The show went on to explain that, due to great weather, the Swiss were enjoying a record Spaghetti harvest. Combine the news with the fact that spaghetti wasn’t a very popular or well-known food across the UK at the time, and you had the recipe for what is probably the perfect April Fools’ hoax. Hundreds of viewers called in to find out how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. The BBC replied in typical British fashion: “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”
You can crack yourself by asking the Swiss for directions to a spaghetti tree farm or putting a stick of spaghetti in the ground at Geneva’s Anglais Garden. But if you want to laugh along with others, in between all the amazing things you can do in Switzerland (like hiking, skiing, mountain climbing, and more) head on over to Zurich’s International Comedy Club, where jokes are in English.