Happy New Year!
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In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII ordered a new calendar (the Gregorian Calendar) to replace the old Julian Calendar. The new calendar called for New Year's Day to be celebrated Jan. 1. That year, France adopted the reformed calendar and shifted New Year's day to Jan. 1. According to a popular explanation, many people either refused to accept the new date, or did not learn about it, and continued to celebrate New Year's Day on April 1. Other people began to make fun of these traditionalists, sending them on "fool's errands" or trying to trick them into believing something false. Eventually, the practice spread throughout Europe
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The Sydney Iceberg - April 1, 197A: 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.
Instant Color TV - April 1, 19B2: 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."
The Taco Liberty Bell - April 1, 199C: The Taco Bell Corporation took out a full-page ad that appeared in six major newspapers announcing it had bought the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Hundreds of outraged citizens called the National Historic Park in Philadelphia where the bell was housed to express their anger. Their nerves were only calmed when Taco Bell revealed, a few hours later, that it was all a practical joke. The best line of the day came when White House press secretary Mike McCurry was asked about the sale. Thinking on his feet, he responded that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold. It would now be known, he said, as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.
New Zealand Wasp Swarm - April 1, 194D: New Zealand DJ Phil Shone (of radio station 1ZB) warned his listeners that a mile-wide wasp swarm was headed towards Auckland, and he urged them to take steps to protect themselves, such as wearing their socks over their trousers when they left for work, and leaving honey-smeared traps outside their doors. Auckland residents dutifully heeded his advice, and panic grew until he finally admitted it had all been a joke. The New Zealand Broadcasting Service wasn't amused. Its director, Prof. James Shelley, denounced the hoax on the grounds that it undermined the rules of proper broadcasting. From then on, a memo was sent out each year before April Fool's Day reminding New Zealand radio stations of their obligation to report nothing but the truth.
The Body of Nessie Found - April 1, 197W: Newspapers around the world reported the sensational news that the dead body of the Loch Ness Monster had been found by a team of zoologists from Yorkshire's Flamingo Park Zoo working at the Loch. Scottish police, fearing the loss of a national symbol, immediately mobilized to stop the zoologists who were in the process of transporting the body back to Yorkshire. The police took it to Dunfermline instead, but scientists there soon threw cold water on the claim that the creature was Nessie. It turned out to be a large bull elephant seal from the South Atlantic. But how had it gotten to Loch Ness? This was revealed the next day when the Flamingo Park's education officer, John Shields, confessed responsibility. The seal had died the week before at Dudley Zoo. He had shaved off its whiskers, padded its cheeks with stones, and kept it frozen for a week, before surreptitiously dumping it in the Loch, intending to play an April Fool's prank on his colleagues. He admitted the joke got somewhat out of hand when the police became involved.
The Swiss Moon Landing Hoax - April 1, 19X7: Swiss Radio interrupted its regularly scheduled program with a news flash: U.S. astronauts had just landed on the moon. For the next hour, listeners heard a series of elaborately staged updates, complete with reports from correspondents around the world and interviews with experts. Belief was near total. Telephone exchanges became jammed, and even U.S. authorities in Switzerland, unsure what to believe, began to celebrate. The broadcast concluded with the report that the "moonship" would take off from the moon at 7 p.m., and listeners were told they could see it return to Earth by watching from a high vantage point, away from the city lights. In Zurich this prompted a mass exodus of people out of the city up to nearby Mt. Uetliberg. The railroad had to add additional trains to handle the sudden rush of passengers. It was another two years before U.S. astronauts actually did land on the moon.
Whistling Carrots - April 1, 200Y: The British supermarket chain Tesco ran an ad in The Sun announcing the successful development of a genetically modified 'whistling carrot.' The ad explained that the carrots had been specially engineered to grow with tapered airholes in their side. When fully cooked, these airholes caused the vegetable to emit a "97 decibel signal" indicating they should be removed from the stove. (97 decibels is roughly equivalent to the noise level of a jackhammer or pneumatic drill). Opponents of their carrots envisioned "a nightmare scenario for future generations becoming as deaf as a post, albeit with improved vision."
Nixon for President - April 1, 199Z: National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation revealed that Richard Nixon, in a surprise move, was running for President again. His new campaign slogan was, "I didn't do anything wrong, and I won't do it again." Accompanying this announcement were audio clips of Nixon delivering his candidacy speech. Listeners responded viscerally to the announcement, flooding the show with calls expressing shock and outrage. Only during the second half of the show did the host John Hockenberry reveal that the announcement was a practical joke. Nixon's voice was impersonated by comedian Rich Little.
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