Julie Winterbottom is the former editor in chief of Nickelodeon magazine, where she fulfilled her childhood dream of getting paid to write jokes; her book, Pranklopedia: The Funniest, Grossest, Not-Mean Pranks on the Planet! is on sale now. Julie lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she pulls pranks on her boyfriend and cat.
In honor of April Fools’ Day—which is next Monday—here are six people who went to great lengths to pull some one-of-a-kind pranks.
1. A Garden of Mirthly Delights
Prince Archbishop Markus Sittikus ruled Salzburg from 1612 to 1619. Soon after he ascended the throne, he commissioned a summer palace to be built at the foot of Hellbrunn Mountain. The enormous Italianate mansion was everything you’d expect from a wealthy nobleman—but the garden was another story. Sittikus had the gardens rigged with trick fountains and statues that squirted people with water as they strolled by. A long stone dinner table had nine stools with water nozzles hidden in the seats so Sittikus could give his guests surprise showers. (A tenth stool, reserved for Sittikus, was nozzle-free.) Today Sittikus’s palace is a tourist attraction—and the sprayers still work. So if you end up visiting, watch where you sit.
2. A Rare Breed of Prankster
Brian G. Hughes was a New York manufacturer and banker, but according to his 1924 obituary, his true calling was prankster. Hughes liked to hoax prominent people who he believed took themselves too seriously—like the directors of the snooty National Cat Show. In 1895, Hughes bought a stray cat from a hobo for 30 cents, cleaned it up, and a few months later entered it in the show under the name Nicodemus. Hughes told the judges the cat was a rare “Irish Brindle” valued at $3000. Nicodemus won a first prize, at which point Hughes revealed the hoax—and the cat’s real name, Josephine—much to the embarrassment of the judges.
3. Fruit of the Loony
In 1950, California cartoonist Frank Adams’s wild idea for a prank bore fruit—literally. The National Orange Show had just taken place in San Bernardino, not far from Adams’ home, and there were thousands of oranges left over. Adams managed to get ahold of them and then convinced 25 friends to help him attach all 50,000 oranges to pine trees along a section of the Rim of the World highway. They did the job under cover of night, and the next morning, drivers were amazed to see that the pines trees had magically produced a crop of citrus.
4. All the Way with LBJ
President Lyndon B. Johnson adored cars and kept a large collection of cherished Lincolns and other vehicles at his Texas ranch. One of his most unusual cars was an Amphicar—it looked like a normal car, but was amphibious and functioned like a motorboat when it entered a body of water. Johnson realized this vehicle was perfect for pranking guests. He would invite his visitors to take a drive around the ranch with him in the blue convertible. When they got to a steep hill at the edge of a lake, Johnson would let the car pick up speed. Then he’d yell, “The brakes don’t work! The brakes won’t hold! We’re going in!” As the car entered the lake, the passengers would panic—until they realized that rather than sinking, they were motoring across the lake. One victim of the prank, Special Assistant to the President Joseph A. Califano, Jr., recalled that his boss teased him later for trying to save his own skin instead of the president’s.
5. A Traffic-Stopping Prank
In 2006, students at Austin High School in Austin, Minnesota engineered a prank that capitalized on the unusual architecture of their school. A busy street separates two buildings on the school’s campus. Students can use the crosswalk or an underground tunnel to get from one building to the other. At an appointed time on the day of the prank, 94 students began filing across the street, using the crosswalk. Then they circled back through the underground tunnel and crossed the street again—and again, and again—creating an endless stream of pedestrians. Traffic was tied up for nearly 10 minutes as cars lined up waiting for the students (including one dressed as a cow and another as a chicken) to finish crossing.
6. Panhandler Party
One evening in August 2012, actor and comedian Gary Lee Mahmoud gave some New York City straphangers the ride of their life. NYC commuters are used to panhandlers coming through the subway cars asking for money or selling candy and other goods. Mahmoud and his co-conspirators took this phenomenon to a hilarious extreme, creating a “panhandler party.” Over the course of four minutes, actors portraying 10 different panhandlers—including an angry Wall Streeter who didn’t get his bonus—invade a single subway car. By the end of the prank, the entire carful of commuters is cracking up.