10 April Fools' Pranks That Went Horribly Awry
By Jake Rossen
While people normally recoil at being tricked, April Fools’ Day on April 1 appears to be the one time annually that fart cushions are permitted. While many jokes are harmless, not everyone is able to temper their ambitions or reaction to orchestrated humiliation. Take a look at some pranks that escalated to unfortunate proportions.
1. Google’s Gmail mic drop
In 2016, web giant Google decided to add some levity to Gmail accounts by plugging in a “mic drop” option that inserted a GIF of a minion from the Despicable Me film franchise dropping a microphone. The idea was that the sender had (comically) put the final exclamation point on a conversation. The problem? Not all users understood the levity, causing some professional correspondence to be misinterpreted. Additionally, some users hit the “mic drop” button by accident since it replaced the “send and archive” feature, offending employers and others who didn’t appreciate having a mic-drop response to serious matters. At least one person said it cost him his job. Google swiftly apologized, saying the joke caused “more headaches than laughs.”
2. A comical case of mistaken mariticide
On April Fools’ Day 2013, a Kingsport, Tennessee, resident named Susan Hudson thought it would be amusing to call her sister and “confess” to the murder of her spouse. “I shot my husband,” Hudson said. “I’m cleaning up the mess. Let’s go bury him in Blackwater.” Before Hudson could disclose it was a prank, her sister phoned another family member, who in turn phoned police. Authorities wound up surrounding her home with guns drawn and detaining her before her husband was determined to be alive and well. “The response was excellent,” Hudson later said, apparently impressed by the quick action of police.
3. A local news producer has a volcanic idea
In the midst of tragic or alarming local news, broadcasters sometimes like to try and keep things light. That was the case for WNAC-TV Boston news producer Homer Cilley, who decided it would be a good idea to air a segment on April 1, 1980, that claimed the nonvolcanic Great Blue Hill in suburban Milton, Massachusetts, had inexplicably begun spurting flames and lava. Cilley used footage of Mt. St. Helens as well as dubbed audio from then-president Jimmy Carter. Cilley thought the “April Fool” graphic at the end of the piece would be self-explanatory, but not everyone in the audience caught it. Panicked calls to authorities followed. The station fired Cilley for the ruse.
4. A Hooters waitress is suckered by Yoda
In 2001, a Hooters restaurant in Panama City Beach, Florida, held a sales contest for employees that promised a new Toyota to whomever sold the most beer in the month of April. The winner, Jodee Berry, was directed to the parking lot, where she discovered the prize was not a Toyota vehicle but a toy Yoda. Rather than find this amusing, Berry found it to be a breach of contract and fraudulent misrepresentation. She filed a lawsuit against the restaurant and settled in 2002 for a sum that permitted her, in the words of her lawyer, to “pick out whatever type of Toyota she wants.”
5. A radio station taps the area water supply for humor
Co-hosts Val St. John and Scott Fish of The Val and Scott in the Morning program on Florida's WWGR/Gator Country 101.9-FM got into hot water in 2013 for broadcasting a warning that dihydrogen monoxide was coming out of faucets in the Fort Myers area. While the claim was technically correct—dihydrogen monoxide is the chemical name for plain water—it implied something dangerous was happening to the area’s water supply, promoting a flood of concerned phone calls to the Lee County Utilities company, including calls from the Florida Department of Health. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection was also asked to look into the prank. St. John and Fish were put on an indefinite suspension, but were eventually allowed back on air. They also avoided the very real possibility of felony charges.
6. The falling Space Needle
Seattle residents were thrown into turmoil in 1989, when local television station KING 5 reported the Space Needle had collapsed. The “report” came as part of a comedy show, Almost Live, which seemed as though it had been interrupted by a breaking bulletin. Producers even arranged for doctored footage that made it seem like the building had indeed toppled over, with the observation deck on the ground below. Despite an onscreen graphic labeling it as a joke, viewers frantically dialed both 911 and the station. The show made an on-air apology the following week.
7. The free train ride that ended in a riot
In 1844, pranksters in Dublin, Ireland, put up signs promising a free train ride to nearby Drogheda and back on—when else—April 1. When the would-be travelers showed up to the train station, confused conductors insisted there was no free ride. That was not what the crowd wanted to hear, and the ensuing arguments soon escalated into a full-scale riot. Once the ruse had been uncovered, people lodged complaints with local police, who dismissed them because it was intended as a harmless prank.
8. A juvenile bank heist ends poorly
It sounded funny on paper. In 1963, a 14-year-old boy living in Milford, Connecticut, walked into a bank and handed the teller a note that demanded money. The employee complied, giving him $600. The child, thinking better of leaving with the money, turned around before he arrived at the door and gave it back. It was too late, however. Once authorities caught up with him, he was sent to a New Haven juvenile detention center.
9. A space shuttle draws attention
Dave Rickards, a disc jockey for radio station KGB-FM in San Diego, California, went on the air on April 1, 1993, and told listeners the space shuttle Discovery would be landing at a small airport nearby instead of Edwards Air Force Base. As a result, over 1000 people crowded tiny Montgomery Field, backing up traffic and prompting hundreds of children to miss school. In fact, Discovery had yet to even depart from Kennedy Space Center. (In addition, Montgomery Field had a 12,000 pound weight limit for aircraft. The Discovery weighed roughly 170,000 pounds.) A furious police department billed the station for the manpower needed to redirect traffic.
10. The Syracuse piranhas
In 1974, the Post-Standard in Syracuse, New York, told readers something dangerous was lurking in Onondaga County waters. Reporter Bob Peel wrote that piranha eggs had somehow gotten mixed in with the trout that was normally introduced into lakes for trout season. Peel wrote that the man-eaters could devour an ox in five minutes, and that fishermen shouldn’t get anywhere near the water. Though Peel ended his story by calling it “baloney,” readers who didn’t make it to the end made frantic calls to the paper.