Spaghetti trees and UFOs: A look at some famous April Fools' Day hoaxes
The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, April 1, 2014 6:47AM EDT
TORONTO -- Warning, do not trust everything you read or hear today.
It's April 1, which means every headline and story should be eyed with a different level of scrutiny. Especially anything particularly quirky or jaw-dropping.
Today we have Google for fast fact checking, so even the most elaborate hoaxes can be quickly debunked. But in the days before everyone was wired -- and perhaps a little less savvy about preparing for the annual onslaught of April Fools' Day pranks -- some of the fake stories were a little tougher to immediately discredit, which let some real doozies spread.
The BBC TV news show "Panorama" fooled viewers in 1957 with a story about rare spaghetti trees in Switzerland. Apparently, the pasta wasn't commonly eaten in the United Kingdom at that time, and after the segment aired, the BBC was flooded with calls asking for gardening tips.
British newspaper the Guardian calls it the best April 1st hoax it ever pulled off.
In 1977, the paper printed a seven-page travel piece celebrating ten years of independence for beautiful San Serriffe, which it described as "a small archipelago, its main islands grouped roughly in the shape of a semicolon, in the Indian Ocean." Font and design aficionados no doubt loved the phoney story, rife with sly nods to typography (capital city Bodoni, two islands named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse, run by General M J Pica). Today, a remarkably detailed Wikitravel entry takes the joke even further than the Guardian did.
In 1985, Sports Illustrated profiled the New York Mets' up-and-coming baseball talent Hayden (Sidd) Finch, a 28-year-old pitcher with a startling 168 m.p.h. fastball. Beyond his hard-to-believe heater, Finch's bio was bizarre. The yoga practitioner hated to be photographed, favoured wearing a single hiking boot on the mound, and was torn between playing baseball or becoming a professional horn player. Everyone bought the story, including other media outlets that rushed to cover the Mets' spring training camp after the magazine hit newsstands. "Finch" then announced his retirement and the hoax was revealed.
In 1989, many Londoners were convinced they had just witnessed a UFO flying across the sky. And then it slowly started to land. When the hatch opened, out came... multi-billionaire Richard Branson. He had outfitted a saucer-shaped hot air balloon with eerie lights for a publicity stunt to promote Virgin Records.
Back in 1994, the prehistoric days of the Internet as we know it today, PC Computing magazine reported on a U.S. Senate bill that sought to prohibit using the net while drunk. The bill, number 040194, would also have made it a felony to "discuss sexual matters on any public-access network, including the Internet, America Online, and CompuServe." The article's author, John C. Dvorak, urged readers to contact Lirpa Sloof in the Senate Legislative Analysts Office. "Her name spelled backward says it all."