- CrackerClips Stock Media/Shutterstock
- April Fools’ Day can be risky.
- Some public pranks didn’t go over well.
- A museum in Philadelphia made people think Armageddon was near.
- An Arabic newspaper said aliens had invaded Jordan, and caused panic.
- A Romanian edition of Playboy got in hot water after publishing a joke piece called “How To Beat Your Wife without Leaving Prints.”
April Fools’ Day is a polarizing holiday. Some people love the opportunity to joke around, while others dread the possibility of the pranks backfiring.
While some April Fools’ pranks are silly office shenanigans and jokes between friends, it becomes tricky when big brands, celebrities, the media, or well-known public figures get involved. And sometimes, those jokes can become so wide-scale that they are bound to go awry.
Though it might be amusing to look back on them now, here are 12 April Fool’s Day pranks that went horribly wrong at the time.
A museum in Philadelphia caused widespread panic when they said the world was ending
In 1940, the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia had its spokesperson, William Castellini, deliver a terrifying press release that read, “Your worst fears that the world will end are confirmed by astronomers of Franklin Institute, Philadelphia. Scientists predict that the world will end at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time tomorrow. This is no April Fools’ joke.”
It was just a weird promotion for their upcoming show on cosmic apocalypses, but first, it spread mass terror in Philadelphia, emergency lines were flooded, and Castellini was fired.
A woman was arrested after allegedly joking about a school shooting
In 2014, Angela Timmons allegedly texted her daughter to say she could hear gunshots being fired at the college she worked at. Angela’s daughter couldn’t get in touch with her mom after that, according to the New York Daily News, so she called 911.
Police appeared at Virginia Colleges in Spartanburg County within minutes but didn’t find a shooting. Timmons was arrested on charges including aggravated breach of peace and disturbing a school. It’s not clear if Timmons was ever convicted.
Google delivered a Gmail prank that ended up being an epic fail
In 2016, Google got in on the popularity of big brands pranking users by introducing an April Fools’ feature called the “Mic Drop.” It let users insert an animated GIF of a minion from the movie “Despicable Me” dropping a mic at the end of any email.
After using the feature, the email chain would become disabled, as if you dropped the mic and ended the conversation. This may have been funny to some, but it confused many users because the Mic Drop feature was right next to the send button, and people kept mixing them up. Some said they sent the feature to future employers or even when a family member told them about a personal tragedy.
Google later admitted it made a mistake by saying, “Well, it looks like we pranked ourselves this year.”
A student newspaper had to apologize after putting out a joke issue
In 2015, The Cavalier Daily, the student newspaper at the University of Virginia was forced to apologize after publishing a joke issue for April Fools’ Day. The issue included articles like, “ABC officers tackle Native American student outside Bodo’s Bagels” and “Zeta Psi hosts ‘Rosa Parks’ party.”
The poorly timed issue was published only two weeks after the arrest of Martese Johnson, a black student, by police officers that had caused protests in the area. The paper’s managing board apologized.
A man allegedly pretended to kill himself and ended up arrested
In 2004, Randy Wood from New York allegedly “pranked” his ex-wife by staging his apparent suicide on her lawn. His ex-wife called 911 and ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars rushed to the scene only to discover Wood was very alive.
He was arrested on charges of falsely reporting an incident. It’s not clear if Wood was ever convicted.
A radio prank in Brighton likely caused a cliff to collapse
A radio station once likely caused an entire cliff to collapse into the ocean with a prank. In 2001, a DJ in Brighton said that a replica of the Titanic could be seen from Beachy Head in Sussex. Hundreds of listeners believed him and didn’t want to miss it, so they drove miles and miles to check it out.
Later, coastguards said they found a large crack in the cliff face that was caused by the weight of how many people had appeared to “see” the Titanic replica. A few days later, it collapsed.
The radio station later apologized to anyone it had tricked.
A Manchester police department got in trouble after joking about letting prisoners go
In 2015, the Manchester Police Department in the UK decided to get in on April Fools’ Day with a tweet that said, “Know someone in prison? You can get them released early by voting for them on here. The prisoners with the most votes also wins a holiday.”
Even if people knew it was a joke, many took issue with it, especially because some of the people pictured had reportedly been convicted of violent crimes.
Opie and Anthony falsely claimed Boston’s mayor had died and got fired for it
In 1998, radio personalities Greg “Opie” Hughes and Anthony Cumia took to their popular radio show to claim that Boston Mayor Thomas Menino had been killed in a head-on collision in Florida, citing various (fake) reports and even adding in call-in segments.
People apparently believed them and friends began to show up at Menino’s sister-in-law’s house to offer condolences. Opie and Anthony ended up getting fired and the general manager and program director were both suspended.
A clothing store employee was arrested after allegedly faking a robbery
In 2004, Sitra Walker, a clothing store employee in Columbus, Ohio, allegedly decided to prank her boss by calling to tell him someone with a gun was robbing the store. Before she could tell him it was a joke, he called the police, who immediately showed up at the store.
She was arrested on charges of inducing panic and fired from her job, though it’s unclear if Walker was ever convicted.
A Romanian edition of Playboy got in hot water after publishing a joke piece called ‘How To Beat Your Wife without Leaving Prints’
In 2000, Romanian Playboy published an article titled “How To Beat Your Wife Without Leaving Traces,” which they later said was a joke.
Protests took place all over the country and Playboy apologized and reportedly pledged to donate money to anti-domestic violence programs and run pieces that educated men about domestic violence.
Claims of an alien invasion caused widespread panic
In 2010, the Arabic newspaper Al Ghad reported that an alien spacecraft had landed near the town of Jafr, Jordan, and readers believed it. Kids stayed home from school and the mayor reportedly almost evacuated all of the residents.
The paper’s managing editor Moussa Barhoumeh later apologized, telling the Telegraph, “We meant to entertain, not scare people.”
A Hooters pranked one of its servers into thinking she won a car
- Hollis Johnson
In 2001, Hooters server Jodee Berry from Florida won a contest wherein the server who sold the most beer would win a new Toyota.
When Berry went to get her car, she was given a Yoda doll from “Star Wars” (get it? A “toy Yoda”). She was so angry that she hired a lawyer, sued the restaurant’s corporate owners Gulf Coast Wings on allegations of breach of contract and fraudulent misrepresentation, according to USA Today. The two parties later settled for an undisclosed amount.