Don’t look now, but your fly is open. Ha ha—April Fool’s!
Give Me Tacos or Give Me Death!
In 1996 the fast-food chain Taco Bell issued a brief statement announcing its purchase of the Liberty Bell. According to the press release, Taco Bell was responding to an inquiry from the U.S. government about the possibility of reducing the national debt by selling off its national treasures to corporations. Taco Bell thought the Liberty Bell would make the ideal company logo. In fact, they planned to rename it the Taco Liberty Bell. Then, just a few hours after the announcement, Taco Bell quietly issued a retraction, saying the whole thing had been a big joke. But by that time, the story had been widely reported by the news media. At a press briefing the next day, White House press secretary Mike McCurry was bombarded by hostile reporters who hadn’t yet heard the whole thing was a hoax. “We will also be selling the Lincoln Memorial to Ford Motor Company,” McCurry said, “and renaming it the Lincoln-Mercury Memorial.”
The English paper manufacturer Donside holds an annual contest for graphic design students. The theme of the contest in 2000 was “Tell a Lie Convincingly,” using paper in some way. After hundreds of entries had been sent in, the participating schools received a letter from Donside Paper stating that the contest had been called off. Disappointed design students all over England began calling Donside to complain. But it turned out Donside hadn’t cancelled the contest. The letter was a prank…or a very clever contest entry. Just as Donside scrambled to get the contest back underway, students received another notice: the final deadline had been moved up. Entrants rushed to get their projects in on time, completely unaware that they’d been fooled again. Who sent the letters? No one knows. Despite the fact that the Donside Paper Company announced that they wouldn’t punish the culprits and even offered to judge the pranks as contest entries, nobody ever came forward to claim responsibility for them.
A Monumental Hoax
Every student election seems to have a joke candidate, and the 1979 student body president election at the University of Wisconsin was no exception. Jim Mallon and Leon Varjian campaigned on a unique platform: to purchase and relocate the Statue of Liberty to Madison, Wisconsin. Amazingly, they won. But voters didn’t take the pledge seriously—Mallon and Varjian couldn’t actually pull the stunt off. Or could they? One winter morning, the instantly recognizable head and torch of the Statue of Liberty appeared, poking out from nearby Lake Mendota. Varjian told the UW student paper that he and Mallon tried to fulfill their campaign promise—but the cable transporting the statue via helicopter broke and, tragically, dropped the statue, partially submerging it. It wasn’t the real statue, of course—it was plywood papier-mâché and chicken wire; Mallon and Varjian had been secretly overseeing its construction for months. (The two insisted that it was the real Statue of Liberty.) The student newspaper later revealed that $4,500 of student money had been used to make the statue. Mallon and Varjian’s response: they offered to write a check to any interested student for their individual share of wasted funds—10¢ each. The statue was destroyed by unknown arsonists three weeks later, but the prankster duo won again next year and rebuilt the statue (this time they spent $6,000). That one was removed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. It now lives in a shed on campus.
For more pranks—and literally hundreds of other topics, check out the book where this article originated, Uncle John’s Slightly Irregular Bathroom Reader.