March has gone out more like a lamb than a lion--and another April Fool's Day has come and gone. On no other day are you allowed to play pranks on your loved ones, friends and co-workers and have a built-in excuse.
While the origins of the tradition are unclear, some have theorized that it is a remnant of the Roman festival of Hilaria or "Roman Laughing Day," which celebrates the resurrection of the god Attis.
Others have hypothesized that the holiday relates to the Holi, an old Hindu festival celebrated to welcome the new season. However, the prank-filled holiday most likely dates back to the 16th Century when the French switched to the Georgian calendar. A person who continued to celebrate April 1st as the New Year (as opposed to the new January 1st date) would be subjected to ridicule and became known as poisson d'avril or April Fish.
Tricks and jokes by and on Brooklynites were well documented in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, and below are some accounts of our local April foolery:
While the practical jokes in the early twentieth century may not have been all that funny, it is interesting to see that the Eagle wrote about them, especially when the subjects were police personnel. I can't imagine the NYPD being able to justify the poor use of the officers' time today.
April Fools' Day was also used as an opportunity to advertise and make some sales
Or show off how strong you were.
Still, sometimes the jokes didn't go according to plan
and some jokes caused a stir.
For years, many induced their unsuspecting friends and colleagues to call up numbers on the phone and ask for "Mr. Fox" or "Mr. Lion". Usually the number given was for the Prospect Park, Central Park or Bronx Zoo. Each year, the telephone company assigned operators to intercept such calls, check names of zoo employees and if the name was not there, inform callers, "someone may be trying to make an April Fools' joke." On April 1, 1946, the Eagle reported the telephone company intercepted 2,708 calls to the zoo.
Finally, I would like to share with you a student poem about April Fools' Day.
"The Chalk Mystery: An April Fool Poem"
Brooklyn Daily Eagle. April 1, 1890.
Luckily for us, April 1 fell on a Sunday this year, so our Brooklyn Connections students were deprived of the opportunity to invent new ways to wreak havoc in our class visits. There's always next year!