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History's greatest pranks

The famous Cottingley Fairy picture
The famous Cottingley Fairy picture
Wikipedia Commons

April Fools Day is not the only time that pranks have been played. Throughout history, people have been fooling others for many different reasons. Some do it for money or for fame, others simply because they are bored. Whatever the reason, prankery has been alive and well for ages. Take a look at some of best pranks throughout history.

"The Procession of the Trojan Horse in Troy" by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo
Wikipedia Commons

Photographs of Fairies
A series of photos that were released in 1920 showed absolute proof of the existence of fairies. Two young girls, Frances Griffith and Elsie Wright were photographed in the garden of Elsie Cottingley's home playing with several fairies. The photos were widely accepted for decades, and it wasn't until 1978 that Elsie Wright confessed to making them out of paper. Still, the photos are often cited as absolute proof, and the mere fact that it took nearly 60 years for the truth to come out shows just how badly people want to believe in fairies.

Taco Liberty Bell
On April 1, 1996 Taco Bell released the following statement, “In an effort to help the national debt, Taco Bell is pleased to announce that we have agreed to purchase the Liberty Bell, one of our country's most historic treasures. It will now be called the 'Taco Liberty Bell' and will still be accessible to the American public for viewing. While some may find this controversial, we hope our move will prompt other corporations to take similar action to do their part to reduce the country's debt.” The response was pure outrage. Both Taco Bell and the National Park Service in Philadelphia reported thousands of phone calls until it was reported at noon on April 1st that it was, indeed, a hoax. Taco Bell also stated that they would donate $50,000 for the upkeep of the Liberty Bell.

The Bottle-Riot of 1749
Even in 1749, bored men liked to think of ways to trick the general public. The Duke of Portland and the Earl of Chesterfield decided to play a prank on the public to see just how gullible the average man truly was. They put an advertisement in the London papers on the 16th of January. It stated that for all that would like to see it, a performer was going to jump into an average-sized wine bottle, and tickets to see the event were on sale. Of course, the tickets all sold and the theatre was packed, even the standing-room was full. When no performer actually appeared, a riot broke out in the theatre as seats and benches were torn up, the stage was burned, and the box office receipts were stolen. It wasn't until years later that the identities of the pranksters were discovered.

The Trojan Horse
What do you do when you want to confront your enemy, but your enemy has surrounded himself with a guarded gate? Why, construct a huge wooden horse as a gift, but secretly hide inside it, of course. This is precisely what the Greeks did in the Trojan War. As the Greeks pretended to sail away, the Trojans brought their lovely new gift into their city and that night the men hiding inside snuck out of the giant horse and opened the gate for the rest of the army. It was probably the only case of a single horse winning a war.

The original Ponzi Scheme
Charles Ponzi was not the first to invent the pyramid scheme, but he certainly was one of the more successful scammers in history. In the original Ponzi scheme, Ponzi lured investors by stating that coupons purchased in Europe could be redeemed in America for six times their actual value due to the difference in currency. His company was established in 1919 and his scam was so lucrative that he reported earning near $15 million by the mid 1920's. Of course once the truth was discovered as banks and newspapers started to investigate him, Ponzi was arrested and spent approximately three years in jail. He died in 1949 in Rio de Janeiro completely penniless. So the moral of the story is – probably best not to scam millions of dollars or you'll die penniless in Rio.

Bonsai Kittens
The best way to get people truly outraged? Offer up a way to help morph kittens into various shapes and sizes. Yes, the website was launched in early 2000 and it described (in quite graphic detail) how to use the Japanese art of growing miniature trees to apply to kittens. The idea was that by sealing kittens into glass jars, the kittens would grow to the shape of the jar that contained them. Of course the animal rights community was furious over the site, and thousands of emails circulated calling for an end to the horrible treatment of kittens. Of course this was a hoax and it was discovered that the site was created by students at MIT. Today, you can purchase your very own Bonsai Kitten from – a plush toy, of course.

War of the Worlds
Once upon a time, a radio show aired spouting the arrival of actual alien invaders. This radio show was broadcast on October 30, 1938 and it was so real that many listeners believed it to be true. Orson Welles directed and narrated this historic piece of radio history, War of the Worlds. The first 60 minutes of the broadcast were delivered as actual newscasts, helping to further the belief that this was actually happening. Many terrified listeners panicked, preparing for the inevitable. Approximately six million people heard the broadcast, showing just how strong the reach of the media truly was, even in 1938.


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