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10 Stories: April Fool! Chronicling America

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In celebration of the release of the 10 millionth page of Chronicling America, our free, online searchable database of historical U.S. newspapers, our reference librarians have selected some interesting subjects and articles from the archives. We’ve been sharing them in a series of Throwback Thursday #TBT blog posts — one day late today, due to the special holiday.

Today we return to our historical newspaper archives for stories about that most impish of holidays, April Fools’ Day. Keep a sharp eye out and don’t believe every bit of news you hear…

April Fools of Today and Yesterday
An extensive survey of the holiday throughout time and around the four corners of the globe, in the Topeka State Journal, March 30, 1912.

An Idyll of April 1 — What Fools These Mortals Be!
Wherein “the small boys’ well-tried and proven schemes will hold sway,” those including “the wallet with a string to it,” “the fastened coin,” the cotton apple dumpling,” “the hurtful tack” (ow), “string for the unwary,” and “the same old brick in the hat joke” (a favorite of ours). Washington (D.C.) Morning Times, March 29, 1896.

All Fool’s Day—A Relic of Ancient Rome
The Clarksburg (W.Va.) Sunday Telegram of March 28, 1915, pegs the holiday to classical Roman times. No explanation, however, of how that brick-in-the-hat ties into Caesar’s era.

Drawing of April Fool with ad
“Life’s April Fool,” illustrated advertisement from the Ogden (Utah) Standard, April 1, 1919.

Life’s April Fool
A sumptuous, full-page ad in the Ogden (Utah) Standard, April 1, 1919, uses rich illustrations and the words of Lord Byron to encourage folks to deposit their money in “Odgen’s good banks” and hence, avoid being life’s prize April Fool.

French Answers to Query ‘Why Is An April Fool?‘”
The Washington (D.C.) Evening Star of April 4, 1909, offers this report on French culture by an American abroad.

Little Nemo in Slumberland
Winsor McCay’s classic dreaming little boy visits Indiana while his questionable companions proceed to stick April Fools signs on each other’s backs. Washington (D.C.) Evening Star, April 2, 1911.

Mr. Tappe’s April Fool Joke and Its Sequel
A prank gone terribly wrong: “Who Would Have Ever Thought That the Frolicsome Tricks Played on Miss Meer, His Serious Minded ‘Saleslady,’ Would End Up in the Courts!” from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, December 5, 1920.

Statesmen Recall Their April Fool Pranks of By-Gone Days
Senators and Congressmen tell of fake wax ladies and exploding cigars, those scamps! Washington (D.C.) Evening Star March 29, 1914.

In Search of the Origin of April Fools’ Day, the Observer Learns Many Things
In that same issue of the Washington (D.C.) Evening Star (March 29, 1914)—obviously a slow news day—the writer begins a quest to run down “the cousin of the man-who-rocks-the-boat and the half-brother of the individual who didn’t-know-it-was-loaded,” but ends up learning much more.

April Fools of Today and Yesterday
This repeat of the first story in today’s blog is notable that here, in The Daily Missoulian, March 31, 1912, it is alongside an advertisement emphatically endorsing a ballot proposition to open saloons for liquor sales on Sunday afternoons, complete with a portrait of President Abraham Lincoln looking on benevolently to give the venture the needed gravitas—plus a dire prediction of the loss of thousands of dollars in revenue to the Missoula community.

Speaking of Chronicling America, the National Endowment for the Humanities (our partner in the project) has launched a nationwide contest, challenging you to produce creative web-based projects using data pulled from the newspaper archives website. We’re looking for data visualizations, web-based tools or other innovative web-based projects using the open data found on Chronicling America. NEH will award cash prizes, and the contest closes June 15, 2016.

Launched by the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in 2007, Chronicling America provides enhanced and permanent access to historically significant newspapers published in the United States between 1836 and 1922. It is part of the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP), a joint effort between the two agencies and partners in 40 states and territories. Start exploring the first draft of history today at and help us celebrate on Twitter and Facebook by sharing your findings and using the hashtags #ChronAm #10Million.

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