Today, April 1, is known as April Fool's Day, or All Fool's Day, in many parts of the world. While no one really knows where the custom came from, there is a long tradition of pulling pranks and playing tricks on the unsuspecting on the first day of April. According to the "Folklife Today" blog, a piece by Stephen Winick found on the Library of Congress website, the custom was known in Renaissance Europe, and probably has roots older than that.
Winick says "Some people think the idea of April Fool's Day goes back to classical Roman times, when a joyful festival called Hilaria, originally probably an equinox celebration, came to be celebrated on March 25. In Roman terms, March 25 was called "the eighth of the Calends of April," which associates the festival strongly with April 1, the Calends of April. However, tehre's no hard evidence to connect Hilaria with April Fool's Day, so this is just one of many guesses advanced by curious people.
Another common theory placing the origin of April Fool's Day in the Roman Empire dates it to the reign of Emperor Constantine. According to this story, a group of fools or jesters convinced Constantine to make one of them "king for a day." Constantine obliged, and one of the jesters, named "Kugel," was appointed to the position. He decreed that it would be a day of jollity, and thus created what came to be called April Fool's Day."
While this sounds good, Winick continues "The only problem with that story is that it's a hoax. It was itself an April Fool's Day prank, pulled by Boston University professor Joseph Boskin an Associated Press reporter Fred Bayles in 1983. Bayles reported the story, and the AP ran it, only to retract it some days later. This is a good object lesson: do not take as fact everything you read about April Fool's Day!"
Your Abilene Public Library has lots of books on famous, and not so famous hoaxes that have been perpetrated on the public. One is The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century by Edward Dolnick. It tells the story of small-time Dutch painter, Han van Meegeren, who set out to fool a very dangerous man of his day, Hermann Goering, one of the most reviled leaders of Nazi Germany and a fanatic collector of art.
Another fascinating hoax is recounted in A Colossal Hoax: The Giant from Cardiff That Fooled America by Scott Tribble, detailing a story that gripped America, when, in 1869, a 10-foot fossilized man, almost perfectly preserved, was found in Cardiff, New York. While the find was pronounced 'genuine' by many learned folk, it was, in fact, an elaborate fake at the the hands of one George Hull, described in this highly detailed and thoroughly researched book as a small-time swindler.
Now, keeping in mind that it is April Fool's Day, can you believe any of what I have written above? Of course you can! (Wink, wink) Or, you can come by the library and find out for yourself. Do be careful of unusual errands, salt in sugar bowls, wild goose chases and snipe hunts today - you never know who you can trust on All Fool's Day.
Article Contributed by Janis C. Test, Information Services Manager