This Week in History: Practical jokes and a dying Confederacy

This Week in History: Practical jokes and a dying Confederacy

Posted: Updated:
A wreath on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN, marks the spot where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated April 4, 1968. (Source: Wikimedia Commons) A wreath on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN, marks the spot where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated April 4, 1968. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
This illustrated appeared in the Illustrated London News representing "A Suspicious Character" representing the suspect in the murders attributed to Jack the Ripper. (Source: Wikimedia Commons) This illustrated appeared in the Illustrated London News representing "A Suspicious Character" representing the suspect in the murders attributed to Jack the Ripper. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
An illustration of the Battle of Five Forks, sometimes called the Confederate Waterloo. (Source: Wikimedia Commons) An illustration of the Battle of Five Forks, sometimes called the Confederate Waterloo. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

(RNN) – Today is April Fools' Day … or is it?

It is.

There seems to be no consensus on how or why it got started, and I could not confirm if it is the day the Whoopee cushion was invented.

Some theories are that it is tied to the vernal equinox with people being fooled by the weather. I call that Groundhog Day where that stupid rodent told me it was going to be warm by now. I trusted him and he blew it. I hope the lawyer in Ohio who filed that ridiculous lawsuit against him ends up winning.

It is also said to be because the new year was moved to Jan. 1 in the 1600s and people still celebrated the old new year, which was in late March. But pointless tomfoolery associated with this time of year can be traced back to the Canterbury Tales because nothing says literary classic like na-na-na-boo-boo.

In some places, children pin paper fish to their friends' backs, referencing a young fish, which is easy to catch. Anybody who has ever been fishing with me knows this a complete fallacy as I have proven dozens of times over the only easy fish to catch is one that has been filleted and fried. (I found that here, and I'm operating under the assumption that a link about April Fools' Day is itself not an April Fools' Day prank. You can trust the link … or can you?)

I've always wondered how many couples break up on April Fools' Day both as a prank to see how the other person reacts and for real, maybe as the result of a fake proposal. I would love for somebody to pull off a big Facebook fake baby prank. With all the pictures of babies – both born and unborn – people share on Facebook that garner 100-plus likes and 50 comments that all say "so cute," it's just sitting there for the taking.

One of the most famous April Fools' Day pranks was a Sports Illustrated article about the fictional Sidd Finch, who could throw 168 mph and was going to play for the Mets. That's only a slightly better prank than the actual Mets themselves.

NPR claimed in 1992 that Richard Nixon was planning to run for president again, and in 1998, an article in New Mexicans for Science and Reason claimed the Alabama legislature had voted to change the value of Pi to the "Biblical value" of 3.0. It's the perfect prank because it's just plausible enough to be true.

The list of such pranks is practically endless. (You can trust this link … or can you?)

When it comes to things that should have been a hoax but weren't, the House of Representatives held its first quorum April 1, 1789, and the satellite TIROS-1 broadcast the first pictures of space on television April 1, 1960.

April Fools' Day is also Weekend Update correspondent Judy Grimes' favorite day.

Here are some of the events of note that happened between April 1-7.

Life and Death

This week I'm breaking tradition and honoring only people who may or may not be alive because they were born or died April 1.

If April 1 was my birthday, I think I'd have a lot of fun with it. I think I would always leave a little doubt in people's minds as to whether it actually was my birthday. There's still a possibility that I will die April 1 of some yet-to-be-determined year that I hope is a long way off. I think if I were to die April 1 I'd like my headstone to have the date followed by a question mark. I'd also come back and haunt people if I could, but my date of death has nothing to do with that, I just think it will be fun.

Winston Churchill's wife, Clementine, was apparently born April 1, 1885. Winston Churchill seems like the kind of guy that would make her prove this every year just to confirm that he actually had to buy her a "bonnet," or whatever outdated word for hat British people used in the 1930s. She no doubt gave him a wry look and called him an old goat. I like to think she was Mrs. Doubtfire, whose husband's name was Winston. Coincidence?

Susan Boyle may have been born April 1, 1961. If Boyle had married, it would have been to a guy named Winston (all old British men are named Winston, that's a scientific fact). Boyle rose to stardom the good old fashioned way: Reality TV. She rocked I Dreamed A Dream on Britain's Got Talent, proving that she had a dream and talent, and is now the world's real Mrs. Doubtfire. If you think Boyle doesn't play soccer, beat up muggers and throw fruit at James Bond you are sadly mistaken.

Samuel Alito (1950), Rachel Maddow (1973) and Jon Gosselin (1977) all claim to share April 1 as a birthday. I've seen them all on TV, but never in person so their existence is debatable.

Marvin Gaye died April 1, 1984. Gaye was born April 2, 1939, and his music has no doubt led to more births.

Famed pianist Scott Joplin died April 1, 1917. Joplin is known for The Entertainer, which is found on cell phones everywhere and the Maple Leaf Rag, which on The Big Bang Theory, Amy Farrah Fowler revealed if the piano had been a weapon of war and not a musical instrument, Joplin would have instead played it on tuned bayonets.

Overlooked Anniversaries

There are a couple of other notable deaths that need to be mentioned. First, William Henry Harrison became the first president to die in office April 4, 1841. Harrison had the shortest administration of any president, being in office for just more than a month. He also gave the longest inaugural speech of any president at more than two hours. This should be a lesson to all politicians that they just need to shut up.

Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated April 4, 1968, the day after his famous "I Have Been to the Mountaintop" speech. King was standing on a hotel balcony in Memphis, TN, when a shot came from across the street and hit King in the face. James Earl Ray was arrested and confessed to the crime, but later recanted the confession and testified that he did not shoot King. Some evidence exists to support that theory, but it is not without significant controversy.

Jesse James was killed April 3, 1882. James' death is even more controversial than King's. Robert Ford shot him, but that's all that's known for certain. James was standing on a chair adjusting a picture on the wall when he was shot, but there is speculation that he let it happen. He's also to have rumored to have not been killed and it was all a hoax to let him escape. Beyond that, in the course a single day Ford was arrested, pled guilty, sentence to death and pardoned by the governor.

The first of a series of unsolved murders in London occurred April 3, 1888. Emma Smith, a prostitute, was attacked and later died in a murder that is ascribed as the first killing of Jack the Ripper. Her murder, and murder of the second victim, Martha Tabram in August are linked to Jack the Ripper, but some experts say they are not victims of the same killer as the later victims.

Apple Inc. was founded April 1, 1976, the first handheld mobile phone call was made April 3, 1973, the peace symbol was first displayed publicly April 4, 1958, the first successful Pony Express run from Missouri to California began April 3, 1860, and Dixie made its debut April 4, 1859.

Something About Sports

The NCAA adopted the 3-point line for basketball April 2, 1986. It's difficult to imagine what basketball is like without the 3-pointer. It seems like defenses would lock down on the lane and refuse to allow you anything close to the basket. I'm not a big fan of basketball, and don't know strategy very well, but I would think adding the 3-pointer would be akin to a 50-plus yard touchdown in football being worth nine points instead of six.

The first modern Olympics opened April 6, 1896, in Athens, Greece. The events were track and field, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, swimming, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling, and 14 countries competed.

The U.S. dominated track and field, France dominated cycling and Germany dominated gymnastics. The U.S. had the most gold medals, all of them coming in shooting and track and field, but Greece had the most total medals and was the only country to medal in every event.

The Week in Warfare

It was a terrible week for the Confederacy. The Battle of Five Forks, which has been called the Confederate Waterloo, was fought April 1, 1965. The Confederacy was outnumbered and lost handily. The loss set in motion the events that led Robert E. Lee's surrender, which will be discussed next week.

The Siege of Petersburg ended the next day, and Jefferson David fled the Confederate capitol of Richmond, VA. Union forces captured Richmond the following day and Abraham Lincoln visited the fallen city the day after that.

The Battle of Sayler's Creek was fought April 6, 1865, and if left Lee with about 400 troops to face the Union's 15,000. The three years earlier the Battle of Shiloh was fought over two days and the Confederacy lost in what was the bloodiest battle in American history to that point.

In more modern events, Dwight Eisenhower authorized the creation of the Air Force Academy on April 1, 1954. It doesn't have the same history or pedigree as the other two main service academies, but one graduate of Air Force was awarded the Medal of Honor, 39 have become astronauts and Chesley Sullenberger, who made an emergency landing in the Hudson River in 2009, graduated from Air Force.

Holiday You Should Celebrate

I try to find something to go here that's frivolous and fun,
But writing this article takes a long time, and I just want to be done.
You can find these events any number of ways,
Because everything has its own special day.
From tweed suits to not cleaning or telling a lie,
You can even make up your own day if you try.
But I won't send you to Google or make you go on a hunt,
I'll just tell you April is National Poetry Month.

Preview of next week

"A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South."

Copyright 2013 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

Powered by WorldNow