Armageddon, tacos and mayoral campaigns: The best April Fools’ Day jokes in Philly history

Remember the “e-lane” for people who text while walking?

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Billy Penn Illustration
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Like with anything else, Philadelphia has a rich history of pranks.

Below, check out four of the most high-profile April Fools’ Day shenanigans the city and its residents have pulled off over the past century.

When the Franklin Institute said the world was ending

In 1940, the Franklin Institute tried out probably the worst marketing stunt in the history of humankind.

To correspond with the museum’s exhibit on apocalypses, then-Franklin press agent William Castellini told KYW Newsradio that the world was set to end at 3 p.m. on April 1.

Castellini was serious about this one: “This is no April Fool joke,” he told the radio station. “Confirmation can be obtained from Wagner Schlesinger, director of the Fels Planetarium of this city.”

Turns out, 1940s Philadelphia was gullible. The radio station believed him, and so did everyone listening. They flooded KYW with emergency calls.

And then…Castellini lost his job. Happy April?

The Taco Liberty Bell

On April 1, 1996, an advertisement appeared in six major newspapers — including the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Times — announcing that the Tex-Mex fast food chain had officially acquired the Liberty Bell.

Their reasoning? To help with the national debt, apparently.

“Taco Bell’s heritage and imagery have revolved around the symbolism of the bell,” the advertisement read. “Now we’ve got the crown jewel of bells.”

Taco-Bell-NYT-Ad
Via citizenrelations.com

People were up in arms about this practical joke, too. Thousands of Philly folks called both Taco Bell HQ and the National Park Service to check the validity of the claim.

To which Elaine Sevy, a Park Service spokeswoman, reportedly responded, “We were shocked. We had no idea this was happening. We have just been getting hammered with phone calls from the public.”

April Fools, Elaine! You can keep the Liberty Bell, but you’ll still have to front the cash for that Crunchwrap Supreme. (Read more about this hoax here.)

Texting while walking

In 2012, the city announced a special lane dedicated to distracted pedestrians.

Then-Mayor Michael Nutter called it the “e-lane,” a strip of the sidewalk blocked off by white paint where pedestrians could safely talk and text while walking without fear.

The city fully committed to this gag: on April 1, a lane was actually installed.

And pedestrians were kind of into it. In fact, public safety officials said people were disappointed when they found out the e-lane was a hoax.

Per Jonathan Akins, then the deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association: “The sad part is, we had people who, once they realized we were going to take the e-lane away, got mad because they thought it was really helpful to not have people get in their way while they were walking and texting.”

“I like Mike!”

This holiday caper gave us perhaps the strangest mayoral campaign in Philly history (and that’s saying something). In 2015, FOX29 announced on Twitter that Good Day Philadelphia anchor Mike Jerrick would run for mayor.

Some thought it was ridiculous from the start — including Philly’s former mayor.

“You’ve not articulated anything of substance about the issues, which I know will be a challenge for you,” said then-Mayor Michael Nutter.

Still, Jerrick garnered a ton of social media support. Eventually, he clarified he wasn’t actually vying for the powerful Philly position. But… maybe he should have?

Happy April Fools’ Day. Watch your back.

 

 

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