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

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

Billy Penn Illustration

Sometimes, living just one normal day in Philadelphia feels like a prank.

Perhaps every morning when you step out your front door, a wind-blown piece of garbage hits you in the face. As you walk down your street, perfectly good parking spots are filled not by cars, but by chairs. A few blocks away, you find inexplicable construction that will clearly block your SEPTA bus route, yet the app insists there is no detour.

Yes, half the time, an average day here could be mistaken for April Fools’ Day. But in a city where everything is ridiculous all the time, we still find a way to step it up every spring.

In honor of the impending holiday, we compiled a summary of the best of our rich history of pranks.

Below, check out four of the most ridiculous Philly high jinks from over the years, and consider this a public service — learn from the mistakes of those who fell for the tricks of the past.

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

Ah, yes. The infamous Taco Liberty Bell prank of 1996.

Doesn’t ring any bells? Here you go: 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.”

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.

Texting while walking

This year, Philadelphians are angrily divided on the implementation of bike lanes on city streets.

Apparently in 2012, there was a different traffic safety issue getting notice: texting while walking.

That year, Philly 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.”

Yikes. Well, you tried, Philly.

“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?

Oh, and then there was…this.

Try again in 2019, Jerrick?

To the rest of you: Happy April Fools’ Day. Watch your back.



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