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3 Notorious April Fools Day Pranks Played by Notable New Yorkers

By Nicole Levy | March 31, 2016 10:32am | Updated on April 1, 2016 9:44am
 Literary journalist George Plimpton, pop star David Bowie and career prankster Joey Skaggs have all set up hoaxes that fooled the media and the masses.
Literary journalist George Plimpton, pop star David Bowie and career prankster Joey Skaggs have all set up hoaxes that fooled the media and the masses.
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Getty/Evan Agostini, Bryan Bedder; Flickr/Andres Rodriguez

April Fools' Day is this Friday, and we sincerely hope you don't get taken for one.

Concern for your own dignity doesn't, however, exclude you from enjoying the pranks played on others. We've culled three of our favorite gags from the annals of recent history, all orchestrated by notable New Yorkers:

► The 15th Annual New York City April Fools Day Parade

On April 1, 2000, television crews from CNN and the Fox affiliate WNYW arrived at the intersections of 59th Street and Fifth Avenue at noon, expecting to cover a non-existent parade.

According to the press release they'd received, the 15th Annual NYC April Fools Day Parade would march down the avenue to Washington Square Park. It would feature "Beat 'em, Bust 'em, Book 'em Floats created by the New York, Los Angeles and Seattle Police Departments, portraying themes of brutality, corruption and incompetence," and a "Mayor Rudy 'Doody' Giuliani" lookalike throwing elephant dung at passersby.

Longtime media prankster Joey Skaggs had been issuing fake news releases for the non-event recognizing "the day designated to commemorate the perennial folly of mankind" since 1986.

(Last year, he hooked the Chinese news agency Sinovision, which ran a 4-minute preview before April Fools' Day.)

The tradition continues this year, with an announcement of the 31st annual parade

► The New York Mets Rookie Pitcher Sidd Finch

The April 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated profiled a newly minted Mets pitcher named Sidd Finch — an athlete with an otherworldly arm and a yogi past. Finch, the article said, could throw a baseball at an unfathomable 168 mph, and he'd learned to pitch by flinging rocks and meditating at a Tibetan monastery.

The out-of-nowhere Mets sensation was actually the fictional creation of New York aristocrat, literary journalist and amateur sportsman George Plimpton, whose editor had given him license to write whatever he pleased. Plimpton left clues for his readers: the first letter of each word in the article's secondary headline spelled out "Happy April Fools' Day."

Mets fans initially missed the hints, flooding Sports Illustrated with requests for more information. News outlets tried to catch up on the magazine's scoop.

For years after the hoax was revealed, people would continue to recognize Joe Berton, the middle school teacher who posed as Finch in photos, on the street.

► The Late American Artist Nat Tate

On April 1, 1998, David Bowie invited guests of Jeff Koons' SoHo loft to celebrate the launch of William Boyd's biography of Nat Tate, an abstract expressionist who had committed suicide by drowning.

The pop star-turned-publisher gave a reading of the passage in which Tate leaps off the Staten Island Ferry to his death in front of the assembled New York celebritiesartists Frank Stella and Julian Schnabel and writers Jay McInerney and Paul Auster among their ranks.

The tabloids would report that the partygoers were much moved by the tale of Tate's demise. 

And then-arts editor of The Independent David Lister would note in a big reveal published the following week that many art critics claimed to have some idea of the artist's career — this despite the fact that Tate was the product of Boyd's imagination and Bowie's largesse.

"My aim was, first of all, to prove how powerful and credible a pure fiction could be and, at the same time, to try to create a kind of modern fable about the art world," Boyd wrote in the Telegraph.

The questions he was grappling with, he explained, were: "What is it like to be a very average artist who achieves great fame and wealth? What is it like when, as David Bowie stated in his blurb to the biography, God has chosen to make you an artist but only a mediocre one?"