April Fools no stranger to Washington area

March 31, 2013
For an April Fools’ Day newspaper in the 1970s, O-R photographer Jim McNutt created this montage purporting to show an asteroid burning on Interstate 79. Some readers found the front-page photo less than amusing.

If you see anything strange while going about your business today, you may want to remind yourself of the date.

April 1, otherwise known as April Fools’ Day, is a notorious date for pranksters and local residents shared some of their fondest – or not-so-funny – memories of that funky first day of April.

Freelance writer Chuck Brutz, 34, of Cecil Township, had a humorous tale to tell of a spring evening several years ago when he was working at a movie theater in Fairfax, Va.

“Basically, I was in the movie theater concession area in my uniform and one guy comes up to me and asks, ‘Are you in charge?’” Brutz said the man was upset that his drink wasn’t filled up the entire way.

“It looked like somebody maybe took a sip out of it,” Brutz said. “So I said, ‘Yeah, sure, what’s up?’”

The man angrily complained about his beverage while his wife looked on apologetically. While he blustered about the outrage done to him, Brutz gave an imperceptivity sly wink to his friend Keith, the poor bloke who had poured the refreshment.

“I told Keith, ‘We’ve had this discussion before. Leave your apron, you’re fired!’” Brutz said.

“The guy was like, ‘Holy crap, buddy. I don’t want to get anybody fired.’”

The pair hammed it up for minutes as the unwitting customer tried to convince Brutz to spare his friend’s job.

“We were doing it so over the top,” Brutz said, “and we could see the wife laughing her butt off. Keith was great because he totally improvised with me.

“Finally, his wife tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘They’re punking you, hon,’” Brutz said.

Afterward, Brutz said the mark laughed off the joke and the cinema workers filled up the man’s cup before the couple headed off to their movie.

Bruce Burnfield, 57, of Washington, has a story that didn’t quite end in laughs. When he was a child, he decided to play a trick on his family in their home in the Goat Hill section of Canton Township.

“There was a time in the early ’70s that, just like this year, April Fools’ Day landed right after Easter,” Burnfield said.

Burnfield said his mother had just finished coloring a few dozen eggs with his young sisters. He thought it would be funny to place a few hidden gems in the basket with the rest of the colorful hard-boiled eggs.

“While no one was watching, I pulled a couple eggs from the fridge, took them to my room and colored them raw,” Burnfield said. “Hoping to prank a family member, I placed the eggs in the basket containing the colored ones.”

The story took a foul turn a few days later when his father returned from a midnight shift at Washington Steel.

“He announced that he had unknowingly duped a friend at work by giving him one of the eggs out of his lunch pail,” Burnfield said. “The co-worker thought my dad set him up and, of course, my father thought my mother had set him up.”

Burnfield said guilt forced him to confess and his parents let him off the hook with a slap on the wrist.

Believe it or not, newspapers aren’t immune to springtime shenanigans. In fact, the front page of the Observer-Reporter carried a pretty epic April Fools’ Day prank back in 1977.

When a former editor had the idea to run a practical joke as a headline story, photographer Jim McNutt took the opportunity to get a little creative in the darkroom.

“We ran a fake story on April Fools’ Day that said a meteor crashed on Interstate 79,” McNutt said. “There was a big photo on the front page.”

Using separate shots of a rock, I-79 and an accident scene, he put together an image that would feel at home in a science fiction magazine. That photo, which ran April 1, 1977, was created in the days before digital photography and involved some intensive darkroom work – McNutt used terms like dodge-and-burn, blur and cut-and-paste.

“There was no Photoshop back then,” McNutt said. “The things we did by hand are now done with electronic tools.”

The photograph told readers to look to an inside page for the full story, where it was revealed that the whole thing was a hoax. But many readers didn’t make it past the headline and rushed out to see the wreckage.

“We got a lot of calls that day,” chuckled retired Executive Editor Parker Burroughs, then an associate night editor. “Some people just don’t have a sense of humor.”



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