"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Newspaper Clipping of the Day, April Fool Edition

An April Fool's Day reminder: Practical jokes are seldom funny to anyone except the person perpetrating them. In the wrong hands, they can be downright lethal. A few timely cautionary tales:

From the "Jasper Courier," May 1, 1874:

A fearful tragedy growing out of a harmless joke occurred recently in Salinas City, Cal. Some of the boarders at the Diamond Hotel, on April fool's day, sent Mrs. Dennison to the room of a Mr. Downey with a letter, in which was written "April fool." Dennison, seeing his wife coming from the room, was seized with a fit of jealousy, reproached her with bitter words, and she retorted in a like manner. A separation was agreed upon, and proceedings for a divorce were instituted. Several days after the above occurrence Dennison met Downey in a saloon, and called him out to speak to him. High words passed between them, and finally Downey knocked Dennison down. Dennison then drew a pistol and fired, the ball striking Downey in the left side, and coming in contact with a rib, glanced and came out near the spine. Downey wrested the pistol from him, when Dennison turned and ran up the street, Downey closely pursuing him. After running a short distance Dennison fell, and at the same instant his pursuer fired a shot, inflicting a mortal wound. Downey was arrested, and an examination will be held as soon as he can be brought into court, if his injuries do not prove fatal.

Here is an even more appalling April-fool-gone-wrong from the "Clinch Valley News," April 24, 1908:

Suffering from impaired health, which had probably upset his mind, and brooding over an innocent joke practiced by his daughter on April Fool's Day, Dr. C. O. Swinney, recently of New York, shot and fatally wounded his daughter and killed himself here Wednesday.

The tragedy took place in the reception room of the Normal and Collegiate Institute, of which the young woman was a pupil during the last session.

Wednesday about 3 o'clock Dr. Swinney called upon his daughter at the institute building. The young woman, who was only sixteen years old, was named Nellie.

The father was shown into the reception room, and in a few moments his daughter entered and took her seat at the piano. Half an hour later four shots from a revolver were fired in quick succession, and in another moment the wounded girl came rushing from the room. Blood was streaming from two wounds in her head and she reeled as she reached the hall.

In the reception room, amid the wildest scenes of disorder, lay the dead body of the father. The revolver, with four chambers empty, lay under the body, which itself lay face downward. Dr. Swinney had placed the muzzle of the weapon in his mouth and sent a bullet crashing through his brain.

Two bullets are imbedded in the skull of the young woman, who is thought to be fatally wounded.

The tragedy is the outcome of a harmless April fool joke, in which the daughter, with a number of her companions, absented herself from classes on that day.

This following coroner's verdict should have read, "Death by April Fool's." From the "Adelaide Daily Herald," November 9, 1922:

How a cry for help when a woman was on fire was treated as "April fooling" and a "Wolf! wolf" cry, was related at the Lewisham (England) inquest on Muriel Hope Tall, aged 21 years.

The young woman died in hospital last Wednesday as a result of burns received while at her work on April 1 last, at the house where she was employed in Bromley road.

Her mistress said Miss Tall was cooking. When the mistress entered the kitche, she found the girl with her clothes in flames. She wrapped the girl in a rug and called for help, but the other servants thought that the cook wanted to make April fools of them, and would not come.

A verdict of accidental death was reached.

April 1 is even hard on genuine murderers. The "Lewiston Daily Sun," July 26, 1907:

Chicago, July 25--How difficult it is to get arrested in Chicago on April fool's day, even if one has killed one's wife, was told yesterday in Judge Kersten's court by Charles Graff, now on trial. He admits he killed the woman with an axe on the night of March 31 but says he did it in self-defense. In the morning he went to the Maxwell Station, so he testified, to give himself up. But the desk man thought he was joking when he mentioned a murder. At a saloon his mention of having killed his wife was met with a similar incredulity. The secretary of Graff's Lodge was also incredulous but finally was convinced. By this time the police had found out a woman was dead and Graff succeeded in getting himself arrested.

From the "Holmes County Republican," May 16, 1872:

If April Fool's doesn't kill you, it'll send you to prison. The "St. Paul Globe," April 7, 1905:

Peter Jeruxal, 90 South Water street, will face the charge of assault and battery in police court this morning.

Peter was arrested on a warrant sworn out by his wife, who accuses him of ill treating her. According to Mrs. Jeruxal's story her husband came home late on the night of April 1, and routing her from bed amused himself by sailing numerous shoes in her direction. One of the shoes landed on Mrs. Jeruxal's head, hence the arrest.

So, whatever you do today, gang, please don't try to be funny. And keep your shoes on your feet, where they belong.


  1. One wonders how some of those people could ever have thought their jokes were funny. Telling somebody a loved one was dead? Jeez, come on.

    1. The old papers were full of that kind of thing. People stringing up dummies to trick people into thinking a real person had hanged himself, throwing dummies down buildings to simulate suicides...

      If there's any lesson to all this, it is: People Being Jerks is Eternal.


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