Looking for a way to celebrate April Fool’s Day? Project Gutenberg has a few amusing works on pranks and hoaxes, thanks to the volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders.
Bram Stoker, best known for Dracula, penned an entertaining volume on Famous Impostors. Here we find pretenders to various thrones, dabblers in magic and alchemy, witches and wizards, false claimants to great fortunes, and a number of celebrated hoaxes of bygone times.
One such hoax was the brainchild of professional practical joker Theodore Hook, who bragged of his exploits in The Choice Humorous Works, Ludicrous Adventures, Bons Mots, Puns, and Hoaxes of Theodore Hook. His most famous prank was the Berners Street Hoax. On a bet that he could make any house the most talked about in London, he ordered numerous goods and services to be delivered to an address in Berners Street, all in one day. Hook’s shenanigans are also cited in an essay by Irish writer Robert Lynd on “The Humour of Hoaxes” in The Book of This and That.
The American West in the 19th Century presented opportunities for get-rich-quick schemes that were often founded on swindles. Pioneer and adventurer Asbury Harpending tries to clear his “family name and reputation” in his account of The Great Diamond Hoax, a purported diamond field in California that had in fact been “salted” with cheap gems.
For those who like their pranks dramatized, there’s the one-act farce April Fools, part of an 1889 collection of plays “for Church, School and Parlor Exhibitions.” The plot is a bit reminiscent of Hook’s Berners Street Hoax:
Mr. Peter Dunnbrowne, a gentleman with several unmarried daughters on his hands, receives a note from Mr. John Smith proposing for his daughter Fanny. Presently Mr. James Smith calls, he having received a letter announcing that Mr. D’s mare Fanny is for sale, and an amusing dialogue at cross purposes ensues. This disposed of, Mr. Joseph Smith, an undertaker, calls, he having been notified that Miss Fanny had suddenly died, and another puzzle follows.
We won’t give away the “surprise” ending…
It just goes to show that Project Gutenberg has something for every occasion — with over 56,000,000* e-books in its library, that’s no surprise.
*56,000. April Fool!