April Fool’s Day is never as fun as you think it might be. With few exceptions, the pranks aren’t original or elaborate – and the worst you’ll probably get is a glitter bomb vomiting shiny, impossible-to-remove fragments of plastic into your clothes, hair, and carpet.
If you were in Sitka, Alaska, back on April 1, 1974, however, you were privy to one such remarkable exception. Back then, on April 1, 1974, on a beautiful clear day with cool, azure skies, a mischief-maker pulled off a prank four years in the making: He convinced residents of this small, frigid metropolis that the nearby Mount Edgecumbe stratovolcano was erupting.
On that fateful day, 50-year-old prankster Oliver “Porky” Bickar and a bunch of mischievous friends crossed Sitka Sound and scaled all 976 meters (3,202 feet) of the silent volcano. Setting alight to dozens of tires, they threw them into the crater, and not after long, a potent plume of black smoke rose skyward.
Understandably, this caused a bit of concern among the residents of Sitka. Authorities were alerted, and eventually the Coast Guard took a flight over the crater to see if they could spot the source of the plume. Next to a pile of tires, the pilot saw Bickar standing next to a massive spray painted sign in the snow that, according to the Guardian, simply read “APRIL FOOL”.
The prank took three or four years to plan, and required clear skies for maximum effectiveness. Bickar couldn’t have got all those tires up there himself, so he enlisted the help of a helicopter pilot to carry them up, along with kerosene, smoke bombs, and rags.
Careful not to cause a total panic, Bickar even alerted the Federal Aviation Administration of their plans, who allowed them to go ahead. According to the Museum of Hoaxes, the pranksters even alerted the local police, but forgot to mention their scheme to the Coast Guard. Understandably, the prank made global headlines.
One reaction reportedly came courtesy of a lawyer from Denver who, upon witnessing the famous, cataclysmic eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, sent him a clipping of a related news report with an attached note saying: “This time, you little bastard, you’ve gone too far.”
According to the Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO), Mount Edgecumbe, part of a rather complex series of nested volcanic cones within an expansive volcanic field, hasn’t erupted for more than 4,000 years. At present, it’s either dormant or extinct – so if you happen to live in the area and see “ash” rising from its crater, it’s probably a prankster playing tribute to the late, madcap Bickar, who died back in 2003.
Whether or not you think this was nefarious or hilarious, you have to give the guy points for originality.