April Fool’s 19th century style


april fools

Happy April Fool’s, everyone! In honor of the occasion, I thought I’d provide a little snippet of what Victorians in the U.S. liked to do on this day, as seen through the eyes of some New York newspapers of the time.

Below is an illustration of common pranks: the brick-under-the hat trick, the money-on-a-rope ruse, the “kick-me” sign, the exploding cigar, the fake spider. Some things remain timeless, it seems!

from The World (New York), April 1,  1892.
from The World (New York), April 1, 1892.

Here’s a description of more pranks:

from The World (New York), April 1, 1892.
from The World (New York), April 1, 1892.

Okay, I’m NOT falling for the pigeons’ milk trick this year.

Much like we do today, the Victorians looked for any excuse for a party:

from The World (New York), March 29, 1900.
from The World (New York), March 29, 1900.

By the way, a “donkey party” is a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game. Back then, it was a game for both children and adults, and often offered at charity events and other fund-raisers.

One had to exercise care in celebrating April Fool’s, however, as these young ladies found out:

from The Sun (New York), April 2, 1897.
from The Sun (New York), April 2, 1897.

Wow, talk about zero tolerance! I wonder what students at the boys’ school were able to get away with. I’m willing to bet a lot more than the girls. Of course, the young ladies at Hartford Women’s College, the fictitious school of my Concordia Wells mystery series, are rather mischievous, but they don’t get kicked out. It would be a dull place without them!

Interested in the origins of April Fools’ Day? Check out these posts:

Happy Hilaria! Cool pranks, past and present (K.B. Owen Mysteries)

Religious Origins of the World’s Silliest Holiday (Huffington Post)

The Origin of April Fools’ Day (Museum of Hoaxes)


Do you “observe” April Fools’ Day? Have you ever played a great prank on someone, or had a memorable prank played on you? I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time,


cover art by Melinda VanLone
cover art by Melinda VanLone


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6 people like this post.

6 thoughts on “April Fool’s 19th century style”

  1. PatriciaPatricia

    Pigeon’s milk? Hmmmm. Something not quite right about that.

    You always have such fun and interesting stuff on your blog. That is why I keep coming back.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  2. Kassandra LambKassandra Lamb

    Fun post, Kathy!

  3. PhilPhil

    Pigeon’s milk? What the? I love how the old newspapers reported on this stuff. Seemed more fun back then.


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