Have you planned a prank for April Fool’s Day?
The San Antonio Zoo has a long history of pranking the city. On April 1, 1939, the San Antonio Light newspaper published a report of 13 escaped lions from the Zoo loose downtown on the front page of its B section. It included a photo of the Municipal Auditorium with roaming lions, created no doubt using the earliest tool of photo manipulation: scissors. It was reported, “Numerous dogs, cats, and similar pets fell beneath the fangs of the shaggy brutes after they broke out of their “escape-proof” pen shortly before dawn Saturday.” The article ended by acknowledging the account was an April Fool’s gag. The Light and the Zoo received scores of calls from frantic people asking if the lions had been captured. Apparently, nothing was learned from Orson Welles’ broadcast of the War of the Worlds that aired the previous year on Halloween (another prime time for pranking) that created a public panic.
San Antonio residents have done their share of pranking the Zoo as well. This story is from the History of the San Antonio Zoo, a book in our collection. Many decades ago before cell phones and caller ID, people used to call their local zoos on April 1st and ask for figures such as L. E. Fant, Liz Ard, Jack Rabbit, Harry Bear, G. Raff. Sally Mander and Tad Pole. On April 1, 1987, the San Antonio Zoo had more than 900 calls. In an effort to take advantage of the situation, volunteers and Southwestern Bell employees staffed the phone lines on and asked the pranksters to make a donation. The zoo was able to raise over $5,000 from these prank calls.
The History of the San Antonio Zoo also mentions that in 1975 Trinity journalism professor,
Dr. David Burkett, persuaded two students, Brad Bulkley and Terry Sandlin, to dress in deer hides and sit in a cage labeled Homo Sapiens next to the gorillas for two hours. I’m not sure if their motivation was an adventurous experience or extra credit. Brad and Terry were roommates and the year prior they were featured in the Trinitonian for turning a corner of their Calvert dorm room into a bar with wood paneling. They come across as a pair of fun guys and I bet they had their own share of memorable April Fools’ pranks, even if they didn’t end up in print.
This under 100-page book is a delightful read about the history of the San Antonio Zoo and Brackenridge Park.
The History of the San Antonio Zoo by Wilbur L. Matthews
Hoaxes, we fall for them every time!
The Martians have landed! A History of Media-Driven Panics and Hoaxes by Robert E. Bartholomew and Benjamin Radford
The San Antonio Light can be searched on The Portal to Texas History database. The library also has the run of the newspaper on microfilm.
The San Antonio Express News can be accessed through a few databases, the most comprehensive being America’s History Newspapers (1867-1990) and Access World News Research Collection (1990-present). The library also carries the Express News on microfilm.
The Mirage & The Trinitonian are available online through the Special Collections & Archives’ Digital Collections Page.
Thanks to Rebeka in Special Collections & Archives for her help searching through the Trinitonian!