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No foolin', these tales were great

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  • Richard D. Hendricks
    Doug Moe: No foolin , these tales were great By Doug Moe The Capital Times April 1, 2006 *FIFTY-SIX YEARS *ago today, The Capital Times carried a boxed page
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2006
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      Doug Moe: No foolin', these tales were great

      By Doug Moe

      The Capital Times
      April 1, 2006

      *FIFTY-SIX YEARS *ago today, The Capital Times carried a boxed page one
      story with the following headline: "Capital Times Exclusive! Reveal
      Secret Formula in H-Bomb Study."

      A complex mathematical formula followed, with this note: "The Capital
      Times today brings its readers the first exclusive reproduction of the
      complex mathematical formula which is being used by this nation's top
      nuclear physicists as the basis for their research in the development of
      the hydrogen bomb. ... Some 200 scientists throughout the country will
      conduct their research on the basis of this formula, and the results of
      their work will be correlated by the atomic energy commission in
      Washington."

      This was incredible stuff: Three decades before The Progressive magazine
      caused a worldwide furor with its own "how to make an H-Bomb story," the
      Cap Times was there first.

      There was one difference. The Capital Times story, appearing April 1,
      1950, was a hoax, one of many inspired April 1 stories over the years
      that have fooled, confused, angered and delighted readers.

      The formula on page one in 1950 was actually the equation used by a
      Wisconsin Telephone Co. engineer at a Public Service Commission hearing
      to justify a rate increase.

      It is likely that no other newspaper in the country has so embraced the
      April Fools' concept, which appears to have started in 1933 with one of
      the best known (and best) of the pranks.

      On April 1, 1933, The Capital Times ran a "photo" of the dome toppling
      off the State Capitol with the headline: "Explosions Blow Dome Off State
      Capitol!"

      The secondary headline read: "Officials Say Legislature Generated Too
      Much Hot Air."

      Although "April Fool" was mentioned at the end of the accompanying
      story, as well as in tiny type above the photo, many readers thought
      something had actually happened to the Capitol. Over the years, the
      Capitol April Fool has made many national "best hoax" lists.

      The Capitol hoax was the handiwork of *Cedric Parker*, then a reporter,
      later an editor at the paper. Parker, who was not against taking a
      second drink, was a legendary journalist who tangled with *Joe McCarthy
      *and the Ku Klux Klan, but he also loved the tongue-in-cheek April
      Fools' stunts.

      In 1946, Parker got a byline and a photo credit for his April 1 story:
      "Dr. *Niaga Deloof *Brings Atomic Bomb to Madison!"

      "The atomic bomb," Parker wrote, "brought to Madison from a government
      laboratory in the East, arrived here aboard a special railroad car in
      which the scientists and a detail of special guards also rode. The bomb
      was encased in a 2-ton box, having lead walls more than a foot thick -
      to prevent danger to life from radiation of the powerful rays."

      Parker always tipped the April Fool at the end of his pieces, and there
      were often other clues (aside from the date) for the alert reader. In
      the atomic bomb story, for instance, the "scientist" who brought the
      bomb to Madison was named Niaga Deloof - "Fooled Again" spelled backward.

      In a story in 1993, another longtime Cap Times reporter, *Jerry
      Ambelang*, said FBI agents came to interview Parker about the bomb
      story. Incidentally, the "bomb" in Parker's photo was made up of a
      tomato soup can, a doorbell buzzer and the heating element from an
      electric stove.

      Parker authored many more April 1 stories, among them a 1938 effort
      picturing a toddler who spent 20 minutes in the lion cage at the zoo but
      emerged unscathed. An editor's note at the end of that one - "to dispel
      any fears that arise" - pointed out that because of guard rails and
      fences, "the circumstances in this story could not possibly occur at the
      zoo." (Except that in 1966, an elephant pulled a three-year-old girl
      through the bars of its cage and stomped her to death.)

      In 1966, Parker wrote an April 1 piece headlined: "Lake Waubesa Resident
      Trains Three Ducks To Pull His Fishing Boat!" For some reason Parker
      neglected to put an April Fool disclaimer anywhere in the story - though
      the fisherman's name was "Railamai," which is "I am a liar" backward -
      so the next day, April 2, the paper had to print a second story saying
      the first one "was strictly a phony."

      My favorite Parker April Fool came in 1954, with a large spread of five
      photos and the headline: "Chimpanzee At Zoo Learns to Pole-Vault!"

      The story noted how the Vilas Park chimp, nicknamed "Vaultaire," was
      being trained by UW professors and coaches and had, in less than three
      months training, beaten both the indoor and outdoor pole vault records
      for high school athletes. The photo spread of the pole-vaulting chimp is
      hilarious.

      Parker retired in the 1970s, and more recently, veteran Cap Times courts
      reporter *Mike Miller *has ably carried on the tradition. Among Miller's
      better efforts were a 1986 April 1 story about *Albert "Big O"
      Anderson*, a "marshmallow farmer" who had sent a record crop to market
      in late March; and another, in 1995, which opened with this lead: "In a
      stunning blow to the city, a freak construction accident at the Monona
      Terrace convention center resulted in totally draining Lake Monona
      overnight."

      I can take credit for suggesting to the city desk the idea that became
      Miller's 2002 April 1 feature, headlined, "City Will Ban Fish Fries."

      Miller wrote: "The traditional Friday night fish fry will be outlawed
      beginning Memorial Day weekend, The Capital Times has learned. The
      long-term goals of city social planners are the creation of a citywide
      No Fry Zone banning the sale of all fried foods and eventually a
      countywide 'Smart Girth' program to halt urban spread."

      Not surprisingly, a lot of people thought it was true.
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