Timeline Tuesday: April Fools in Omaha in 1886


One Omaha barber was the victim of an elaborate April Fool’s prank in 1886. John Nelson’s photograph depicts a barber shaving a customer with a straight razor during an era when few men shaved themselves. NSHS RG3542-95-11

“Yesterday there were numerous pranks played in observance of April Fool day,” said the Omaha Daily Bee on April 2, 1886, “but most of them were such as have been repeated year after year since jokes were first known.” These included young pranksters inducing pedestrians to kick a hat under which a brick had been placed or to pick up heated coins. The Bee said that such practical jokes were by no means confined to the youth. “Bartenders took pleasure in giving their regular [morning] customers nauseous mixtures instead of the matutinal cocktail which their stomach craved; smokers found nails and pieces of wood in their cigars, and those unfortunate enough to use chewing tobacco got frequent tastes of quinine instead of the much beloved nicotine. In fact every variety of chestnut was brought back from the dim ages of boyhood and utilized for all it was worth, and ingenious minds set themselves to work inventing new ‘gags.'”

An elaborate prank was played upon “an innocent tonsorial artist, Sam, who works in George Smith’s shop. When he came to the shop in the morning he was startled by learning that burglars had visited the place during the night, and among the plunder taken were his tools and several razors. By the advice of his friends he took a tour through the various second-hand places and pawnshops, and was soon put on the track of an imaginary fellow, whom he chased from one place to another all over the city. . . . “At last he learned that a fellow had been trying to sell some razors at Charlie Heisler’s barber shop, . . . Officer O’Brien went into the place to nab the fellow, but on entering was informed of the day of the month. He then came out and called the barber to come in and see if he could identify his razors. He went in, and was soon reminded of ‘the day we celebrate.'” Apparently the hoodwinked barber failed to appreciate the humor of the joke; the Bee said, “He was hot.” Another prank involved the business manager of one of Omaha’s evening newspapers, who was approached by a prospective buyer of advertising space in the paper. “The citizen unfolded his plan for starting a perfumery factory here, . . . and wanted to arrange for advertising. After agreeing upon rates, he showed the business manager a little bottle containing some of the perfumery he was planning to manufacture. “The manager started to smell of it, and as he pulled out the stopper he suddenly discovered that from a little hole in the bottom of the bottle the contents were rapidly leaking all over his frontage. It wasn’t the kind of perfumery which he felt like encouraging, and the would-be advertiser got out of the door just in time to dodge the flying bottle.” 

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