No one knows for certain the origin of April Fools’ Day, but one thing we do know is that early Whiting pranksters thoroughly enjoyed the day.
On April 1, 1899, the Whiting Sun newspaper ran a front-page story about a reporter coming across a dead body on the city’s lakefront. He spotted three men and chased after them. When he realized he was not going to catch them, he returned to the scene of the crime. From the way the sand was, he guessed that there was a scuffle before the victim was hacked to death. A train came by, the crew also spotted the body, and one of the men identified the victim as Tom Ascat, a man from Chicago who he knew. The train crew decided to take the body back to Chicago with them.
None of that story was true. But as the Sun reported in its next issue, at least some Whiting residents believed it. Here is an article from the Whiting Sun newspaper, summarizing the reaction to their story, and relating a few other April Fools’ stories from Whiting on April 1, 1899.
April Fools Jokes
The Whiting Sun
April 8, 1899
Last Saturday was all fools day, and the jokes played by the boys and others were many.
A penny was nailed down in front of Horneckers hardware store and the number of people who bit on this old joke were many.
A pocket book was stuffed with paper and nailed to the sidewalk on New York Avenue and its victims were many. A man who looked as if he had taken a drop too much, came along and his attempts to secure the fat prize made much fun for the young boys who had nailed the article down.
A girl who works in the candle factory tells the following: She was requested to let a friend drink part of her coffee in the forenoon. A young man standing near decided it was his chance to play a good joke upon the girls so he took their coffee cans, about five minutes before lunch hour, and filled them with hot parafine. The girls sat down to lunch and in a few minutes, not suspecting a joke, took a mouthful of the hot liquid and of course the joke was on them. Many small jokes were played upon unsuspecting persons.
The joke of the day was the Sun’s article entitled “Extra, A Great Mystery.” This article was imaginary from beginning to end and was prepared especially for the day. The paper had hardly reached the street before people were enquiring for the reporter who saw the murder and asking for more details.
One many said, after he found out the joke, that the Sun reporter should be beaten for scaring the women and children so badly.
The local reporter of the Rocjester Sentinel said that the writer had better learn to write murders up without repeating the same words, “reporter” and “victim” so many times or go out of business entirely. One on you Mr. Reporter.
Town Marshal Collins and Deputy Coroner Putnam were besieged with inquiries about the tragedy and it cost more than one man a good ten cent cigar to find out the joke.
Two of our local attorneys went to Chicago on the seven o’clock train and were discussing the legal points of the case and the chance of catching the murderers. Two gentlemen who had caught on sat in the seat behind the attorneys and when they reached the Chicago depot they were told the joke and had to stand the treats.
A man in the tin shop visited the beach Sunday and after going over the ground named he returned to the works the next day and declared that he saw where the scuffling took place. Another party went to the beach and one of them declared that she could see blood stains on the sand.
Sunday the beach was lined with people who had come down to look over the scene of the tragedy.