3 Legendary Pranksters From Before The Age Of Television


The truth about prank is that pranks have been around much longer than either television or the Internet. As that might seem hard to believe, this list will review 3 legendary pranksters whose most memorable antics occurred before Television became popular in the 1950s.

Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift’s most famous work, Gulliver’s Travels, documents the tale of an Englishman who visits many strange lands. Despite the work’s fantastical qualities, it is a satire of both English society as well as human nature.

Over the course of his career, Swift wrote many other satirical works, including A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burthen to their Parents or Country, which suggested that needy families could reduce their economic troubles by selling their children to wealthy people for food.

Swift is also remembered for many pranks throughout his career. In 1708, he mocked famous astrologer John Partridge by predicting that Partridge would die on March 29 of that year.

On March 30, 1708, Swift announced that Partridge had died. Many people believed him despite comments from Partridge that he was still alive.

Tristan Tzara

Born in Romania in 1896, Tristan Tzara was one of the founding members of the Dada movement through his experimentation in avant-garde poetry and performance art. Art books rarely give this title to Tzara, however, because he rejected a role as leader and this type of hierarchy is against the principles of the Dada movement.

In 1920, after World War I, the Dada movement spread from Switzerland to New York, Paris, Cologne, and Berlin. That same year, Tzara relocated to Paris where he spent time with other surrealists, including Andre Breton, who lived in the city.

During this time, Tzara became involved in numerous Dada experiments which drew attention to the movement through the use of false advertising and hoaxes to mock the importance of events reported in the news.

One of these pranks involved announcing that Charlie Chaplin was scheduled to appear in a show when no such arrangement existed. Another event involved the publication of news about a fake duel between Tzara and fellow Dada artist Hans Arp. The two men went so far as to publish stories in Swiss newspapers.

Princess Caraboo

Mary Baker of Bristol, England, is best remembered for posing as Princess Caraboo in 19th-century England. Baker was even able to fool the town of Bristol into believing the resulting myth for several months.

In April 1817, a cobbler in Gloucestershire met Baker disguised as the poor, disoriented Princess Caraboo, who was placed into the control of the local magistrate. Later, Princess Caraboo was sent to a local inn where she identified the portrait of a pineapple and demanded to sleep on the floor. The local magistrate, however, insisted that Princess Caraboo be tried for vagrancy.

The legitimacy of the princess remained greatly disputed. One Portuguese sailor even claimed to have conversed in her native language. Princess Caraboo also became the favorite of local royalty.

In actuality, she was an English servant girl who had invented a fictitious language to further an imaginary character. Odd marks on the woman’s head were from a botched operation in a London poorhouse. Before the woman’s death, she made a living selling leeches at the Bristol Infirmary Hospital.

The legend of Princess Caraboo was so popular that a film based on the story was made in 1994.


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