On the morning of Monday April 1, 1974, the residents of Sitka, Alaska, noted something strange in the familiar sight of Mount Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano located at the southern end of Kruzof Island, Alaska. A menacing plume of black smoke was rising from the crater!
Concerned residents called the police and firefighters and the Coast Guard commander radioed the Admiral in Juneau who ordered a chopper be sent out to investigate. As the Coast Guard pilot approached Mt. Edgecumbe, he peered down into the crater. But there was no lava to be found anywhere. Stacked in the cone of the volcano, burning with a greasy flame, was a huge pile of old tires. And spray-painted in the snow beside the tires, in 50-foot-high black letters, were the words “APRIL FOOL.”
The fake eruption of Mt. Edgecumbe was the work of a local prankster, 50-year-old Oliver “Porky” Bickar. He collected 70 old tires that he kept in an airplane hangar and then patentiely waited for three years until a bright, clear April Fool’s Day. In the early morning on April 1 he phoned Earl Walker, a chopper pilot in Petersburg offering a helicopter transportation service.
With the helicopter and the help of some friends, Bickar transported the tires and several gallons of kerosene into the crater of Mount Edgecumbe. All the men piled the tires into a stack, then lit them on fire and headed home.
Bickar had notified the Federal Aviation Administration and the local police, but he forgot about the Coast Guard.
The reaction of all involved parties, including the people in Sitka and the Coast Guard, once they realized the volcano wasn’t really erupting, was almost uniformly positive. The story got picked up by the Associated Press, and soon thereafter papers around the world covered the fake eruption of Mt. Edgecumbe. Still today many lists include Bickar’s prank among the ten best Aprils Fools hoaxes of all time.
A similar prank done six years later had more severe consequences. A Boston television station had to publicly apologize after “news” claiming that Mount Milton – a popular ski resort in Massachusetts – was a volcano ready to explode caused a mass panic. Later that year Mount St. Helens erupted in Washington State.