Our Favorite Literary Prankster
“April 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.” –Mark Twain
When Tom Sawyer tricked a few friends into whitewashing a fence for him—a task he had been assigned as punishment—the scrappy Sawyer instantly catapulted himself into the Literary Prankster Hall of Fame. Of course, he came by it honestly: after all, his creator, Mark Twain, was one of the funniest men in literature and was known to pull pranks both on and off the page.
One of Twain’s most famous is probably his account of a petrified man found in Gravelly Ford, California. According to Twain's article, which appeared in Nevada's Territorial Enterprise on October 4, 1862, the man's remains had been discovered sitting against a rock, in a “pensive attitude,” and with “the right thumb resting against the side of the nose; the left thumb partially supported the chin, the fore-finger pressing the inner corner of the left eye and drawing it partly open; the right eye was closed, and the fingers of the right hand spread apart.” Twain goes on to describe the inquest conducted by Judge Sewell, the unsuccessful attempts to move the body, and the multitude of people who visited the corpse since its discovery.
Of course, the article was entirely false, designed in part to poke fun at Judge G.T. Sewell, a local politician that Twain didn’t particularly care for. The joke wasn’t overly obvious though, and the article was reprinted for months afterwards in various newspapers. Twain, being Twain, took it a step further, and claimed to have sent Sewell clippings of as many articles as he could find.