1. Archive

Believe it or not, at your own risk

(ran E edition)

The intent of this column is to make all of those people who thought our imaginary Cenozoic Park feature last week was the real thing feel a little bit better about being temporarily taken in by some imaginative writing and superb art work.

It's a story about a young television reporter in Illinois in the early 1970s who took a much bigger bite of the same apple _ and in front of witnesses.

The Kankakee Daily Journal, as it was called then, used to play an annual April Fool's Day joke on its readers by planting a bogus story and photograph on Page One of the paper on that day each year.

One year, we had about 3,000 people show up at a nearby state park for tryouts for the Daniel Boone show. We also had a flying saucer being pulled from the Kankakee River, an invasion of giant (6-foot) frogs and a Soviet space capsule landing on the courthouse lawn.

(We were taken to task on the space capsule by the 6-year-old son of our city editor who pointed out that a real Soviet capsule would have CCCP on its side instead of the USSR airbrushed in by our photographers.)

The dead giveaway every year was that there was always a Middle European (usually Hungarian) physicist, biologist, filmmaker or other expert quoted and his name was always Lirpa Loof (April Fool backward . . . get it?)

Also the photo credit was always the name of a veteran photographer _ Armand Korstick, also spelled backward.

Every year dozens, sometimes hundreds, of people would show up on the river banks or at the courthouse waiting to see the famous Lirpa Loof at work. They usually took the joke pretty well when it was revealed.

But the lawyer types got edgy.

What would happen when somebody on the way to one of our spoof sites was involved in an accident, or had a coronary at the thought of giant frogs carrying away their children?

And, although all the breastbeating about media credibility had not yet begun (shucks, we even believed presidents back then . . . well . . . some of them), there was some discussion about the advisability of deliberately publishing untrue stories. Editors began having nightmares about being on the witness stand defending the publication's reputation for accuracy and suddenly having the frog story thrust into their faces.

And so it was that we came to the last April Fool's Joke, in 1972 when a massive pit was being excavated for bank construction next to the building that housed the newspaper, a radio station and the cable television operation, for which an earlier version of Wife did news reports.

Workers at the site, we reported in our afternoon edition, found a live dinosaur egg that, the famous Dr. Lirpa Loof deduced, was ready to hatch at any moment. National Guard units had been posted around the site, floodlights set up and emergency services were on alert.

"Damn!" Wife-minus-two said when she picked up the paper, "I can't believe we missed that."

I pretended to be equally shocked. "All you had to do was look out the window .


. how could you not see?"

She was already out the door, bulky video camera and power packs draped all over her and racing to get the story on the air as soon as possible.

I guess the gentlemanly thing to do would have been to stop her, but she had jumped on a few of my tips before and we had constant arguments over who would take our one automobile to "exclusive" stories.

In retrospect, I think it might have been ungentlemanly of me to call her office and mine and the radio station's so that she, camera-ready, would rush into the pit only to look up and see it rimmed with co-workers and competitors. It does, however, make it easy to date the story. It was before the divorce. Right before the divorce. Almost immediately before the divorce.

I have no plans to visit the town in which she now lives. But I'll bet her house won't be hard to find.

It'll probably be the one with the Gremlin in the driveway with a Ross Perot sticker on the bumper.

Jan Glidewell is a columnist for the Times' North Suncoast editions.