Behind the Scenes at the EOA: April Fools’ Day Entries

By the time you read this, the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas (EOA) will have posted our annual April Fools’ Day entry, and while everyone seems to appreciate them, you should know that I’m not just making stuff up. Or that I’m not making everything up in these entries. I undertake a lot of hard work to make things funny.

Concocted propaganda image developed by opponents to women’s suffrage to fuel the “breeches panic” of the early 1910s.

You may have guessed at that level of effort, given that I did do a spoof version of the whole of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” for our entry, “The Possum” (2017). But that’s by no means the whole of it. When I was writing our 2020 entry, “Breeches Panic (1910s),” I scoured the 2008 Historical Report to the Secretary of State of Arkansas for the names of legislators serving contemporaneous to the fictional action, names offered great potential for punning, which is how I came up with the likes of M. O. Penix and Madison K. Moran and C. T. Cockburn. Those are the real names of men who served in the Arkansas General Assembly! And at the time during which the entry takes place!

And I’m betting that you didn’t even notice it. Those historically accurate names are like the brushstrokes of Michelangelo.

In a similar manner, when I wrote the absurdly long and long-titled Gösta von Fersens underbara resa genom de södra amerikanska delstaterna och bortom Mississippi floden, med berättelser om manga konstiga och gåtfulla händelser in 2022, I tried to ground it in reality as much as possible, noting that the author of the book in question was kin to noted Swedish diplomat Axel von Fersen, whose life I had learned about listening to an episode of the podcast P3 Historia. And the company that published this travelogue was Albert Bonniers Förlag, which really was founded in 1837, as our entry says. A lot of knowledge went into a 2,000-word piece that was written exclusively for the final payoff: a play on the name of “Hillcrest.”

Also notable is that, back in 2012, the EOA media editor Michael Keckhaver and I went to visit the pig farm of an acquaintance to get the joke shot of a man allegedly milking swine for our Woo Pig Brie entry. I had to talk a real farmer into pretending to milk his pigs just for that shot. April Fools’ Day is no joke for us! (Michael has also done a lot of photoshop work to create absurd images, as with the alleged movie still from Boll Eevil, in which a woman is attacked by giant bugs.)

Now, my staff unfailingly ensures that nothing too obscene gets presented to the public at large, reminding me that the EOA is aimed primarily toward schoolchildren, and so we should be as clean as possible in our humor. But I can sometimes sneak a little bit of filth past folks. I mean, it apparently didn’t occur to any of them, when it came time to read over “Caber Toss” (2018), to think about what the initials of the Southeast Arkansas Caber Association Spring Highland Intramural Tournament would spell.

April Fools’ Day has become our own little holiday here in the halls of the EOA. We launched our site to the public on May 2, 2006, too late for any April merriment that year, but in 2007 we posted “Ouachitater Buffaloes,” a little piece I cobbled together based on an inside joke between my wife and me at the time. In hindsight, it’s maybe not that funny, but we’ve gotten better at presenting these spoof entries as our Arkansas history knowledge has deepened over time.

It takes a deep reserve of fact to craft something truly fallacious. Nothing warmed my heart more than to receive an email from a professor, whose name I won’t reveal, back in 2014, who wrote to tell me that our entry on Elija Caesar Swann had the wrong image. Of course it had the wrong image—we picked a random, public domain picture of a Civil War veteran to illustrate it. So I told him to check his calendar, which he did, and then chuckled. And yes, I am still proud of the made-up book title Swann’s Way: A Remembrance of Things Blasted. If you can include the term “possum innards” in the same paragraph as a Marcel Proust pun, you have produced genuine art.

Back during the COVID-19 pandemic, we ran our own April Fools’ entry as usual but also opened up a competition that allowed others to submit their own creations. My favorite was Abby Burnett’s “Pinehill Paper Mill Fire of 1899,” but I was outvoted and John Kirk’s “Arkansas Egg Men” was declared the winner by my staff. Among the rules we established for the competition was the inclusion of a mention of Michael B. Dougan, longtime professor of history at Arkansas State University who, early on, become something of a guiding star for us for his deep knowledge of the state combined with a healthy sense of the absurd. Since our 2008 entry, “Bartleby Clown College,” we’ve included a made-up quote from him in each year’s entry.

And in case you missed yesterday’s masterpiece of culinary history, you can find it here.

So there you go—a little peek into the April Fools’ Day entry process. I hope this doesn’t ruin your enjoyment of our yearly diversions. As I say, knowing more Arkansas history, for us, makes it possible to be ever funnier (we think) as the years go on, a worthy goal.

By Guy Lancaster, editor of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas




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