Don’t you just love April Fools’ Day? Don’t you just love when every publication on planet Earth suddenly thinks they’re The Onion and pens some rib-tickling “satire”? Yeah, ugh. Anyway, here are a few amusing goofs, pranks, hoaxes, and festival fuck-ups from Milwaukee’s recent past.
Every few years the internet remembers the trolling genius of one Milwaukee man and smiles. (And no, we don’t mean this guy.) In case you don’t hang out on the Milwaukee subreddit where this story is posted every three months, let us recap: In 1978, Milwaukee artist Mark Gubin painted “WELCOME TO CLEVELAND” in big block letters on the roof of his Bay View home and studio. That’s it. Why did he do it, and why does he keep the letters there to this day? To mess with folks flying into Milwaukee’s Mitchell Airport, that’s why.
“I never did it as any kind of thing to help my business or anything like that,” Gubin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2015. “It was just plain madness. You need that in the world,” Amen, Mark. We do need madness in the world, especially when that madness gently pokes fun at the sameness of Midwestern cities and becomes a worldwide phenomenon. God bless this man. And God bless Ohio.
Call this one a story of Milwaukee fooling itself—in more ways than one. In the summer of 2003, the biggest ticket in town was Harley-Davidson’s 100th Anniversary blowout. The party—which, let’s be honest, was more a regional shindig than a national celebration—was set to culminate with a free concert in Veteran’s Park dubbed, well, “The Party.” To make matters more interesting, the lineup of “The Party” was kept a secret. So who was playing? Even though the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had pegged Elton John as the likely headliner weeks earlier, Milwaukee somehow got it in its collective head that everyone from Bruce Springsteen to the Rolling Stones were showing up. What could possibly go wrong?
In the end, it was John (and the Doobie Brothers, Tim McGraw, Kid Rock, and, um, Dan Aykroyd), and the crowd, to say the least, was unimpressed. Yes, John’s setlist of stone-cold classics “was met with scattered applause and a smattering of boos.” Yes, people left early. Yes, people wrote angry letters to the editor. And, yes, people pretended that Harley was still a dangerous counterculture lifestyle, and that it was not, in fact, more aligned with Elton John’s safe radio rock than anyone would care to admit.
(An aside: We have a 60-something family friend who, until last year, was convinced Elton John’s “Bennie And The Jets” was about the country of Bangladesh. Like, he thought chorus was “B-b-b-bangle and the desh.” Incredible.)
“From the glitz of the canning district to the slow jazz down by the piers, there’s always something cooking in Milwaukee.” So began “This Is My Milwaukee,” an apparent tourism video that briefly flummoxed Milwaukee back in 2008. From there…things got weirder. There were shots of subways and skyscrapers. There was mention of Milwaukee’s chief export, flax seed. There were references to the “Milwaukee Seasonal Pops Orchestra,” the “Broadway Big Shots” theater troupe, the ominous “Blackstar” corporation, and, um, staying out of “Sector 21” and never leaving home without a “rebreather and a flare gun.” Pretty shots of the art museum this wasn’t.
So what was going on? Even though Milwaukee was temporarily baffled (“We’re getting deluged with e-mails asking us about a peculiar new Web site that just popped up called thisismymilwaukee.com, and we’re just as stumped as you,” said OnMilwaukee), “This Is My Milwaukee” was soon revealed to be part of one of those dumb alternate reality game. The game was the work of Synydyne, an art collective helmed by New York artists Thomas Bender and Jacob Bakkila. A few years later, Synydyne would become better known as the group behind the “beloved Twitter spam account” @Horse_ebooks. None of it had anything to do with Milwaukee, of course, which only made the video’s generic tourism vibe even funnier.
On the early, early morning of February 27, 2018, just 13 minutes into FOX6’s ever-chipper WakeUp program, a tower camera mounted high above Downtown Milwaukee caught a glimpse of some strange lights darting around in the pre-dawn sky. “Are those fireworks? What is that?” the show’s hosts initially wondered, before landing on the meme-worthy explanation of “Aliens?” “It’s getting weirder by the second!” they later exclaimed. “Um…we’re gonna…do some…digging.” Not since the Great Milwaukee UFO Invasion of 2015 was the city this worked up about easily explainable lights in the sky.
So yeah, everyone soon discovered that that the “lights” were just a flock of seagulls flying over Milwaukee County Courthouse, an optical illusion produced by the shutter speed and frame rate of the camera. Hell, FOX6’s Amy DuPont even went down to the courthouse and shot a second video of the seagulls, just to put the whole thing to rest. But the internet, being the internet, wasn’t convinced. Countless tired, weary conspiracy theories popped up in the wake of Seagullgate 2018, and countless tired, weary conspiracy theories persist to this day. They’re all baloney, of course, though we love the idea of a FOX6 morning show being in on an elaborate government conspiracy.
Okay, did anyone ever figure out if this was real? First spotted in 2015, the so-called “Milwaukee Lion” resurfaced on New Year’s Day 2018, when a backyard security camera captured footage of the elusive beast. Maybe. WISN was the first out of the gate with the ferocious feline footage, which showed a big-ass cat walking through the backyard of Isaiah Hair, near North 41st Street and West Capitol Drive. “I watch Animal Planet all the time,” said a neighbor. “That is off the TV!”