Editor's note: As part of the celebration of its 100th year of publication as a daily newspaper, the Brattleboro Reformer presents another look at memorable moments in its history.
BRATTLEBORO -- Now that April Fools' Day is safely in the past, many of us can breathe a sigh of relief. Anyone who has a jokester in their midst knows that for them, April 1 is what Thanksgiving is to great cooks -- a time to revel in what they do best. And no one, or thing, is exempt from the trickery, including the Brattleboro Reformer.
Mike Jerald, formerly an administrator at the Experiment in International Living, shared with me a memorable April Fools' prank he was party to in the ‘80s. His friend Henry Taggard, an insurance agent for Richards Gates Hoffman & Clay, is one who carries the prankster gene, and in November of 1983 Henry hatched a plan to pull one over on our daily paper. He presented his scheme to create a parody of the Brattleboro Reformer called the ‘Brattleboro Informer" to child psychologist Stuart Copans. Stuart loved the idea so much he in turn recruited Mike Jerald, and together they approached Roger Miller, publisher and owner of The Town Criers, for his help.
The idea was to spoof the paper in every way possible and publish it for April Fools' Day, 1984. Roger was soooo on board. The core group grew to include architect George Heller, photographer Alan Gill and his wife Marilyn, and attorney Douglas Wilson. They met weekly, compiling their surreptitious journalism amongst giggles and guffaws. What started out to be a 4-page production quickly grew to 10 pages as the ideas and laughs kept flowing with the help of stringers Eric Evans, Chistina Gribbans, Don McLean, William Stearns and Alex Silverman and others. Roger Miller bore the brunt of the financial burden for the production, and as this prolific core group kept needing to add pages, Roger sought out more advertisers, in secret of course, to help pay for it. The regular ads were "real" paid ads, while the front page boxes, classified listings and real estate ads were all fake, Just to get an idea of silliness, one front page box advertised CROCUSES, Democratic & Republican.
And no one was safe from their sharp pens. Madeline Kunin was accused of balancing the state budget by selling Vermont's covered bridges to Saudi Arabia, Gov. Richard A. Snelling was spoofed on an announcement that he would run for governor for a fifth term. The pranking hit locally too. The following story ran below the fold on the front page: Headline: Moulton Moves Monadnock, by Barr Nagg. "Elbert Moulton, Ebullient Director of the BDCC, is currently in the process of arranging the transfer of Mt. Monadnock from its historic setting, just east of Keene, N.H. to the Retreat Meadows, off Route 30." The story goes on with tongue-in-cheek descriptions of just how that would be accomplished!
The Brattleboro Informer flag mimics the Reformer's typeface, claiming "Fools rush in .. not for profit, but for fun" as the motto rather than "News to start your day!" Page after page is filled with recreated versions of regularly featured items in the Reformer -- with a twist. Fake TV listings, fake radio schedules and even poor Dear Abby was targeted as Dear Gabby.
Gary Carrier was featured as "Carrier of the Month" reporters' names were played upon, articles were continued on pages that didn't exist, an ad touted a supermarket with no stamps (remember those?) no deals, no giveaways and no games, and fictitious columnist Peggy Gourmand gave great instructions on how to cook a mud pie. One marriage announcement date coincided with the couple's baby's birth announcement alongside a birth announcement of SEVEN puppies. And the mockery goes on and on and on.
To implement the sneak attack, these papers were delivered on Saturday, the day before Sunday, April 1.1984 by the paper carriers from the Town Crier. They were also placed on sale at Baker's Bookstore on Main Street for 30 cents each. It was such a surprise to Reformer reporter Bruce Simons it spurred two articles by him on the subject in the days that followed. Bruce described how he excitedly first thought that, as a reporter, he was now getting a free copy of the Reformer delivered to his home -- until he took a closer look.
"Someone had undertaken an amazing prank. Someone with time, money, imagination -- and an access to printing facilities. (the accompanying story explains how the 10-page "Brattleboro Informer" came about, and which collection of local pranksters did it.)" Bruce wrote on April 3, 1984. Bruce's accompanying article described each culprit and their contributions, naming Stuart Copans as a closet prankster.
Greg Worden, owner of Vermont Artisan Designs was a Reformer editor at the time and remembers his reaction was a bit of shock at how could they have done this without the Reformer's knowledge. "I thought it was kind of funny. Interesting that people would spend that much time on it. It was a pretty good publication. Nice spoof at the time," Greg said.
Norm Runnion, managing editor of the Brattleboro Reformer at the time remembers his first thought was "I wish we had written these stories ourselves!" He said, "I thought it was great. No better flattery than to be mimicked." He suggested that after all these years that it be done again.
The Brattleboro Informer was produced again for April Fools' Day in 1985, although just as creative as the first one, it lacked the element of surprise so it wasn't repeated again.
When Mike asked Roger Miller a few years later, half joking, if he wanted to produce another Informer, Roger was not so enthusiastic, after all, how can you top that!