Saving Daylight

Here’s a friendly reminder in case you usually sleep through it—daylight saving time starts this weekend. Yup, it’s time for bags under the eyes, sleepy drivers, and excessive caffeine consumption.

In honor of our lost hour of sleep, I did a little research and came across a now-famous prank at the Museum of Hoaxes website. (If you’re unfamiliar with this site, I highly recommend checking it out!) Maybe it’s a mistake to change our clocks so close to April Fool’s Day.

With a circulation hovering around 1,200 subscribers, The Eldorado (Illinois) Daily Journal is one of the smallest daily newspapers in the United States. However, in 1984 managing editor Bob Ellis managed to play a prank that fooled an awful lot of people.

In an article that was printed on April 1 of that year, a contest was announced to see who could save the most daylight before the clocks were set back again in the fall.

The rules, quoted from the UPI article (available at the Snopes website), included:

  • “Beginning with the first day of Daylight Savings Time, those entering the contest must begin saving daylight. Those who save the most daylight by midnight of the last day of Daylight Savings Time will be awarded a prize.
  • “Only pure daylight is allowed. No pre-dawn light or twilight will be accepted. Daylight on cloudy days is allowable. Moonlight is strictly prohibited and any of it mixed with daylight will bring immediate disqualification.
  • “Contestants are instructed to save their accumulated daylight in any container they wish, then bring the container to the Daily Journal office at the end of DST—or when they think they have saved enough daylight to win.”

In the article, Ellis even pointed out that the contest was intentionally being announced on April Fool’s Day. Apparently, that wasn’t enough to send up a red flag.

Almost immediately after the item ran, correspondents from several national networks, including CBS and NBC, called Ellis for live, on-the-air radio interviews. Other radio stations, newspapers, and television stations across the country quickly picked up the story. Ellis was stunned by the response.

How could otherwise intelligent people be so easily fooled? I’d chalk it up to sleep deprivation, except that at the time, daylight saving time regularly started at the end of April, several weeks after the article appeared. Maybe the Press was just more interested in a getting a good story than in checking out the “facts.”

In any case, I hate getting up in the dark—maybe the Eldorado Daily Journal editors were onto something.

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