Cover Story | ESM 40

ESM's Favorite April Fool's Pranks

Remember when we tricked you?


April Fools, or the 32nd day of March, became almost a sacred holiday at East Side Monthly. When we started our tradition there was no Internet to speak of. News came from mainstream outlets and “breaking news” meant that you read the paper before your neighbor. Our headlines were often on the edge of reality, but hopefully just credible enough to garner reader’s attention.

The April issue became the favorite and most well read, and while people began to figure it out over time, many were still caught off guard, especially when we changed our publication schedule and the issue came out in late March.

A common premise was that the City of Providence was in a dire financial condition… Oh, what a surprise! We caused the Providence City Hall switchboard to shut down following an overwhelming response to one story and generated national and international press following up on others. Enjoy the memories.

Nuclear Plant Planned for East Providence

It started in 1990 with the over-the-top East Side hysteria over the proposed Newbay power plant in East Providence.

The term NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) joined the vocabulary of many of us. Initially, the issue was over its height and the pollution it would spew onto the East Side. So we ran a cover story that said that the proposed plant was being redesigned as a nuclear power plant. Many people didn’t even read the story, got upset and berated their elected officials to complain. A tradition had begun.

Cianci Declares War on Commuters, Toll Booths to Go up Tuesday
In 1991, with the City of Providence in a somewhat precarious financial position, we struck again with Mayor Buddy Cianci declaring war on commuters and his plan to place tollbooths on every street that came into Providence. An elaborate map (complete with dots) showed the location of each tollbooth. With Buddy declaring “starting on Tuesday we will all know for whom the toll bells. It tolls for thee, if thee does not live in Providence.” The toll was only $.25 but would bring in $25,000,000 in annual revenue. All of the radio stations picked up the story, and the day it hit the streets hundreds of phone calls flooded City Hall shutting down the switchboard.

Narragansett Indians Seek Return of Providence Land, Plan Casino Complex
In 1993, we had the Narragansett Indians in Federal Court arguing through their attorney, Lawrence Tribe, their claim for the land while Mayor Buddy Cianci had “reservations.” The timing coincided with the completion of the Convention Center, where there were major concerns about the economic viability of the building. Interestingly, had our story been true, it would have secured a serious revenue stream for the City and the State. Even Attorney General Jeff Pine, an East Sider himself who traced his roots to the Indian Leader White Fish of the Mischpoochas, weighed in.

Brown, Johnson & Wales to Merge
In 1994, we had Brown merging with Johnson & Wales with Brown President Vartan Gregorian declaring, “When I first came to Providence I heard about this little cooking school called Johnson & Wales and I thought ‘They Cook, We Eat!’ how nice.” Jack Yenna, JWU president, initiated the conversation noting the similarities between the two universities: “I told Vartan that our tuitions are the same, our curriculums are similar and our graduates end up waiting on tables.” Students at both schools had mixed reactions. “I hear them (JWU students) referring to a woman’s nice buns and my blood boils until I realize that they’re referring to something that was baked,” explained a politically correct Brown undergrad.

City to Sell Off Part of East Side to Balance Budget
In 1996, with Providence finances still in bad shape, we sold a portion of the East Side to Barrington following an ”influx of new residents moving into restricted areas of Barrington. Barringtonside would allow Barrington to offer the caché of Barrington without actually having to deal with any newcomers directly.” Constance Worthaton, a long time Barrington resident, explained, “what’s the point of having a country club if you let everyone join.” Mayor Cianci tried to counter by saying the East Side and Barrington have a lot in common. “The Junior League is headquartered here after all.” Constance shot back, “Mayor, why do you think it’s the Junior League?”

John F. Kennedy, Jr to be Named Next President of Brown

In 1997, we actually produced a worldwide response when we reported that John F. Kennedy, Jr., a Brown alumnus, would be named the new President of the University. The timing was perfect as Vartan Gregorian had announced his departure and a search was on. The Brown communications office was overwhelmed with press inquiries including a reporter from The London Times who called Brown’s press officer who responded indignantly, “Do you think that we would announce this through a local newspaper?” And, was met with the classic follow-up, “Are you confirming or denying the story?”

City Plans New WaterFire Exhibit for Boulevard
In 1998, as dredging was beginning on our downtown rivers putting WaterFire on hold, we announced that the event would be temporarily moved to Blackstone Boulevard. Calling itself “LandFire,” golf carts would tow wheelbarrows to restoke the urns that would be placed right down the middle of the median. The concept was created by world famous artist Chemin de Feu who noted that the idea came to him when he saw a driver on the Boulevard toss a cigarette out his window and hit a jogger who became a torch.

Hillary Clinton to Run for Chafee’s Senate Seat
In 1999, we had First Lady Hillary Clinton announcing her intention to run for John Chafee’s senate seat. This was before she officially chose New York State a year later. Citing a friendly press, a state that you can cover in 90 minutes and the popularity of her husband, she thought it was a lock.

Lifespan Declares RI Healthy, Will Stop Seeing Patients
In 2000, Lifespan declared that RI was healthy and would stop seeing patients. Called “Rhode Island: The Healthy Years,” the hospital conglomerate justified the decision based on the dramatic rise of the value of its real estate, providing a great opportunity for shareholders to maximize their value. Doctors pointed out that overall RI was healthy, “Oh there are some sick people here, as a matter of fact some very, very sick people in RI, but they don’t need a hospital, if you know what we mean.”

Preservation Society to Implement New Historic Demolition Plan

In 2001, the Providence Preservation Society was implementing a new historic demolition plan “targeting properties that have not lived up to our expectations.” It would give PPS an opportunity to reclaim parts of neighborhoods that have been lost to people “who don’t truly believe in, or understand serious preservation and shouldn’t be living there anyway.”

North Burial Ground Sold, New Vineyard Planned
This one actually got us into trouble. In 2002, we sold the North Burial Ground for a new vineyard. Buddy was selling the cemetery to raise money for the City’s most recent revenue shortfall. He also announced his own wine brands: Mayor’s Own Bordeaux (MOB); Mayor’s Own Muscatel (MOM); Mayor’s Own Port (MOP); Mayor’s Own Ouzo (MOO) to supplement the Federal Hill Reserve; a Merlot de Mineral Spring; and Chianti Cianci. Unfortunately we also announced negotiation had begun with nearby Swan Point Cemetery about the relocation of plots. After several legal threats and an apology from us, all was resolved.

The Big Merge… Cranston Preparing to Become Part of Providence
In 2004, Mayors Cicilline and Laffey, under the direction of Governor Carcieri, agreed to a friendly merger that would dramatically change the financial viability of both cities. With tax-exempt institutions killing both cities, Laffey threatened to evict his biggest tax exempt, the ACI, which had gotten the Governor’s full attention very quickly.

City Considering New Tax on Dogs

In 2005, with an election year looming and a $30,000,000 city deficit, Mayor Cicilline, looking for more revenue, proposed raising the dog license fee from $10 to $100 (a 13 dog-years increase) and adding a dog impact fee ranging from $50-$200 per dog. “There is still some debate whether the fees should be computed based on the size of the dog, the number of times it needs to be walked or the amount of you-know-what it produces,” said Cicilline’s Director of Administration John Simmons. A new group DOG-GONE IT (Dog Owners Grumbling Greatly Over Needless Extra In-city Taxes) was organizing to protest the new proposed program.

Casino Riverboats Proposed for India Point

In 2006, Faber University and the City signed an agreement to build a campus at India Point and the University (the successor to Faber College) agreed to an annual payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) of $100,000,000. They intended to run a major riverboat gambling operation hidden within the college, which according to Mayor Cicilline they failed to disclose. The 1,000-car parking garage with a classroom on top might have been a hint.

Major Changes to Follow Mandle’s Departure at RISD

In 2007, the RISD Board realized that they needed the Benjamins not the Berninis and were looking to increase their fundraising. This followed the RISD strategic plan: RISD – E – F – G to create a series of schools following the alphabet. “We envision a school that will challenge Type-A engineers to design ‘really cool looking stuff.’”

Luxury Suites Proposed for State House

In 2008, we reported on new luxury suites proposed for State House. “It’s been very successful in Foxboro,” offered Governor Carcieri who thought that each of the 30 boxes would bring in around $900,000 per box. Ironically, we had Speaker Gordon Fox suggesting that $500,000 was more in line with reality but “retracted it when an aide pointed out the gentlemen wearing dark suits with the FBI who were ‘observing.’”

Cianci to Head Group Buying Providence Journal

In 2009, following the bankruptcy filing of The Philadelphia Enquirer, The New Haven Register and the Rocky Mountain Post and Buddy’s vitriolic hatred of the newspaper, it was certainly plausible. And, their bid of $38,500,000 was fairly close to what the Journal actually sold for this past year! Who knew?

Wind Turbines Proposed for Old Shooters Site

In 2010, we had a wind farm off India Point that would power the East Side and also get rid of the power lines at the same time. “We’re Big Fans” read the buttons of proponents and politicians. Smarting from the absurd $100,000 “P” commissioned by the Cicilline Administration, slogans such as “Providence… Passing Wind” and “Providence: The City of The Big Blow” started to surface.


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