Seeing Is Believing?

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easter bunny

UW-Madison Archives

Yes, Virginia, there really is an Easter Bunny — or was, before it was skinned and mounted in a display at the UW Zoological Museum in the 1970s.

At least that’s what retired zoology department illustrator (and inveterate prankster) John Dallman ’53, MS’58, PhD’77 would have you believe. Dallman worked for the museum from 1959 until 1995, and he liked a good joke. On many an April Fool’s Day, he’d add a hoax to the museum’s displays to see how people responded. The Easter Bunny (a.k.a. Leporias eastera, a.k.a. Rapa-Nui, which is Easter Island’s name in the language of its native, Polynesian people) was actually made of a block of wood covered in woodchuck fur.

But Dallman’s pranks didn’t tickle everyone’s funny bone. One April, he made a plaster cast of a gargoyle, claiming it was fossilized — a prank that, he says, fooled at least one faculty member. And in 1970, he used a plaster-covered balloon to create what he claimed was an egg for an ostrich-emu cross. (No report details whether it would be called an estrich or an omu.) The display included a slate with a countdown of days until hatching. “Not coincidentally,” says Dallman, “the hatch date was April 1.” When April Fool’s rolled around, he broke the “egg” open and left a toy bird in the display.

“A woman wrote me a note complaining that she’d come every day to the exhibit,” Dallman says. “She was … disappointed.”

Dallman created his April Fool’s jokes to serve two purposes: to provide a bit of fun and to teach a lesson. “The jokes,” he says, “were a way of imparting the fact that not everybody knows everything.”

Published in the Summer 2010 issue

Tags: Campus history

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