Residents of Sitka, Alaska were alarmed when the long-dormant volcano neighboring them, Mount Edgecumbe, suddenly began to belch out billows of black smoke. People spilled out of their homes onto the streets to gaze up at the volcano, terrified that it was active again and might soon erupt. Luckily it turned out that man, not nature, was responsible for the smoke. A local practical joker named Porky Bickar had flown hundreds of old tires into the volcano's crater and then lit them on fire, all in a (successful) attempt to fool the city dwellers into believing that the volcano was stirring to life. According to local legend, when Mount St. Helens erupted six years later, a Sitka resident wrote to Bickar to tell him, "This time you've gone too far!"
Source: Sitka Sound Records
On Kruzof Island, about 13 miles west of Sitka, Alaska, sits Mt Edgecumbe. The extinct volcano is 3,200 feet in height and covered with snow about eight months of the year.
On April 1, 1974, a clear, beautiful morning, Porky Oliver Bickar of Sitka woke up early to see Mt. Edgecumbe through the window in all its glory. Porky whispered to his wife, Patty: "This is it. We've gotta do it today." Patty smiled sweetly, kissed Porky on the forehead, and said, "Don’t make an ass of yourself."
Porky rushed to his shop (you can see the name of his shop on Old Blue) and started calling helicopter charters. He called three charters, but when they heard his plan they respectfully declined. One said he was afraid of a white-out (snow), but since the weather was absolutely clear that didn't wash. Finally, with the help of Harry Sulser, the owner of Sitka's Pioneer Bar, Porky struck pay dirt with Temsco's Earl Walker in Petersburg. Although his chopper was fog-bound, Earl loved the idea and said he would be on the way to Sitka as soon as he could see one more telephone pole.
In the meantime, Porky made up two manila rope slings about 150 feet long...each holding about 50 old car tires. He also gathered up a batch of oily rags, a gallon of sterno, a lot of diesel oil, and a dozen smoke bombs. (He didn't want us to mention where he got those. OK, Pork.)
When Earl and his chopper arrived at the old PBY and Goose turnaround (Sitka didn't have an airport then), Porky, Earl, Larry Nelson, and Ken Stedman first loaded up the incendiaries. When Earl and Porky got off the ground and hovered the chopper, Larry and Ken hooked one sling of tires to the chopper and off they went toward Mt. Edgecumbe (with FAA "legal" clearance, of course).
Within just a few minutes, Porky and Earl were flying over Mt. Edgecumbe. They could see for miles--just water and islands--with Baranof Island to the east and the open North Pacific to the west.
Porky and Earl dropped the tires into the up-til-now extinct volcano, then swung around and set the chopper down. Porky got out and unloaded all the fuel...just the right stuff to make a lot of black, smoky fire.
When Earl lifted off headed back to Sitka for the next load of tires, Porky stacked the first load in a big circle, poured on the fuel, and started to spray-paint a huge message in the snow with 50-foot letters: APRIL FOOL. When Earl returned and dumped 50 more tires into Mt. Edgecumbe, the two boys finished the arrangement...set the whole mess ablaze...and happily headed back to Sitka.
On the way back, Earl asked the FAA tower for clearance, and Homer Sutter (the controller) said "I'll bring you in as low and inconspicuously as possible...and, by the way, the son of a gun looks fantastic!" Earl set the chopper down. Mission accomplished...
Although Porky had remembered to notify both the FAA and the Sitka Police (he was a member of the police commission), he somehow forgot to notify the Coast Guard. While Mt. Edgecumbe was busy spewing out its black smoke, the Coast Guard Commander called for a chopper to investigate and sent a whale boat over to check things out. The chopper pilot radioed back to the commander that all he saw was a bunch of smoldering tires and a big April Fool sign in the snow. This was after the commander had called the Admiral in Juneau about the apparent crisis.
Jimmy Johnson, Vice President of Alaska Airlines, had also heard about Mt. Edgecumbe's activity, and called Sitka to instruct their departing plane to fly over the mountain to give all the passengers a bird’s eye view of it all. And, in the meantime, the Sitka radio station and police station phones were ringing off the hook.
We later found out that Porky's April Fool's Day caper had made AP news...worldwide.
And here is an original April 1st, 1974 photo of Mount Edgecumbe erupting. Photo courtesy of Ed Cushing
Porky is gone now, but his legend lives on forever!
And here is one more original April 1st, 1974 photo of Mount Edgecumbe erupting. Photo courtesy Charcoal Island Photography
You can also read about it on the Museum of Hoaxes site (This prank is currently ranked # 3)