1 of 11
You might not expect America’s largest veterans organization to be a steadfast purveyor of pranks and gags fit for April Fools’ Day. But the annual convention of the American Legion was once as much a testing ground for practical jokes as it was a venue for serious conversation.
The 1947 meeting was held in New York City, five years after the organization, founded following WWI, voted to expand membership to WWII veterans. Knowing that the group had great clout, high-ranking military officials and politicians—senators, governors, even General Eisenhower himself—scrambled to get in front of the 41,000 members of the New York chapter.
But before the stumping began, shenanigans ruled the day. Pedestrians passed convention-goers at the risk of running into a dangling dead fish or getting drenched by squirt guns. They may not have been wildly inventive or carefully orchestrated, but the veterans seemed to accept tomfoolery as their solemn duty, even the least committed of them, as LIFE wrote, “carrying on the ancient horseplay … because it was expected of them.”
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.