Meet the Man Behind the Monkey Joke

Fred Koehler Mitch and familyFolks, we told a fib in our recent blog post. There is no Downtown Lakeland Orangutan Preserve.

It’s time to give credit where credit is due: Fred Koehler is THE man. Not only is he an awesome graphic artist and children’s author/illustrator (buy his book- How to Cheer up Dad), he was the mastermind behind yesterday’s April Fool’s Day joke. Fred was nice enough to let us aid in the execution.

Downtown Lakeland is a great place to work, and yesterday showed once again that it’s a great place to play, too. From those who were in on the joke to those who knew how to take it, the Downtown Lakeland Orangutan Preserve won’t soon be forgotten.

One of my favorite calls yesterday came from a sweet voice politely explaining she had looked all around downtown- even stopped and asked a couple of local places where the preserve was. Then she realized the date and asked if this was a joke. She was such a great sport when I told her it was, in fact, a joke, and asked her to head to Mitchells Coffee House for a sticker (more on that in a bit) so she could help continue the ruse.

Another caller was less understanding:

Caller: I was trying to reach the orangutan sanctuary. Is this it?

Me: No, there isn’t a sanctuary. This was an April Fool’s Day joke.

Caller: Well I’m not laughing.

Then there was the News Channel 8 photographer who made me feel like I was getting called to the principal’s office when he met me at the top of the stairs and asked me to explain myself. “Is this an April Fool’s joke?” he asked.

“But I have a sticker,” I replied.

Yes, Fred truly thought of everything. On the advice of Laura Helm, owner of Ashton Events, he had stickers printed for us to wear and pass out to others that read, “I visited Downtown Lakeland Orangutan Preserve.”

The joke kept getting better as the day continued. People claimed on social media to have just had “breakfast with the keeper,” and Got Candy claimed to be making banana shakes with portions of proceeds going to this new sanctuary. Mitchells debuted a new drink: the “Orange-Utan Mocha Latte.” My interns longed for that to be real. Rafa Natural said it would donate 10 percent of the proceeds from their new candle scent, “Who Threw That Poo?” to the sanctuary. Did you see the person in the gorilla suit? And on and on it went.

The folks over at The Lakelander magazine got pulled into the prank without realizing it when Fred photoshopped an image of their building to include the Downtown Lakeland Orangutan Preserve sign and declared it the preserve’s official location. Jason Jacobs said they even got a visit from a 10-year-old homeschooler who was excited to see the orangutans. The “preserve” seemed to quickly evolve to include most primates, as Jason captured this video of a gorilla who came to his office yesterday:

There have been lots of meetings lately about “igniting” Lakeland; identifying ways in which our town can be cooler, more engaging, more enticing for young people to want to stick around after college graduation. Friends, I have news for you: we know how to have fun. Like any town, there are elements that absolutely could be better. But yesterday, like almost every day for the past 15 years, I was stoked to be a Lakelander, and specifically to be a part of the awesome fabric of downtown Lakeland. I ended the day yesterday feeling as though we truly had ignited creativity and imagination in a small portion of Lakeland. Thanks for playing along.