When the doctors said Ruth Traeger was delivering twins, Mike and Mark, nobody followed it up by shouting, “April fool!”

George and Ruth Traeger raised their family in Melrose and reside there today. They had four children shortly after they were married, after which they had a six-year gap between childbirths. By 1971, their household consisted of one boy, Ron, who was the oldest, and three girls.

“(Ron) said one day, ‘I hope Mom has twins or triplets and they’re all boys,’ and he got his wish,” Ruth said. “He wanted brothers, so he got them.”

Ruth did not gain excessive weight during her fifth pregnancy; without ultrasound technology to check inside the womb, her doctors assumed she was having one baby, and Ruth could not tell the difference.

April 1, 1972, was not only April Fools’ Day but also Holy Saturday. The Traegers were not expecting Ruth to go into labor that day; they had spent the evening at dinner with Ruth’s parents in Freeport. Fortunately, the Traegers lived across the road from the Melrose Hospital, now the CentraCare-Melrose Hospital, so it was not difficult to get to the hospital once contractions began.

The first baby was born at 10:57 p.m., and then everybody discovered Ruth was not done yet.

“I said, ‘Is it a boy?’ because we were hoping it would be a boy,” Ruth said. “The doctor said, ‘Just hang on, there’s another one coming,’ and the nurse said, ‘It never occurred to me to look for a second heartbeat.’ They truly did not know. This was a total surprise, which made it an unbelievable April Fools’ joke.”

George heard the news soon afterward.

“I was sitting in the waiting room; in those days, you didn’t go in with the mother,” George said. “The doctor came out and said, ‘It’s a boy, but there’ll be more.’”

The second boy was born five minutes after his brother, and George and Ruth named the twins Mike and Mark.

George knew the Freeport Easter Vigil Mass was held around midnight, so he waited until a little after 1 a.m. the next day to call Ruth’s parents whom they had visited the previous evening. To this day, George is emotional when he remembers giving them the unexpected news.

“I said, ‘Ruth had her baby, and they’re twins,’ and they said, ‘No, it can’t be, April 1,’” George said. “At that time, I had a Polaroid camera for my business. I took the camera, I went over to the hospital, I took a picture of each one and drove the picture up to Freeport to show them. They still wouldn’t believe me. They said, ‘Why’d you take two pictures of one?’”

While the Traegers convinced everyone they really did have twins, they were not helped by the fact that Mike and Mark were identical. Even Ruth made sure one of them was marked for at least a year so she would not mix them up, although she did once accidentally change one of their diapers twice.

Their similarity continued as the boys grew. Although Mark started wearing glasses earlier than Mike, people confused the two.

“Most of our relatives say, ‘I never know which one is which,’” Ruth said. “In fact, the principal at the high school said when he used to walk down the hall and he’d see one coming, he’d kind of cover his mouth with his hand and mumble either ‘Mike’ or ‘Mark’ so it sounded like he was saying hi to whichever one it was.”

Mike and Mark were close as children. Like about 50% of twins, they had cryptophasia when they were young, a phenomenon where twins communicate in a language only they can understand. They were both into athletics, playing baseball at their diamond at home, and they continue to play golf today.

The twins live close to each other; Mike lives and works in Sauk Centre, and Mark lives in Melrose and works in Sauk Centre. They have grown farther apart since starting their own families, but the bond remains strong.

“It seemed like they were always aware of where the other one was and what they were doing,” Ruth said.

George has observed this bond as well.

“They’re a little farther apart than they were, but they’re still two peas in a pod,” George said. “Some siblings have rivalries, but these two stick up for each other.”

Mike and Mark also have a niece who shares their April 1 birthday, and the family looks forward to making that a part of their Easter celebrations this year.