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Historical Fallacies, Urban Legends & Hoaxes

Taller-than-life beliefs of (and about) the past.

Aesop the Fabulist: A Brief Biography
Aesop, the great fabulist (author of fables) of ancient Greece, was himself the subject of legend.

April Fools' Day: Origin & History
Notes on the origin and history of April Fools Day, and some memorable pranks from years past

Churchill, Farmer Fleming, and Penicillin
Did the son of a Scottish farmer who allegedly saved the life of the young Winston Churchill grow up to become the inventor of penicillin, which supposedly saved the life of the adult Churchill many years later?

Clement C. Moore: The Reluctant Mythmaker
Clement Clarke Moore, the presumed author of 'A Visit from St. Nicholas,' never wanted to see the poem published but helped shape an enduring myth of our time.

Debunking the Presidents
The real story behind George Washington's "wooden" teeth and other presidential errata.

Did a Mummy's Curse Sink the Titanic?
In this viral email, a 3,500-year-old mummy case supposedly containing the cursed remains of the Egyptian Princess of Amen-Ra is blamed for the sinking of the Titanic.

Friday the 13th - Why It's Unlucky
Determining the origins of superstitions is an imprecise science, at best; in fact, it's mostly guesswork.

General Giap on How U.S. Lost the Vietnam War
Bogus passage allegedly penned by former North Vietnam General Vo Nguyen Giap attributes U.S. loss of the Vietnam War to homefront disruption caused by biased media.

Good Luck, Mr. Gorsky
Did Neil Armstrong's moon landing speech contain a secret naughty reference?

The Grave Cage (Photo)
Were iron cages placed over graves during the Victorian era to prevent vampires and zombies from returning from the dead?

Holocaust Memorial Chain Letter
Email chain letter urges remembrance of the Holocaust and claims the U.K. has removed all mention of the event from its school curriculum for fear of offending Muslims

The Irena Sendler Story
Forwarded email purports to tell the true story of Irena Sendler, a Polish woman nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for saving 2,500 Jewish children by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.

JFK: 'I am a Jelly Donut'
Was John F. Kennedy's 1963 "Ich bin ein Berliner" comment a linguistic flub?

Lady Godiva
First, the good news: Lady Godiva, the 11th-century noblewoman who according to legend rode naked on horseback through the streets of Coventry to persuade her husband to stop taxing the peasants, really existed...

Leap Year / Leap Day
Folklore and traditions associated with the phenomenon of leap years

The Lincoln / Kennedy Coincidences
A list of carefully selected facts (and non-facts) purports to show a number of 'eerie' coincidences between the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865 and that of John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Marie Antoinette: 'Let Them Eat Cake'
Did Marie Antoinette really say "Let them eat cake" upon hearing that the French peasantry was complaining about a shortage of food?

The Great Boston Molasses Flood
The true story of a sweet but deadly disaster that befell Boston in 1919.

The Mysterious Staircase
Emailed slideshow tells the story of a mysterious staircase at Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico and its miraculous construction by an unknown carpenter without the use of nails, glue, or central support.

NASA's $12 Billion Zero-Gravity Pen
Did NASA actually spend $12 billion to develop a ballpoint pen for astronauts working in zero gravity?

NY Times Front Page on Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Circulating via email, an image purporting to show the front page of the May 10, 1943 edition of the New York Times with a headline declaring that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising against Nazi oppression was an "over-reaction."

Origin of the F-Word
In ancient England a person could not have sex unless they had the king's consent. When anyone wanted to have a baby, they got consent of the king, who gave them a placard to hang on their door...

Origin of the S-Word
In olden days -- or so we are told -- shippers stamped the acronym "S.H.I.T." (Ship High in Transit) on crates of cow manure to prevent them from from being stowed below deck and causing methane explosions.

Pluck Yew (Origin of 'The Finger')
Supposedly, both the expression "F--- you" and the obscene gesture commonly referred to in America as "the finger" originated with uppity British archers during the Hundred Years' War.

The Great Boston Molasses Flood
Boston, 1919: 21 people were killed and 150 injured in one of the most bizarre disasters in American history, the Great Boston Molasses Flood

Prehistoric Barbie Doll
The Smithsonian Institution responds to notification of an unusual find in a backyard archaeological dig - the two-million-year-old head of a Malibu Barbie Doll.

Prester John
About's Geography Guide explains how a medieval "chain letter" (of sorts) touting the existence of a Fountain of Youth spurred European exploration of Asia and Africa.

Moon Landing 'Hoax'
Some say Neil Armstong's celebrated walk on the moon was actually televised from a sound stage in Burbank. Are they onto something?

Ronald Reagan: Grace Under the Scalpel
'Please tell me you're all Republicans,' said the president to the surgeons. Or did he?

Roswell: Birth of a Myth
Why the so-called Roswell Incident still haunts Americans, fifty-plus years later

Scary Election Statistics
Forwarded email purports to analyze the results of the 2000 (or 2008) U.S. presidential elections in terms of the population density and murder rates of parts of the country that voted Democratic vs. Republican.

Sir Thomas Crapper - Inventor of the Flush Toilet?
Unfortunately, no. History is rarely as poetic as we'd like it to be.

Statue of Liberty - A Tribute to Emancipated Slaves?
Was Lady Liberty originally intended to commemorate emancipated black slaves?

The Story of 'Taps'
History and folklore clash in this email tale about the origin of the touching and famous bugle call.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Email flier purports to describe the lifelong duties of the Honor Guard of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Univ. of Kentucky Bans Holocaust from Curriculum
Is it true that the University of Kentucky has banned teaching the history of the Holocaust from its curriculum?

University Building Dedicated to 'Abraham Lincoln, Democrat'?
Is it true that a plaque on a building owned by Northeastern Illinois University bears a dedication to "Abraham Lincoln, Democrat"?

War and Pizza
Does the volume of pizza deliveries to the White House and Pentagon increase during major military operations? A look at the Domino's Theory.

Webern's Dodecaphonic Conspiracy
Shocking (and untrue) revelations about an influential 20th century composer!

Who Killed Princess Diana?
Ten years on, conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Princess Diana have finally been laid to rest... or have they?

Yellow Ribbon 'Tradition' Is of Recent Origin
Displaying yellow ribbons to honor U.S. troops fighting overseas has become such a ubiquitous and familiar symbol that many people assume its origins to be quite old. Folklorists say its history stretches back little more than 20 years.

Pop Goes the Weasel
What does it mean? Where did it come from? I refer you to Cecil Adams for the answers.

'Ring Around the Rosie' and the Black Plague
Does this innocent-seeming Mother Goose Rhyme really contain hidden references to the horrors of the 14th-century bubonic plague?

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