Popular Historic "Facts" That Are Actually False
Popular Historic “Facts” That Are Actually False

Popular Historic “Facts” That Are Actually False

Khalid Elhassan - March 15, 2021

Popular Historic “Facts” That Are Actually False
Monks with Saint Bernards in the Alps. Pintrest

2. Saint Bernards No Longer Conduct Alpine Rescue

The days of heroic Saint Bernard Alpine rescues – even without kegs of brandy strapped to their necks – are long gone. They have been replaced with dog breeds better suited to avalanche search-and-rescue work, such as German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers. Among other things, those dogs have an advantage over the giant Saint Bernards in that their smaller size allows them to fit more easily in rescue helicopters. The last recorded instance of a Saint Bernard doing search-and-rescue work occurred in 1955.

Popular Historic “Facts” That Are Actually False
Monk with a Saint Bernard. Fido Friendly

However, the dogs stayed with the monks for years afterwards. Out of a sense of tradition, the big dogs were kept at the Great Saint Bernard Pass Hospice until 2004. That year, the monks sold their entire kennel of 34 Saint Bernards to local animal associations. They still return to the hospice every summer during tourist season. Nowadays, because the myth of the Saint-Bernard-and-brandy-barrel has become so widespread, the monks actually do outfit the dogs with cute little brandy kegs around their necks.

Popular Historic “Facts” That Are Actually False
The false notion of Saint Bernards with small brandy barrels strapped to their neck became a cultural meme. Cartoon Collections

1. The False Belief That Brandy – or any Alcohol – Warms Up the Body

There is a widespread belief nowadays – which was even more widespread in centuries past – that brandy or other strong spirits can warm a person. Because of that, the notion that a freezing traveler caught up in an Alpine blizzard could be revived and warmed up with brandy makes intuitive common sense. However, a lot of stuff that makes intuitive common sense does not actually work anywhere near as well as common sense says it should. That includes the assertion that alcohol warms us, which is actually false.

Popular Historic “Facts” That Are Actually False
Treating hypothermia or trying to revive a freezing person with alcohol could actually backfire. Disney

Drinking strong spirits like whiskey or brandy does lead to a warming sensation, but that sensation is illusory. What alcohol does is bring our blood closer to the skin, which makes us think that we are warming up. What it does not do, however, is warm up our vital organs, whose failure from excessive cold could seriously harm or kill us. Bringing somebody’s blood closer to the skin in the cold actually speeds up the lowering of our core body temperature, and places our vital organs at greater risk. So it is a good thing that Saint Bernards toting brandy barrels is a myth: otherwise many rescue attempts would have backfired.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Ancient History Encyclopedia – Fall of the Western Roman Empire

Atkin, Ronald – Pillar of Fire: Dunkirk 1940 (1990)

Clark, Alan – Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-1945 (1985)

Daily Beast – The Myth of the Saint Bernard and the Brandy Keg

Den of Geek – The Real History Behind Bridgerton

Deak, Istvan – Europe on Trial: The Story of Resistance, Collaboration, and Retribution During World War II (2015)

Encyclopedia Britannica – Montezuma II

GQ, June 20th, 2019 – A Dirty, Rotten, Double Crossing (True) Story of What Happened to the Italian American Mob

Harvard Gazette, The, December 9th, 2010 – ‘One Drop Rule’ Persists

Historic UK – The Evacuation of Dunkirk, May 1940

Japan Talk – 8 Common Ninja Myths

JSTOR – The Mexica Didn’t Believe the Conquistadors Were Gods

I. C. B. Dear, M. R. D. Foot – Oxford Companion to World War II (2002)

Lane Fox, Robin – The Search for Alexander (1980)

Mental Floss – Why Are Saint Bernards Always Depicted With Barrels Around Their Necks?

Military History Now – Enter the Ninja: Facts and Myths About Japan’s Most Mysterious Warriors

Montefiore, Simon Sebag – Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2004)

Oprah Magazine, December 29th, 2020 – Bridgerton Doesn’t Need to Elaborate on Its Inclusion of Black Characters

Skeptoid – No, Hitler Did Not Let the British Escape at Dunkirk

SOF Rep – On This Day in History: The Only Death Sentence For Desertion in WWII is Carried Out

Vox – The Debate Over Bridgerton and Race

Washington Post, May 5th, 2017 – Five Myths About the Mafia

Washington Post, December 27th, 2020 – Was Queen Charlotte Black? Here’s What We Know

Wikipedia – The Death Match

Wikipedia – St. Bernard (Dog)

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