These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes

Larry Holzwarth - February 1, 2019

History is a subject often distorted by the repetition of so-called facts which are misrepresentations of events and personalities. Some of these errors of fact are the result of deliberate distortions for political purposes, others simply the repetition of sloppy research, and still others the result of personal prejudice both at the time the events occurred and continuing down through the ages. Constant repetition of a falsehood does not make it a fact. Nonetheless, attempts to correct the historical record by the presentation of documented fact are often met with sneers and accusations of rewriting history for current political or sociological gain. Here are some documented historical facts which defy the popular conception of history.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Marie Antoinette has been treated unfairly by history as being heartless and callous, though she was neither. Wikimedia

1. There is no evidence that Marie Antoinette said “Let them eat cake”

The sneering comment regarding starving peasants having no bread long attributed to Marie Antoinette is erroneous, and has gone down through history as an example of the royal contempt of their citizens held by the French monarchy. In fact the phrase first appeared in the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in which it is attributed to an unnamed “great princess”. In truth Marie Antoinette was deeply concerned with the plight of the poor in France, and a generous supporter of charity. In a letter to relatives in Austria the French queen noted the loyalty and support of her poorest subjects, and observed her duty “to work hard for their happiness”.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Louis XVI of France worked as a blacksmith in the Palace of Versaille before he was guillotined during the French Revolution. Wikimedia

2. Louis XVI was far from a lazy and effeminate monarch

Louis XVI of France, who was dethroned and beheaded during the French Revolution, is usually depicted as a lazy, incompetent, and indecisive man, uncaring of his subjects and concerned solely with his own luxurious surroundings. Not true. In fact, the King of France was a practicing blacksmith, an avid hunter and horseman, and acted decisively to support the American Revolution against the British, which bankrupted his treasury and helped lead to his downfall. His reputation as a dissolute tyrant was created largely by his enemies as justification for his execution as an enemy of the people, and was both untrue and undeserved.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
French adventurism in Vietnam began during the American Revolution and continued into the 1950s. Wikimedia

3. The French were in Vietnam for nearly two hundred years

A forgotten item of history is the long presence of the French in Vietnam, which began in the late 18th century during the American Revolution. France supported allies in the internal struggle between Vietnamese leaders beginning in 1777, and their presence in what became French Indochina continued until the 1950s, though it was interrupted by the Japanese occupation during the Second World War. Temporarily evicted on several occasions, the French were always wont to return until they were finally defeated militarily by Viet Minh forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, forcing their withdrawal from Southeast Asia.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies was just one of several guidebooks for the man about town in London. Wikimedia

4. Guidebooks for brothels were published in Great Britain in the 18th century

In the mid-eighteenth century in London and other British cities guidebooks directing the reader to brothels and individual prostitutes were available for purchase. They included in most cases physical attributes of the women, the services provided, and ratings. One such guide, Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, was published in an annual edition from 1757 through 1795. The guides were often explicit in their descriptions of the ladies and included among the descriptions of the ladies the identities of some of their satisfied customers. Among them at varying times were the Duke of York (brother of George III), James Boswell, and King George IV.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Kitty Fisher was celebrated mainly for her celebrity among elite society. Wikimedia

5. Kitty Fisher became famous for being famous

Kitty Fisher was a courtesan in London in the mid-eighteenth century who became famous throughout Europe simply for being herself. She was not an actress, nor did she sing professionally, nor was she of noble blood. She became wealthy through the conduct of multiple affairs with wealthy men, and she made sure that she received jewels, furs, a fabulous wardrobe, and cash, for her part in them. Eventually she married a Member of Parliament who owned a landed estate, though she died just a few months after her marriage at the age of either 25 or 26. She was one of the earliest celebrities whose fame was based solely on her self-promotion.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Giacomo Casanova once fled from prison in a Venetian gondola. Wikimedia

6. Casanova escaped from a Venice prison – in part by gondola

Famed as a womanizer to the point that his name remains synonymous with such activity, Giacomo Casanova was once sentenced to five years imprisonment in Venice for “public outrages against the holy religion”, among other charges. While in his cell he enlisted the help of a fellow prisoner (through threats), broke out of his cell, lowered himself over the wall using a rope of bedsheets, and seizing a conveniently located gondola escaped via the canals of Venice, eventually making his way to Paris. He left behind in his cell a note containing only a line from Psalm 117, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord” (Vulgate).

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Dr. Joseph Guillotin neither invented the beheading device named for him nor died upon it as is often claimed. Wikimedia

7. Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin did not invent the beheading device named for him

An often repeated tale which lacks a kernel of truth is that Joseph Guillotin, a French physician, invented the guillotine and was later executed upon it. Guillotin and a German engineer did build a prototype of a beheading machine based on others already in use in Europe, but the true inventor of the device which became known as the guillotine was Antoine Louis. The machine was known as a louisette until Guillotin proposed its use as the means of all capital punishment in France. Guillotin was imprisoned for a time during the French Revolution, but he was released in 1794 and resumed his medical career. He died in 1814 of natural causes.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
A fresco of Ares and Aphrodite, likely from a brothel in Pompeii. Wikimedia

8. In ancient Rome prostitution was licensed and taxed

In the Roman Republic and the Empire prior to Christianity becoming the state religion, prostitution was legal, and archaeological discoveries have revealed evidence that some brothels were actually operated and maintained by the state. Citizens availed themselves of the services of prostitutes of either sex without incurring the disapproval of their fellows, though the feelings of their spouses on the subject is for the most part unrecorded. The prostitutes themselves though were looked down upon by Roman society, most of them being former slaves, and though they paid taxes for practicing their profession they were not granted the rights of citizens of Rome.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
A 1905 painting of the Corps of Discovery, created at a time when Sacagawea’s history was being burnished by the suffragette movement. Wikimedia

9. Sacagawea was an interpreter, but not a guide for the Lewis and Clark Expedition

Sacagawea joined the Corps of Discovery when Meriwether Lewis learned of her ability to speak the language of the tribes they expected to encounter near the Columbia River. She was one of two “wives” of French Canadian trapper Philippe Charbonneau, and her help to the expedition was noted by both Lewis and Clark in their journals, though neither indicated that she served as a guide as legend attests. The myth of her leading the Corps of Discovery to the safe completion of its mission emerged during the peak of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States, and was reinforced through romantic films and literature.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Nero’s actions following the Great Fire of Rome included opening his residences to accommodate the homeless. Wikimedia

10. Nero didn’t fiddle while Rome burned

How the great fire of Rome started in July, 64 AD has never been determined, and likely never will be, but the image of the Emperor Nero playing a harp and “fiddling while Rome burned” is a decidedly false one. The Emperor wasn’t even in Rome when the Great Fire destroyed a large portion of the city. He was in Antium, about 30 miles from Rome, and after learning of the fire Nero returned to Rome to organize efforts to relieve those displaced, paying for the effort from his personal funds according to contemporaneous accounts. He also opened his various palaces to shelter those rendered homeless by the fire.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Columbus was funded by an investment syndicate, not by pawned jewelry. Wikimedia

11. Queen Isabella did not pawn her jewels to fund the voyages of Columbus

Many myths regarding the first voyage of Christopher Columbus emerged over the centuries since it occurred, among them the story of Queen Isabella of Castille pawning her jewelry to provide the funds for the journey. Columbus acquired the bulk of his funding from a financial syndicate of seven bankers from Genoa who were operating in Seville, among them Lorenzo de Medici. Nor were the three ships manned by convicts, as some attest. Among the men of the expedition were a total of four who accepted amnesty from criminal charges to join the voyage. The majority of the crews of the three ships were experienced seamen.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Napoleon envisioned a united Europe as a check to the growth of the British Empire. Wikimedia

12. Napoleon had no desire to conquer the world

Due largely to British propaganda of the day, Napoleon Bonaparte is often depicted as a madman bent on conquering all of Europe, followed by the rest of the world. In reality, Napoleon wanted to create a modern Europe unified under his Code Napoleon as a buffer against the ever expanding British Empire. His act of selling all of France’s continental possessions in North America attests to his focus, not on world conquest but to the containment of Great Britain and its Empire. Nor did Napoleon intend to conquer Russia. Instead he merely wanted to defeat the Russian influence in the German and Polish regions of Europe.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Even had Napoleon won the Battle of Waterloo he faced another continental war with the coalition against him. Wikimedia

13. That Waterloo was the battle which saved Europe from Napoleonic domination is a myth

When Napoleon returned from his exile in Elba he made his peaceful intentions known to the monarchs of Europe, though they quickly formed yet another coalition to depose him. The French emperor was forced to rearm quickly, and to strike quickly, in the hope that an early victory could prevent another major war. But even if the Emperor had scored a decisive victory over the Prussians and British at Waterloo the Austrians, Prussians, Russians, and others were still mobilizing armies which would have crushed the French, exhausted by years of warfare. The battle of Waterloo saved France from total devastation through another protracted war.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Coffins of Ferdinand and Isabela, who launched the Inquisition in Spain in the fifteenth century. Wikimedia

14. Queen Isabella’s legacy contains much more than the Columbus story

While Isabella is remembered as the Queen who supported the voyages of Columbus, her legacy is actually somewhat darker. Fourteen years before Columbus sailed on his first voyage Isabella and her husband Ferdinand of Aragon established the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in their realms. The Spanish Inquisition was originally established to ensure that converts from Islam and Judaism were not following heretical beliefs, but it soon became a means of enforcing royal edicts that Jews and Muslims must convert to Catholicism or be banished from Spain. The religious intolerance established by Ferdinand and Isabella remained the law in Spain until it was abolished in 1834.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
A portrait of Mozart as a child prodigy, circa 1763. Wikimedia

15. Mozart was not a gambling wastrel poisoned by a jealous rival

The myths about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are nearly as many as his compositions, leading posterity to believe that he was a spendthrift, a gambler of little luck, a drunkard, a womanizer, and was poisoned to death by a rival. All are false. In fact the composer wrote with an eye on the paying audience and was a commercial success, one of the most famous composers in Europe during his lifetime. He died of an infection which was most likely related to streptococcus, which was prevalent in Vienna at the time, rather than from being poisoned, and his widow took immediate steps to ensure his work continued to be performed in the cities of Europe, leading to his enduring fame.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Named Sophie by her Prussian parents, the Tsarina known as Catherine the Great was not of the Romanov dynasty. Wikimedia

16. Catherine the Great was neither named Catherine nor was she Russian

The woman who is known to history as Catherine the Great was named Sophie by her parents, Prussian aristocrats down on their luck, who offered their daughter as a potential bride for Russian Tsar Peter III (then Crown Prince). As with many of the Tsars, Peter III was overthrown by a coup and his wife, who had taken the name Ekaterina upon their wedding, ascended to the throne as Tsarina. Despite the claims of many, there is no evidence that Catherine had her husband assassinated following the coup which dethroned him. Catherine created the Imperial Crown which became a treasure of the Romanov Dynasty in Russia, though she was not herself of Romanov descent.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Napoleon was actually of average height for his time, though British propaganda made him appear small. Wikimedia

17. Napoleon was not so short after all

Napoleon Bonaparte was known in British propaganda during his lifetime as an exceedingly short man, so illustrated in cartoons and broadsheets. After his death doctors who performed his autopsy recorded his height at 5′ 2″, using the French system of measurement. That height converts to just under 5′ 7″ in the British system, meaning that Napoleon was of average height for his day. One reason for his often being depicted as short was the physical requirements for his personal guard, all of whom were outsized men, further enhanced by the wearing of tall bearskin hats which added to the appearance of great size. The presentation of Napoleon’s diminutive stature continues to the present day.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Although Nelson did turn a blind eye to signals at the Battle of Copenhagen, his actions did not coin the phrase. Wikimedia

18. Lord Nelson may have been the first to turn a blind eye

During the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, the advanced fleet units under Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson were being pounded by the Danish defenses, and the overall British commander, Admiral Sir Hyde Parker, ordered the flag signal hung for the fleet to withdraw. Nelson responded by clapping his telescope to his right eye and claiming that he could not see the signal, thus turning a blind eye to an undesirable sight. Nelson’s fleet prevailed in the battle, and ever since it has been claimed that the term to “turn a blind eye” came from the event, though the venerable Oxford English Dictionary traced the use of the term to the late 17th century, well before Nelson was born.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Diamond Jim Brady, with cane over arm, possessed an appetite which was legendary in his day. Library of Congress

19. Diamond Jim Brady’s appetite led to a restauranteur calling him the best 25 customers he ever had

Diamond Jim Brady, who can be best described as a raconteur, possessed an appetite both prodigious and legendary. A typical breakfast included several dozen eggs, supported with cornbread, potatoes, grits, muffins, sausage, steak, pancakes, and several quarts of orange juice, as well as coffee. It would sustain him until his mid-morning snack of a couple of dozen oysters. Lunch was equally enormous, often of two or three lobsters as well as another steak. Dinner included several lobsters, poultry, beef, and supporting side dishes followed by several desserts. He died, unsurprisingly, of a heart attack at the age of 60, and his autopsy revealed that his stomach was over six times larger than the average person’s.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Jonathan Swift’s style of satire remains known to writers and critics of style today as Swiftian. Wikimedia

20. Jonathan Swift proposed eating children to solve both a famine and a population problem

The English/Irish satirist Jonathan Swift once presented an essay, entitled A Modest Proposal, in which he scathingly recommended that the Irish poor sell their children to the wealthy as food, thus solving several problems in one step. “A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food…” he wrote, regardless of how it was cooked. The satire, which attacked the wealthy and aristocracy, led them to respond with attacks on Swift, with many accusing the writer of being serious in his proposal rather than presenting his ideas as satire. The work remains as an example of the power of satire to address societal problems, often cited by writers and journalists.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Since its publication much of Roots, including the transportation from Africa of young Kunta Kinte, has been proven to be fiction, unsupported and frequently contradicted by facts. Wikimedia

21. Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family is fiction

When Roots and the mini-series it inspired were presented to the American people beginning with the book’s publication in 1976 it was generally received as a work of historical research into a true African American lineage from Africa to modern America. Subsequent research by genealogists and historians revealed the book to be entirely fiction prior to the period of the Civil War, and largely unsubstantiated by fact in the years following it. The book was originally identified as a novel, became historical truth in the minds of the public which read it or watched the televised portrayals, and finally became identified by historians as what it originally was, a work of historical fiction. In 1978 a lawsuit against Haley for plagiarism in the book was settled out of court, with Haley admitting portions of Roots were plagiarized.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Franz Liszt was the subject of a wave of frenzied fans which became known as Lisztomania. Wikimedia

22. Lisztomania accompanied composer Franz Liszt starting in 1841

The idea of a musician being swept over by frenzied fans during performances would seem to have begun in more recent times, but the concept and the creation of a portmanteau to describe it began with the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt. The hysteria which his music created in his audiences led to him have his clothing torn, women attempted to snip locks of his hair, and in some instances cigar butts discarded by the musician were snatched up by fervent fans. The German writer Heinrich Heine coined a term for the frenzy, calling it Lisztomania. Heine described it as a “veritable insanity”. In 1843 a Munich newspaper described the condition as “Liszt fever”, indicating the fervor had not yet ended after two years.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Beatlemania was an altogether different phenomenom from that which beset Franz Liszt. Wikimedia

23. Beatlemania was somewhat different from Lisztomania

When the Beatles became an overnight success after many years of hard work the media named their frenzied fans around the globe as being swept up in Beatlemania. Beatlemania mainly affected preteen and teenaged girls, whose screams often drowned out the band as they played. What was different from Lisztomania is that the earlier frenzy was among mainly adult, mature women, who in an age of altogether different norms of social behavior were driven to violate them at the mere sight of Franz Liszt. The word mania itself carried far different connotations in Heine’s day than it did in the early 1960s, referring to serious mental health issues rather than to excessive fandom.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Paul Revere made rides to warn other communities of British activities in daylight too. Wikimedia

24. Another ride of Paul Revere

There are many myths surrounding Paul Revere’s ride to Lexington in April, 1775 (he never made it to Concord that night) but another of his ride’s to sound the alarm is nearly forgotten. In December, 1774 Revere was dispatched to warn patriots in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, that a British ship and a detachment of marines was bound to that city to seize the gunpowder and arms stored by the militia at Fort William and Mary. The sixty mile ride was through freezing weather and Revere completed it on December 13. Four hundred men raided the fort the next day, overwhelmed the six man garrison of British soldiers and seized the stores. The raid led to more aggressive British policies seizing patriot stores, which began to be executed the following spring.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Though a prolific composer, Scott Joplin suffered from financial struggles and syphilis during his relatively short life. Wikimedia

25. The King of Ragtime died of advanced stage syphilis

Scott Joplin was a prolific composer of ragtime music during his relatively short lifetime, including among them Maple Leaf Rag. By the time of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 ragtime was a nationwide craze in the United States, and though Joplin’s compositions sold well and his performances drew large crowds, he was unable to stay out of debt. In 1916 he began exhibiting signs of dementia and the following year he was admitted into an asylum, suffering from the tertiary stage of syphilis. He died in the mental institution in 1917 at the age of 48. Fifty-five years later he re-emerged in the public eye when his music was used in the soundtrack of the motion picture The Sting.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Chipping Campden was the site of three murderers being hanged after which their victim returned to the town. Wikimedia

26. After hanging the accused murderers the alleged victim turned up very much alive

In 1660 in Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, a 70 year old man vanished without a trace, other than some bloodstained clothing left along the path he had been walking. Investigation led authorities to suspect three persons, a mother and two sons, of murdering the man, and one of the suspects confessed to the crime. The three were tried, convicted, and hanged. In 1662 the alleged victim of the murder, a man named William Harrison, returned to England telling an improbable tale of being kidnaped and sold into Turkish slavery. The case became known as the Campden Wonder in England, and the truth behind Harrison’s absence continues to be argued by historians.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
William Kidd, convicted of piracy though he likely wasn’t guilty, was hanged twice before he died. Wikimedia

27. William Kidd was hanged twice

When William Kidd was in jail on charges of piracy and murder he was allowed to purchase food and drink, in accordance with the custom of the time, and he consumed liberally of ale and beer. Accordingly, when he mounted the steps of the gallows to be hanged he was quite drunk, which was apparent to many of the witnesses of his execution. When the trap was sprung Kidd dropped, the rope broke, and the alleged pirate sprawled on the ground. He was forced to wait while a new rope was rove, probably somewhat more sober than before, and on the second attempt the hanging was accomplished to the satisfaction of the executioner.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Edgar Allan Poe found university life not to his liking at two very different schools. Library of Congress

28. Edgar Allan Poe was thrown out of two American universities

The University of Virginia was but one year old when Edgar Allan Poe enrolled there, living in Thomas Jefferson’s Academic Village. The school, which Jefferson had created as self-governed, forbade gambling, alcohol, tobacco, and several other activities and perceived vices, but the students generally did as they wished. After one year of studying languages at the school, Poe left, under somewhat murky circumstances, apparently having lost money intended for study by gambling. He later secured an appointment to West Point and found the curriculum so distressing that he deliberately got himself court-martialed in order to leave the school after a few weeks.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Abraham Lincoln was a champion wrestler in his youth, winning over 300 matches. Wikimedia

29. Abraham Lincoln was a champion wrestler

During his days along the Sangamon River in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln developed the reputation of being a wrestler of renown. Some of his matches were organized affairs, such as a match with a gentleman named Hank Thompson, which was for a regimental championship during the Black Hawk War. That match was Lincoln’s only loss in a wrestling career which spanned more than a dozen years, and more than 300 known bouts. Lincoln was not the only wrestling aficionado to serve as president, Washington had been a wrestler in his youth, and Taft was on the wrestling team when a student at Yale University.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Ferdinand Magellan did not survive the first circumnavigation of the globe, leaving its completion to a few of his men. Wikimedia

30. Magellan was not the first to circumnavigate the globe

It was Juan Sebastian Elcano who completed the first circumnavigation of the globe when he arrived at Seville, Spain in 1522, nearly three years after departing that same port with five ships under the command of Ferdinand Magellan. Only one of the vessels, Victoria, completed the voyage. Magellan was killed in a battle with the natives in the Philippines in April, 1521. The expedition originally left Spain with 270 men in the five vessels, only 18 men survived the journey. The rest succumbed in battle, mutinies, accidents, and the perils of the sea. In 1525 Elcano attempted a second circumnavigation after claiming the East Indies for Spain, but died during the voyage of malnutrition.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
After his death President Harding was revealed to have been a womanizer for decades. White House

31. Nan Britton wrote the first kiss and tell book regarding an American President

Nan Britton was infatuated with Warren G. Harding as a young teenager, and following his death while still in office as president, Britton wrote a book entitled The President’s Daughter, which described their long affair. Britton’s book was explicit, describing her sexual relationship with Harding, including a description of the two having sex while in a closet. Britton also claimed that her daughter had been fathered by the late president (the claim was supported by DNA testing in 2015). Harding’s reputation was vigorously defended by his family and political allies, but subsequent evidence of his womanizing before and during his presidency points to Britton’s truthfulness.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Thomas Edison was a ruthless businessman who pursued patents owned by others through lawsuits and infringement fights. Wikimedia

32. Edison was less an inventor than a modifier of existing inventions

Thomas Edison filed a patent for an improved light bulb rather than for the light bulb as his invention. He employed numerous engineers and technicians at his Menlo Park laboratories, nearly all of them investigating the ways and means of improving existing technology and patenting the results. Edison also acquired many existing patents through the tried and true method of suing the patent holders for infringement, and using his financial resources to exhaust those of his opponents. In 1908 Edison attempted to monopolize the growing motion picture industry, an effort which was finally found to be in violation of American antitrust laws. Edison was more of a ruthless businessman than inventor.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Although the Baseball Hall of Fame acknowledges Abner Doubleday as the inventor of the game it has never inducted him. Wikimedia

33. Abner Doubleday was never inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame

The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York is a shrine to the American sport alleged to have been invented by Abner Doubleday in 1839. The story of Doubleday inventing the game is widely regarded as false by historians, evidence of a game called base-ball exists from several decades earlier in New England and New York. Pittsfield, Massachusetts, enacted a bylaw prohibiting the playing of several games involving the use of balls, including specifically baseball, in 1791. Still, the Baseball Hall of Fame recognizes Doubleday as the inventor of baseball though strangely enough the former Union general in the Civil War has never been inducted into the hall.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Although the Pilgrims were short of beer when they landed at Plymouth Rock it was an issue which they ignored for many months. Wikimedia

34. The myth of the Pilgrim’s beer

It has been alleged that because of a reference to a shortage of beer the Pilgrim’s landed at Plymouth Rock rather than continue on to Virginia. In fact the beer was running short, noted in the log, and the drinking water aboard ship was clogged with living things after months of being stored in wooden casks. Hence beer was the preferred source of hydration aboard ship. Once ashore the Pilgrims did not immediately turn to the task of brewing more beer, instead they built a common shelter, finding plenty of sources of clean drinking water ashore. The remaining beer aboard ship was preserved for the consumption of the crew on the return voyage to England.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Louis XIV of France, like many of the nobility, found bathing distasteful and avoided water. Wikimedia

35. Louis XIV was afraid of bathing all of his life

During the long reign of Louis XIV of France, science and medicine had advanced to the point that they considered water to be unhealthful, a conveyor of disease, which in many cases was true. Exposure to water through bathing was considered unhealthful as well, and Louis bore a fear of water bordering on neurosis throughout his life. Advised by his physicians to avoid bathing, Louis became ripe enough that a Russian emissary to his court wrote that the King of France “stunk like a wild animal”. Reports of the number of baths Louis endured in his lifetime vary, some saying as few as two, and others claiming he bathed at least twice annually.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
French King Louis XIV displays his high heels in a portrait which also features his coronation robes. Wikimedia

36. Men wore high heeled shoes long before they were adopted by women

In 1599 Persian emissaries toured European capitals hoping to attract allies in their war against the Ottoman Empire. Many of the men wore boots with high heels, so designed to keep them from slipping from the stirrups when riding horses. The shoes and boots created a fashion trend swiftly adopted by European men, entranced with the idea of appearing taller in the new footwear. The shoes quickly became a sign of status among the nobility, leading them to refer to one another as well-heeled. As the seventeenth century wore on, women adopted the heels as well as highly piled hairdos to create their own illusions of height, especially popular in France.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
The need to don gas masks in World War One led to the end of the requirement that British soldiers must wear a mustache. Wikimedia

37. The British Army for decades required its soldiers to wear mustaches

In 1860 the King’s Regulations for the British Army stipulated that beards were out, hair was to be kept short, and the upper lip was not to be shaved. The regulation was intended to create a threatening appearance to the natives around the empire, especially in India and among the various Arab tribes which were under the control of the British. In 1916 the regulation was dropped due to the expedient of needing to equip the troops with gas masks in the trenches of World War One. The mustaches had been found to prevent a seal of the mask around the face of the wearer.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Charlie Chaplin’s body was stolen by grave robbers and held hostage in 1978. Wikimedia

38. Charlie Chaplin’s body was stolen from his Swiss grave

Charles Chaplin, film’s famed Little Tramp, died on Christmas Day, 1977 and was buried in a Swiss cemetery two days later. The following March his grave was dug up and his body stolen, held for ransom by a Pole named Roman Wardas and a Bulgarian, Gantcho Ganev. The bodysnatchers demanded a ransom equivalent to $600,000 for the return of the corpse. Chaplin’s widow Oona cooperated with the police and allowed her phone to be tapped while officers and volunteers monitored the more than 200 pay telephones in the area. In May the thieves were caught, Chaplin’s body was recovered and re-interred, and a concrete cover was placed over his hopefully final resting place.

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Women found both the London coffeehouses and the beverage they served to be threats to their marriages. WIkimedia

39. Women campaigned against London coffeehouses in 1674

Opponents to the consumption of coffee in late 17th century London called the beverage a frightening introduction from the Arab world, and campaigned to end its use. The beverage itself wasn’t their only enemy, coffeehouses were where their husbands could enjoy bear-baiting, the temptation of prostitutes, the consumption of tobacco, and other entertainments. Women drew up a petition against coffee, and the male consumers of the beverage drew up their own petition in response. One of the women’s accusations was that coffee, “has so Eunucht our husbands…that they are become as Impotent as Age…”

These Facts are Forgotten or Misrepresented in History Classes
Benjamin Franklin in 1748, more than two decades following his use of the pen name Silence Dogood. Wikimedia

40. Benjamin Franklin posed as a woman when writing for his brother’s newspaper

When Benjamin Franklin’s brother James refused to publish the former’s writing in his newspaper, Ben resorted to the subterfuge of a pen name. He chose the name of a woman, Silence Dogood, and presented his pieces in a manner which poked fun at New England habits, fashion, and events. After revealing that Silence was a widow, the paper received several offers of marriage from Bostonians. Fourteen articles in the form of letters were published before James discovered the true authorship, and the falling out between the brothers led to Benjamin fleeing his apprenticeship and moving to Philadelphia to seek his fortune.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Marie Antoinette: The Journey”. Antonia Fraser. 2002

“Louis XVI”. Biographical entry, Online

“Vietnam”. Spencer C. Tucker. 1999

“London: The Wicked City”. Fergus Linnane. 2007

“Kitty Fisher was the forerunner of modern celebrities”. Michael Deacon, The Daily Telegraph. January 20, 2012

“The Memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt 1725-1798”. Giacomo Casanova. Project Gutenberg, online

“Guillotine: Its Legend and Lore”. Daniel Gerould. 1992

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“Sacagawea and the Suffragettes: An Interpretation of a Myth”. R. W. Taber. 1967

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