From an early age, we are taught to think that historical texts and documentaries accurately portray a particular historical event. Most people don’t even realize that history can be rewritten and skewed, and that stories sometimes diverge greatly from actual events, until much later in life.
Some of history’s most well-known tales contain only partial or even no truth at all. The truth behind some of these historical “facts” that aren’t quite true—from Columbus’ voyage to America to Thomas Edison’s invention of the lightbulb—will probably change how you perceive history books and perhaps the entire world.
Jumping Bankers After The Crash Of 1929
After the infamous stock market crash of 1929, the financial world came to a complete halt. This day, known as “Black Thursday,” is remembered as the start of the Great Depression, one of the darkest eras in American history.
There are rumors that several Wall Street bankers jumped to their deaths from tall city buildings because they couldn’t handle the increased pressure and accountability placed on them. In-depth historians have discovered that suicide rates did not actually rise as a result of this terrible incident.
Salem Witch Trials
The drama that took place in Salem, Massachusetts between 1692 and 1693 is well-known for the burnings, lynchings, and other foul methods used to put an end to visionaries who were seen as a threat to the Church. At the time, many people heard about people being burned at the stake, which caused otherwise independent female thinkers to follow the crowd.
Although the majority of people believe that hundreds of women were burned at the stake over a long period of time, The Crucible by Arthur Miller is likely to blame for some of the exaggeration. Actually, the witch hunt only lasted for about a year, and although about 200 women were accused of witchcraft and 30 were found guilty, only 19 of them were hanged. The 20th alleged witch was killed by a mountain of heavy rocks. However, no one was sparked to death.
Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride
When we were young, an awkward history teacher yelled, “The British are coming, the British are coming!”
At the end of the 18th century, just before the Revolutionary War, we thought about the midnight run of a very valiant patriot who wanted to warn his neighbors of impending doom.
In reality, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem from 1860 is where the legend of Paul Revere’s midnight ride to warn his townspeople of a British invasion originates. This poem was a hypothetical warning about America going bankrupt prior to the Civil War, not a biography of Paul Revere.
Rats And The Bubonic Plague
The Black Death, also known as the bubonic plague, was one of the worst times in European history during the 14th century. Around 50 million people died (more than one third of the continent’s population) as a result of this deadly and contagious illness, whose origins were unknown. It was hypothesized that black rats that thrived and multiplied unchecked among humans were responsible for its origin and spread.
With the help of fresh information from the University of Oslo, scientists have disproved this theory. According to a review of the literature, humans rather than rats were likely the source of the parasites that carried the plaque. Given how uncommon it was for people to wash their hands and take baths back then, the pattern of spread proved that the plaque was the result of human-to-human contact.
Christopher Columbus’s Discovery Of America
The children’s song “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” has probably been heard by everyone. Stories about Christopher Columbus discovering America on the ships Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria are a common part of childhood memories of school.
It has been discovered, with the help of historians determined to paint a more accurate picture of this event, that the Viking Leif Erikson arrived in the Western Hemisphere 500 years before Christopher Columbus ever set foot outside of Spain.
Ben Franklin And His Discovery Of Electricity
While we’d all like to think that Ben Franklin used a kite and a tiny key to summon lightning and experience an electrical epiphany, this is untrue. In actuality, the risk involved in such an act and the act itself would not be commensurate with Franklin’s alleged intelligence.
Franklin arrived at the electrical party a little bit late. However, we cannot even be certain that he was the one flying the kite on that fateful night. He did set out to demonstrate that lightning was electricity. He never made it clear in his account of it in the Pennsylvania Gazette that he was the one pulling the strings.
Martin Luther Sharing “95 Theses” With The Church
Particularly in his interactions with the Roman Catholic Church, Martin Luther is infamous for testing the bounds of religious propriety. According to an old legend, he nailed the “95 issues” he had with the church to the doors of the building, sparking the Protestant Revolution.
History has revealed that Luther sent his “95 Theses” to the archbishop at the time purely as a way of reflecting; the story was created almost thirty years after its alleged occurrence. He had no desire to start a revolution that would forever alter the landscape of religious freedom.
Emperor Nero Played Fiddle While Rome Was Burning
Emperor Nero’s reputation as a gregarious and somewhat unstable figure in Roman history is well-known. He did, however, have a special affection for and loyalty to his kingdom that prevented him from “fiddling the time away” as Rome was being destroyed.
Actually, when the fires started, Nero was in another city. The expression implies that he did not act sufficiently to halt the destruction, according to those Roman cities that depended on his leadership for their very existence at the time when there were no fiddles in use.
Isaac Newton’s Apple Tango
Mathematician Isaac Newton is thought to have invented gravity in 1687 after an apple fell on his head as he was resting. This may have been slightly embellished to ensure financial gain for the close friend who was telling the tale.
“The notion of gravitation came into his mind…occasioned by the fall of an apple as he sat in a contemplative mood,” the text by William Stukeley reads. While it is possible, according to contemporary historians, that Newton saw an apple fall, it is highly unlikely that it actually made contact with his head.
Marie Antoinette And Her Fondness For Cake
The final monarch of the French monarchy, Marie Antoinette, undoubtedly led a luxurious life. But considering the quotation appeared in a text years before her rule, it is highly improbable that she would have casually dismissed her underprivileged population of serfs with the phrase “let them eat cake.”
This text first appeared in a 1767 autobiographical account written by philosopher Jean-Jacques Rosseau, even though the Queen did end up being publicly executed by guillotine during the French Revolution. When Antoinette was still a young child, he attributes this quote to “a great princess” in it.
Van Gogh And His Famous Ear
The story of the famous artist Van Gogh sending his severed ear in a horrifying package to a lover who despised him was slightly exaggerated, even though it is well known that he was as tortured as he was talented. It is simple to understand why the story fit well with his timeline because his paintings took on a slightly darker tone after this incident.
History has it that Van Gogh cut off only his earlobe to demonstrate his suffering at the hands of fellow artist Paul Gaugin and his brother’s engagement. Van Gogh battled severe depression for the majority of his adult life. Whatever his motive, the package was considerably less than first thought.
The Gulf Of Tonkin
According to popular belief, the Gulf of Tonkin incident set off the Vietnam War between the United States and North Vietnam. However, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that the conflict actually stemmed from a serious misunderstanding.
Contrary to false initial reports, North Vietnamese torpedo boats were far from the gulf when the first shots were fired. It was simpler to point the finger at the enemy than to accept responsibility for shots that were never supposed to have been fired in the first place because these belonged to the nearby United States naval boats.
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Lady Godiva And Her Famous Ride
Numerous fans of Lady Godiva are disappointed to learn that the legend of her 10th-century bare ride is untrue and that she may have been much more restrained than previously believed. According to legend, Godiva’s husband promised to lower taxes in Coventry if his wife rode through town in undress.
The actual story is based on Godifu, a real-life heroine and Leofric’s wife. She was the ideal scapegoat and justification for Leofric’s acts of generosity that might have been interpreted as weak because, aside from the fact that she married up in the world, her life was uninteresting.
Romulus Founding Rome
The fantasy and folklore of the past serve as the foundation for many of our ancient stories. It may be convenient to think that Rome originated from a demigod by the name of Romulus, but the legend surrounding his upbringing seems a little unbelievable.
According to legend, Remus and Romulus were the twin sons of the god Mars. The boys were raised by wolves because Mars couldn’t be bothered to raise his half-breed children; as they grew, they assumed their proper roles as leaders. The legend is untrue, but it would make a great story to tell.
Beware The Ides Of March
Shakespeare could definitely tell a good story. Caesar’s final moments in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar would be the ideal, dramatic conclusion for such a character in real life. Due to the skill of the most renowned playwrights in the world, this account of his death was somewhat exaggerated.
During the actual event, famous phrases like “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears,” and “Et tu, Brute,” were not actually spoken. Caesar was also not informed that he would meet his death at the hands of the Roman Senate in the middle of March, despite the fact that it makes for fantastic storytelling.