When told that Napoleon Bonaparte was once attacked by a throng of angry bunnies, that Walt Disney was actually afraid of mice, and that Abraham Lincoln was a licensed bartender and in the Wrestling Hall of Fame, I said it was all untrue.
And I was wrong.
Abraham Lincoln did sling drinks in his co-owned Illinois bar, and he does have a place in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. And Mickey Mouse was created, in part, to help Disney cope with his fear of varmints. And the attack bunnies?
Monty Python’s Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog might have been fiction, but Napoleon’s 3,000 fuzzy adversaries, which were set loose during a hunting trip and subsequently swarmed the French emperor, were all too real. Cute, but real.
As it turns out, I was also wrong about many historical “facts” I’d always presumed to be true but have since learned are false. For example:
Marie Antoinette did not say, “Let them eat cake.”
This was a false rumor, designed to discredit the upper classes, tarnish the Queen’s reputation, and fuel anger amongst the common folk of France. It worked.
George Washington did not chop down that cherry tree.
As heartwarming as it was, this story was fabricated by one of his biographers seven years after Washington’s death, and no evidence exists that the “I cannot tell a lie” event ever took place.
He also did not have wooden teeth.
Washington was plagued with horrible dental problems for most of his life and wore several types of dentures, all fashioned from a variety of materials — including lead, ivory, and gold — but none were ever made from wood.
Paul Revere did not shout “The British are coming!”
His announcement would have used the word “Regulars” rather than “British,” because that was the Colonists’ term for British foot soldiers; and while Paul Revere did alert many households of an impending threat, he was paid for this service and did not actually shout it through the streets.
Pythagoras did not invent the Pythagorean theorem.
“Error has its lovers,” and this bit of mathematical magic has erroneously been credited to Pythagoras alone. While he may have used it and he may have loved it, the equation itself — given a right triangle, the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides — was around many centuries before Pythagoras was even born.
Albert Einstein was never bad at math.
He actually excelled in all of his math courses, mastering complex calculus equations before his 15th birthday. But take heart, all ye students who are failing math. Einstein also said, “It is not that I’m so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.” So stay with it.
No one in Salem was ever burned at the stake for being a witch.
Of the more than 200 innocent people accused of witchcraft, 19 were hung, one was pressed to death, and five died in prison. And while hanging, pressing, or neglecting people to the point of death isn’t exactly something to celebrate, no one was actually burned at the stake.
The Great Wall of China is not visible from the moon.
It can occasionally be seen from the Earth’s orbit but is by no means the only man-made object that can be seen from that distance. Highly populated cities, particularly at night; airports; other bridges; and dams can be all be seen from a low Earth orbit.
Fortune cookies weren’t invented in China.
They were first made in Japan and aren’t even served in restaurants located in China. The largest fortune cookie manufacturing site is located in Brooklyn, New York, and until 1995, all of the fortunes were written by one man, who eventually gave up the job because — and this is not a historical myth — he suffered from a severe case of writer’s block.
Lady Godiva did not ride naked on a horse.
The rumor, invented hundreds of years after her death, was that Lady Godiva rode naked through an English town to protest her husband’s unfair taxation practices. While zero evidence exists that this lascivious event ever occurred, she does make a pretty logo on a box of chocolate.
Napoleon wasn’t short.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s height, a little over 5 feet 6 inches, was completely average for his time. This seems particularly unfair, given that James Madison was 5 feet 4 inches — a full 2 inches shorter than Napoleon — and John Adams was only 5 foot 7 inches, and yet there is no such thing as a Madison or an Adams complex. Instead of using the term “Napoleon Complex” to describe overcompensating short people, it seems more justly applied to people who are afraid of rabbits.
Years after his hare-raising escape from the bunnies, Napoleon wrote that “history is a set of lies agreed upon,” and this list proves he was right. Or perhaps he didn’t want future generations talking about his run from the rabbits.