Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
If there is anything that we love here at Dave’s Corner of the Universe more than movies and pop culture it is history. My degree is in History and I have a passion for it. But well sometimes stories take on a life of their own as time passes and it goes form history to urban legend. So with the success of my Hollywood Urban Legends: Golden or Bogus post here are Historical Urban Legends: Golden or Bogus.
I will give you a historical legend then if it is true we will deem it Golden if not then it gets tagged as Bogus.
Legend #1: The American Revolution was fought using what we would now call asymmetrical warfare, meaning the rebels used gruella tactics against a traditional and stronger opponent.
The truth: The story most people are taught in school about how the American Revolution was fought is completely wrong. This is so deeply engraved in our national psyche that I have even seen history majors who have been shown the facts reject them because it goes against everything we been taught in elementary school.
Now there are some historical facts that gave rise to this legend. Both General Washington and Ethan Allen did conduct harassment raids in the beginning of the war. And Francis Marion AKA the “Swamp Fox” did lead a successful guerrilla campaign in Georgia. But the revolutionaries didn’t really start winning until they started using traditional tactics and formations and fought their enemy in the standard European style. Using chain of command, and standardized weapons and uniforms.
In fact the American Revolution was just one theater in a larger global war between the English and the French. The Americans not only benefited from training, weapons, food and tactical support by the French navy, there was also regiments of French regular army in the fray on fighting the English on American soil. This conflict would bankrupt the French and eventually would lead to their own revolution.
Legend #2 Ponce de’ Leon was killed searching for the fountain of youth.
The truth: the story that the conquistador went to Florida looking for the fountain of youth was never told until after his death, and then it was spread by a political rival, more than likely to smear de’ Leon’s name. He was looking for what all good conquistadors were looking for gold and new lands for Spain. There seems to be one mention in his memoirs of him being told about the fountain of youth by an old woman (If she knew anything about it wouldn’t she be young looking) but no indication this launched an expedition.
There is also a theory that what he was really looking for was actually the Bahamian Love Vine, a real plant attributed with aphrodisiac properties. Because his advanced age was creating problems in the bedroom. Basically he was looking for the sixteenth century equivalent of Viagra. While that is a cool theory there is no reason to believe it any more than the fountain of youth legend.
Legend #3: The famed picture of the Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima was staged.
The truth: That perfect shot caught of the marines raising the flag on Mount Suribachi is a one in a million shot. The famous photo and later statue was taken of the second flag raising. Some people thought that because this is a photo of the second and larger flag being hoisted on the mountain it was all staged, but it is a moment where a camera man catches soldiers doing their duty and was not staged as a publicity shot. Ironically this myth was strengthened by photographer Joe Rosenthal himself. He also took a much lesser known one a few days later with the troops, where he posed Marines around the flag, sometimes referred to as the ‘gung ho’ photo. So when he was asked if it was stage, he thought he was being asked about the other picture and replied “sure”.
Legend #4: Pocahontas put her head on Captain John Smith’s head when her father was having him bludgeoned to death, and saved him because of their eternal love.
The Truth: The truth is never ever get you history form Disney. First of all Pocahontas was like twelve when Smith met her. And though they did become friends, she was never left alone with the white people without attendants accompanying her. Secondly Smiths first account said that he was not captured and nearly killed by Chief Powhatan but only interviewed by him. The whole I was a prisoner thing comes years later. Also Smith told the exact same story later on but it was when he was in Hungry and that he was captured by the Turks and their leader’s daughter saved him because she fell in love with hm. Apparently it was his go to story to get people to buy him drinks.
Also Pocahontas did not marry John Smith, she married John Rolf whose great claim to fame is he was the first European to cultivate tobacco and then sell it back to Europe.
Legend #5: Teddy Roosevelt was shot giving a speech but insisted that before he let anyone take him to the hospital he would finish his speech.
Verdict: Golden (What you thought they would all be fake?)
The Truth: John Schrank kept having dreams that President McKinley was coming to him and telling him that teddy Roosevelt had him killed and that he needed to avenge him. Schrank did what any self-respecting paranoid delusional schizophrenic would do and went off to kill Roosevelt.
What happened was like out of a movie. Though aiming at his head a person in the crowd bumped Schrank and he fired a .38 round into Teddy’s chest. The bullet went through his fifty page speech and glasses case. This slowed the bullet down to where it didn’t do any serious damage an lodged against a rib. After security took care of the would-be assassin teddy continued with his speech. Supposedly all fifty pages, even if they were kind of bloody and had a hole in it, because he spoke for ninety minutes.