10 Historical Myths That are Still Regarded as Fact

The Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, once said: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” There are many examples in history which are living examples showcasing how true Goebbels words were. Not every story documented in history is true and neither are all the incidents. Some were fabricated, while others were so widely publicized that eventually, the lies turned into facts. Here are 10 such examples of historical myths that are still regarded as fact.

Myth #1

Countess Elizabeth Báthory used to bathe in the blood of virgins to regain and maintain her youth.

Countess Elizabeth Báthory
Image Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Countess Elizabeth Báthory was a Hungarian noblewoman who is considered as one of Europe’s most notorious figures. She was accused of torturing and killing a number of young women. That’s why she was nicknamed the “Bloody Countess” and the “Vampire Countess.” In popular culture, it’s believed that Báthory used to kill virgin maid servants and then bathe in their blood as a way to preserve her youth. This story originated in the 18th century. It became a popular aspect of her personality after the blood bath scenes were depicted in numerous movies.

But there is no evidence which proves this claim. There are proofs of murder and torture committed by Báthory. During her trial, many people testified against her. They had claimed that she used to inflict torture and murder girls. But the stories about bathing in their blood began emerging years after her death.(1,2)

Myth #2

Plymouth Rock was the stepping stone for the Mayflower Pilgrims following which they founded the Plymouth colony in 1620.

Plymouth Rock
Image Source: commons.wikimedia.org

Plymouth Rock is a famous rock located at Plymouth Harbor in Massachusetts. It is reputed to be the spot where the Pilgrims first set foot on land in 1620. But surprisingly, there is no mention of this rock in the two firsthand accounts of the founding of Plymouth colony. One of them is a book, Plymouth Plantation, written by an early governor of Plymouth colony, William Bradford. The other one is a document called “Mourt’s Relation” which contains the writing of Edward Winslow.

The first written reference to Plymouth rock can be found in a document written by Elder Thomas Faunce. He wrote it in 1741, which is about 121 years after the arrival of Pilgrims in Plymouth.(1,2)

Myth #3

People convicted of being a witch were burned at the stake during the Salem Witch Trials.

Salem witch trials
Image Source: en.wikipedia.org

In between February 1692 and May 1693, a series of hearings and prosecutions were conducted in colonial Massachusetts. The trials were conducted for people accused of witchcraft and are known as the “Salem Witch Trials.” Twenty accused were executed as a result of these trials.

It is usually believed that the people convicted of being a witch during the Salem Witch Trials were burned at the stake. But in reality, no one was burned. Out of the twenty accused, fourteen were women. Nineteen people out of twenty were executed by hanging. One of them, Giles Corey, an elderly Salem farmer, was pressed to death.(1,2)

Myth #4

George Washington Carver invented peanut butter.

George Washington Carver
Image Source: 1,2

The rich, creamy and yummy peanut butter has a history longer than we can imagine. It has been consumed since the Aztec culture but in a form different than what we consume it today. Aztec people used to make a paste of mashed, roasted peanuts. The modern peanut butter is usually believed to be invented by George Washington Carver. This is not true. He popularized peanuts by promoting more than 300 uses of this legume. Some of the uses of the peanut promoted by Craver are shaving cream, shampoo, glue, and many others.

The invention of peanut butter is credited mainly to three inventors: Marcellus Gilmore Edson, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, and Dr. Ambrose Straub. Marcellus Gilmore Edson patented the peanut paste made from roasted peanuts in 1884. This peanut paste is made by milling the peanuts between two heated surface. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who created Kellogg’s cereal, patented the process of creating peanut butter from raw peanuts in 1895. Dr. Ambrose Straub patented a machine in 1903 which is used for making peanut butter .(1,2,3)

Myth #5

During WWII, Polish soldiers attacked German tanks with horses.

Polish cavalry
Image Source: www.wearethemighty.com

On September 1, 1939, German forces invaded Poland without any formal declaration of war. This took the Polish army by surprise. At that time, Poland was still building and modernizing their military. So, they were left to fight with anything they had including the horse cavalry from WWI. As a result, Polish soldiers mounted machine guns and antitank rifles on their horses. They also carried their sabers to the battlefield.

A Polish cavalry unit, the 18th Pomeranian Uhlans, was ordered to charge on German infantry. The Nazis were surprised to find themselves fighting with cavalrymen fighting with both modern weapons and sabers. For some time Polish soldiers had the upper hand. But soon German soldiers began attacking in armored cars mounted with machine guns. After suffering a number of casualties, the Ulhans successfully stalled the German soldiers advancing in their sector. The 18th Pomeranian Uhlans’ cavalry charge became the last cavalry charge on horseback in history.

Reporters visited the battlefield the next day. In the battlefield, they saw numerous dead horses and cavalryman along with their sabers. An Italian journalist incorrectly concluded that Poland had fought only with lances and swords. The myth was further propagated when German propaganda picked it up to emphasize the superiority of the German army and its technology.(source)

Myth #6

US Vice President Al Gore claimed during a news interview that he invented the Internet.

Al Gore
Image Source: www.kpcb.com

Al Gore was the Vice President of the United States from 1993 to 2001. In the 1980s and 1990s, he worked for the expansion of ARPANET which later became the foundation of the Internet.

On March 9, 1999, Al Gore was giving a CNN interview. After the interview, it was reported that Gore had claimed that he invented the Internet. What he actually said was: “I’ve traveled to every part of this country during the last six years. During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country’s economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system.”

The statement “I took the initiative in creating the Internet” was widely misinterpreted. Media added fuel to fire by publishing the wrong interpretation. Also, the presidential campaign was close and Gore was a possible candidate. That’s why things blew out of proportion. Actually, Gore was trying to say that he is one of the visionaries who have helped in bringing the Internet to the masses by fostering its development.(1,2)

Myth #7

The Moscow–Washington hotline was a telephone line using red-colored phones.

The Moscow–Washington hotline
Image Source: www.classicrotaryphones.com

In 1963, the Moscow–Washington hotline was established to allow direct communication between the leaders of the United States and the Russian Federation. It linked the Pentagon in Virginia, U.S. with the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia.

It is a popular belief that the Moscow–Washington hotline is a telephone line called the “red telephone” in which red phones were used to communicate. The red telephone became famous as the symbol of the Moscow–Washington hotline after it got featured in a number of movies and TV commercials. But actually, the hotline never used any telephone, let alone a red one. In the beginning, communication was carried out through teletype equipment. It was later shifted to fax machines in 1986. In 2008, the hotline shifted from fax machines to a secure computer link. Since then, the messages are sent through email.(source)

Myth #8

Iron maidens are torture devices used during Middle Ages.

Iron maidens
Image Source: 1,2

The iron maiden, a spiked torture device, is capable of giving even the bravest person a nightmare. It is believed that it was used for torture during the Middle Ages. The device consists of an iron cabinet tall enough to enclose a human being. The interior of the cabinet is covered in spikes, but the device is entirely fictional.

The iron maiden is a German invention which originated in the town of Nuremberg, probably during the 14th century. According to Wolfgang Schild, a professor at the University of Bielefeld, the iron maiden was created by bringing together pieces of artifacts in museums. The aim was to create a spectacular object for commercial exhibition. The first written documentation about the iron maiden can be found in 19th-century stories. Before the 19th century, there is no proof that a device called iron maiden was ever created or used for torture.(1,2)

Myth #9

The United States Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776.

The signing of the United States Declaration of Independence
Image Source: commons.wikimedia.org

The 4th of July, Independence Day in the USA, is universally known as the day the Continental Congress voted for independence from England and signed the Declaration of Independence. But the reality is quite different. The vote for independence of the 13 colonies was conducted on July 2, 1776. The future president of US, John Adams, even wrote to his wife: “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.”

On July 4, 1776, the Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence, but the official signing ceremony was conducted on August 2, 1776. Even on August 2, 1776, all the signatures were not added. The signing of the document actually went on throughout the summer of 1776.(1,2,3)

Myth #10

George Washington cut down his father’s cherry tree when he was six years old.

George Washington cut down his father's cherry tree.
Image Source: commons.wikimedia.org

One of the most popular stories about George Washington is how he damaged a cherry tree and then admitted to it in front of his father as a sign of honesty. The original story says that when a six-year-old Washington received a hatchet as a gift, he cut down his father’s favorite cherry tree. When his father confronted him, young George bravely accepted his action. Upon hearing his son’s honest confession, Washington’s father rejoiced and said that his son’s honesty is worth more than a thousand trees.

Ironically, this story is just a story as it never actually happened. It was invented by George Washington’s biographer, Mason Locke Weems, after Washington’s death. Weems even claimed in front of his publisher that he had created the story.(1,2)

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