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Until someone finally comes up with a time machine, most of history will remain a mystery to us. But even though we don’t know everything, it’s still filled with crazy stories that make us wonder what the heck was going on back then. An incredible level of madness can make a story even more interesting… and that’s actually why we shouldn’t necessarily believe everything we’re being told.
Sometimes people sacrifice the truth for a fascinating story and here at Bright Side, we’re recalling several popular events from the past that turned out to be beautiful lies.
1. The Vikings didn’t switch the names of Greenland and Iceland on purpose.
MYTH: The Vikings switched the names of Iceland and Greenland on purpose to keep people away from the nice, green Iceland they lived in and instead, directed them into icy Greenland. TRUTH: Iceland got its name from a grieving Swedish Viking whose daughter drowned en route to Iceland. He climbed up the mountain and saw a fjord full of icebergs (that actually came from Greenland), which led to the island’s name that stuck. Greenland got its name from Erik the Red who was banished from the island and sailed to a new home, wanting to create a new empire. He settled in Greenland and gave it a name that would attract people.
2. The Trojan horse never existed.
MYTH: After a 10-year siege over Troy, the Greeks still hadn’t conquered the city. They constructed a huge wooden horse, hid inside of it, and pretended to sail away before leaving the horse as a winning trophy for the Trojans. The Trojans then pulled the horse into their city, the Greeks crept out of it, opened the gates, and destroyed everything. TRUTH: Archaeological evidence shows that Troy was burned down and the wooden horse is probably just a fable that comes from Homer’s Odyssey.
3. A cow didn’t start the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
MYTH: The Great Chicago Fire that raged on for 2 days in 1871 happened because of a cow that hit a lantern while a woman named Catherine O’Leary was milking her. TRUTH: Catherine O’Leary claimed that she was asleep at the time the fire started and said she had never milked a cow in the evening but no one ever believed her. Later on, several reporters admitted that they made up the story.
4. 300 Spartans weren’t alone while holding Thermopylae.
MYTH: 300 Spartans were defending Thermopylae from a vast Persian army for 3 days. TRUTH: Although there really were 300 Spartans who were protecting the city, they were supported by at least 4,000 allies. They still had fewer people than the Persian army did, but they had a way better chance of winning.
MYTH: The market crash of 1929 caused a great wave of suicides among Wall Street investors who lost exorbitant amounts of money and they started jumping out of windows. TRUTH: October 29, 1929, is best known in history as Black Tuesday — the day when Wall Street investors traded about 16 million shares in a single day. 30 billion dollars were lost and this crash had become one of the causes for the following Great Depression. However, this isn’t what caused the suicides: the market’s numbers in October and November were the lowest in 1929. The person who was likely behind this rumor was Winston Churchill who saw the German chemist Dr. Otto Matthies fall from a hotel’s sixteenth floor. This happened before the market crash so it wasn’t actually connected to it.
5. People were not jumping out of windows after the 1929 stock market crash.
6. An apple didn’t fall on Isaac Newton’s head.
MYTH: Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree and came up with the theory of gravity when an apple fell on his head. TRUTH: Apples did help Newton a little bit, but not as much as the myth suggests. After Newton left Cambridge, he came back home and kept working on the problems he had been pursuing while at the university: he suggested that gravity influences vast distances. In his mother’s garden he was watching apples falling from the trees and spent several years working on the mathematics to get the formula.
7. Walt Disney’s body isn’t cryogenically frozen.
MYTH: After the world’s most famous animator, Walt Disney died, his body was cryogenically frozen to give people time to develop advanced technology that would make it possible to bring the dead back to life. TRUTH: This is not true as was confirmed by Disney’s daughter, Diane. In reality, Walt Disney was cremated.
8. Nero wasn’t playing a fiddle while Rome was burning.
MYTH: The Roman Emperor, Nero set Rome on fire and was playing a fiddle while it was burning. TRUTH: Although scientists still can’t agree on what really happened, most historians think that Nero had nothing to do with the Great Fire. He was away when it started and when he heard about it, he came back to coordinate with firefighters and opened his gardens to provide shelter for people whose houses were destroyed. Still, some believe it was he who burned the city because he didn’t like how it looked and wanted to rebuild it. We’ll probably never know what really happened, but there’s one thing we know for sure: Nero definitely wasn’t playing the fiddle simply because it wasn’t even invented yet!
MYTH: The American radio drama, War of the Worlds that was performed live in 1938 as a Halloween episode was so realistic that it led to mass panic: people actually believed that there was a real alien invasion happening! TRUTH: Since there was another popular program on a different channel at the time, the drama didn’t have many listeners and only a few of them believed it. So there was no real hysteria, just a couple of people who called the police department for information. Soon after, the CBS Radio told the listeners that the broadcast was fictional.
9. There was no War of the Worlds hysteria.
10. Pocahontas and John Smith didn’t have a love story.
MYTH: There was a beautiful love story between a Native American girl named Pocahontas and an English colonist named John Smith. TRUTH: At the time Pocahontas (whose real name was Matoaka) and John Smith met, she was only 11 years old and John Smith was 27. There was no love story between them, however, they really did meet when he was captured and they spent a little time together teaching each other their respective languages.
11. Einstein never failed math.
MYTH: Albert Einstein, a genius and Nobel Prize winner in Physics, failed math class in school. TRUTH: Einstein was great at math and by the age of 15 he had already mastered differential and integral calculus. The rumor comes from the grades he received while studying in Switzerland: he got a grade of “1, and on the scale from 1 to 6 this was actually the best mark. However, shortly after that, the system was completely changed and “6” became the best mark. Einstein still had a grade of “1” which is what led to the story that he supposedly “failed”.
What other popular myths do you know? Comment below to help us clear up this circle of lies once and for all!
Illustrated by Kseniia Volkova for BrightSide.me