Another "Common Knowledge or Fascinating Anecdotes... that unfortunately aren't true" Thread

I like to have these from time to time.

When I first became a Doper (2000 or so- I wasn’t Sampiro then) I referenced the death of Charles Drew in a thread- the African-American hemotologist who famously bled to death from an accident because the hospitals would not admit a black man- and was quickly informed that in spite of the fact that this story had been repeated in textbooks and propaganda and even a MAS*H episode this wasn’t true. He was fatally injured in a car crash and was taken as soon as the ambulance arrived to the nearest hospital but died of his injuries. (An almost i-dentical legend not only persists about Bessie Smith but was repeated by her sister [also a blues singer] and inspired an Edward Albee play, when again Smith died of her injuries in spite of receiving medical care immediately [a doctor came along the same road immediately after the accident], the nearest hospital was in fact a black hospital, but her injuries were just too severe.)

While it can be moderately embarassing to be corrected from something you know to be true it’s more embarassing to keep repeating it, so the Charles Drew correction was actually one reason I joined the Dope. I actually prefer to be disabused of such ‘knowledge’ rather than keep repeating it, so I like to open one of these threads once in a while. What’s some factual information that goes around that is, in fact, craptual?

Note: this isn’t for things that are debatable, such as Reaganomics worked/didn’t work or (from a current thread) the South Constitutionally had the right/did not have the right to secede", but clearcut factual errors (e.g. “Charles Drew died from racist medical segregation” or such oldies but goodies as “according to physics hummingbirds/bumblebees can’t fly”, “Columbus proved the earth was round”).

One I just learned from the dope today: Napoleon was not really that short - at 5’6" or 5’7" he was actually slightly taller then average for his time.

I was soooo embarrassed when I discovered that glass flow isn’t real. I learned about it in science class, for Pete’s sake!

I heard something about Bell not actually being the inventor of the phone. Is this true?


So one that I mention because, though I thought it was disproven to everybody’s satisfaction 144 years, I’ve found it on other message boards still being repeated.
Love or hate Jefferson Davis as you will but he was NOT wearing a dress and disguised as a woman when captured. It was reported at the time and widely caricatured, but it was dispelled by the Union officers who arrested him. He was wearing a unisex raincoat because it was drizzling rain, and he had a shawl on his head that may or may not have been (accounts vary) to hide his identity. Davis was 6’0 tall and at the time of his capture he had a full beard and was wearing boots; he would not have fooled even the stupidest soldier even if he’d worn a hoop skirted ballgown and parasol.
A similar story is told of Santa Anna on some sources: that he was found wearing a dress trying to get by pickets disguised as a señorita. In fact he was disguised but it was by dressing in a private’s uniform, and it would have worked had it not been for [del]meddling kids[/del] his own men recognizing him and informing the guards.

I was recently corrected- with my appreciation- in the notion that Stonewall Jackson loved lemons and ate them constantly. The truth is that it’s uncertain where this notion got started, but it’s just a part of his mythos. The truth is that he loved fruit, and occasionally ate lemons, but he mainly ate what was available and didn’t seem to prefer lemons to anything else. His favorite fruit was in fact peaches.

One other Civil War related one that may not be incorrect but there is no proof it is correct: It is true that Woodrow Wilson had been friends with Thomas Dixon, author of The Clansman, in college, and that he had a private showing of the hit movie Birth of a Nation, based on Dixon’s novel, in the White House. (For anyone unfamiliar Birth of a Nation is considered both a cinematic masterpiece and the most offensive movie of all time- the KKK are the good guys who protect white southerners from a deranged ex-slave [played by a white actor in blackface] who abducts a white woman to be his queen for an otherwise all black kingdom he plans to start.)
It is reported that Wilson loved the film and said “It is history writ with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so true”. This appears constantly in print about the film. In fact those who were with Wilson when he watched it reported that he said no such thing- he didn’t even say if he particularly liked or disliked the film. Wilson’s aide Joseph Tumulty, who was at the screening, said "“the President was entirely unaware of the nature of the play before it was presented and at no time has expressed his approbation of it” in a letter to the NAACP, and nobody else who was present ever claimed he made that quote. As a southerner who lived through the Civil War as a child I can’t imagine Wilson’s racial views were exactly enlightened by our standards, but he was also a historian and it’s seriously doubtful he believed the worst parts of the movie was anything other than melodrama, and if he made that comment at all it was probably related to the battle scenes (which are considered very accurate- actual Civil War veterans served as advisors and as extras).

He did invent the telephone as in receiving the patent and promoting it, but he may not have been the first. Antonio Meucci (mentioned in GODFATHER 3, incidentally) had been working on transmitting sounds electrically for many years and Bell used some of his research in his own work. (Bell’s interest in electric conduction of sound began in hopes of enabling his wife and his mother [two different women, but both of them deaf] to gain hearing.)

That Kitty Genovese is not in fact an example of bystander effect and that people just didn’t see enough/hear enough to know what was happening. And in fact several people did phone the police.

Here’s a major one that I just learned about: Kitty Genovese

Her name was always used to invoke horror of everything from NYC to human apathy when I was a kid. The short version is that she was raped and murdered in a long drawn out attack that lasted over an hour and was in full view of 38 people who watched from their windows, yet not one of them called the cops.

The truth is- a lot different. She was raped and murdered, but that’s about where it ends. The real details are covered in the new book Superfreakonomics but also on wikipedia article.

Short version: 38 was the estimate of people who would have been able to see or hear part of the attack; nobody could have seen or heard it all. It was after midnight and many of those probably slept through it, and those who did hear it thought it was a domestic dispute (then as now not uncommon in any city). The actual rape and murder occurred out of public view- there were no witnesses- and her lung was punctured so she could not have screamed. Add to this that some of those who heard the commotion did call the police, and the cops weren’t apathetic so much as they get zillions of calls per year about a couple yelling at each other or having a fight which is exactly what it sounded like to those who heard the initial attack.

It was a terrible crime, but those in the neighborhood were much maligned.

ETA: Jinx!

What, really? I am reading Superfreakenomics right now and just two nights ago read about Kitty Genovese. No where in the chapter (so far) did they mention that people did call the police.

ETA: Apparently I haven’t read far enough yet!

Dammit, I came in to post about Charles Drew.

I guess I owe you a bump of coke. (What? Isn’t that what all the cool kids are doing after “Jinx!”? :D)

EmAnJ, Sampiro’s wiki link mentions the people who called the police. Apparently one guy who called said she was stabbed but was staggering around…the po po’s may not have given high priority to these early calls.

That’s a little misleading, though, because Napoleon lived in an era when height was more stratified by class. Among the army officers, government officials, and diplomats with whom he interacted, he was shorter than average. Or at least, artists painted him that way, even when they were trying to flatter him–see here or here.

Later on in his career he put on weight and developed a stocky build, which made him appear short even when standing (in portraits) by himself.

Actually he was a notorious racist and white supremacist, and the comments ascribed to him are well within the realm of plausibility considering his views. From “The Birth of a Nation” itself comes this quotation from Wilson: “The white men were roused by a mere instinct for self-preservation…until at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the Southern country.”

Wilson segregated the federal government, removed African Americans from office, blocked the ascendancy of others, and minimized the reality of slavery. James Loewen in “Lies My Teacher Told Me” references how Mrs. Wilson told jokes about “darkies” at the White House dinner table; the list goes on…

I’m not contradicting your assertion that there is no evidence he made that statement about the film, but to call his views unenlightened is putting it mildly.

I keep having to dispell the “Eskimos have X number of words for snow” one in psych class. The response I got was along the lines of “Okay, it may not be literally true, but the concept illustrates our theory that…”

It’s the most ANNOYING book that way - there’s absolutely no reason for the structure it has.

I was also embarrassed to find out that glass isn’t a liquid after all the years I was taught it.

Sugar eaten at night makes children hyper-active and makes it hard for them to sleep.

Many Americans, when polled, think we spend 15-25% of the federal budget on foreign aid.

The real figure is less than 1%.
Also, social security is not as insolvent as is claimed.

I assumed he was a racist based on when he lived/where he was from but not having studied him that much I didn’t realize the degree of it. Thanks for the info.

I read this sentence and thought, “Geez! Sampiro’s older than I thought!”

The jury may still be out about this one to an extent, but…

The Skylab 3 astronauts did not “go on strike” and refuse to work until the ground controllers eased up on them.

I remember hearing this years ago, and supposedly it’s often used as an example in business classes to illustrate management / labor relations. But according to a recent book authored by two Skylab astronauts (though not from that crew), that’s not what really happened.

The way they explain it, the issue was more that the ground controllers didn’t allot enough time for the new crew to acclimate, and instead expected them to pretty much pick up where the previous crew left off. But there was no “strike”. They just had a series of conversations with the controllers, explained what they needed, and got it. No big conflict or acrimony.