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Status: Hoax
image A reporter for Inside Bay Area (I don't know his name... it's not given with the article) recently recounted how his granddaughter told him that the bear on the California flag was originally supposed to be a pear. Back in 1846, Capt. Jedediah Bartlett, leader of a band of rebels fighting against the Mexican authorities in California, supposedly drew up a flag for the future state. He thought a pear, as a symbol of the region's agriculture, would be a fitting symbol. But his instructions were misread and the flagmaker inserted a bear on the flag instead of a pear. The error was never rectified.

The Inside Bay Area reporter was a little suspicious when he heard this story, but he did some fact-checking, discovered the story was true, and shared this with his readers. What he should also have told his readers was that his fact-checking consisted simply of finding the story listed as true on Snopes and therefore assuming it had to be true. Two weeks later he was forced to admit his error. The story is not true. The California bear was not originally a pear.

In his mea culpa the reporter offered this excuse: "I decided to recount it when I checked a Web site that purports to investigate urban myths to determine their validity. The Web site pronounced it 'True.' So I passed it along. Bad idea."

In other words, he seems to be blaming his error on Snopes. What the guy doesn't seem to realize is that the Pear/Bear story is one of a handful of deliberately false stories that Snopes has on its site (it calls them Lost Legends), placed there precisely to trip up people who are too lazy to do thorough fact-checking. Snopes explains this if you click on the "More information about this page" link at the bottom of the Pear/Bear story (something the reporter evidently still has not gotten around to doing). Journalists should be proud to call this guy one of their own.
Categories: History, Journalism
Posted by Alex on Sun Nov 13, 2005
Comments (15)
Status: Authentic
image In my hoax photo gallery I display a picture of the body of Abraham Lincoln lying in a casket and explain that the photo is fake because the army didn't allow any photos of Lincoln's body to be taken. But I just received an email from Rich noting that there is one authentic picture of Lincoln's corpse, and he's right. A photographer did manage to snap a shot of the dead Lincoln as he was lying in state in Manhattan's City Hall. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton had the photograph confiscated, and it was supposed to be destroyed. But instead, Stanton kept it, and it was found by historians almost 100 years later. It's the only true Lincoln death photo in existence.
Categories: History, Photos/Videos
Posted by Alex on Tue Sep 20, 2005
Comments (29)
image It's already well known that Michelangelo dabbled in art forgery. That's not disputed. For instance, there's his famous forgery of the Sleeping Cupid. However, Lynn Catterson of Columbia University thinks that a much more high-profile forgery should be attributed to him. She believes that Michelangelo forged The Laocoon, which has long been regarded as one of the most important pieces of ancient Greek sculpture in existence. She points out that Michelangelo was present when The Laocoon was unearthed in 1506. She has promised to provide further proof to back up her allegation at a lecture today, as well as in a book she's submitted for publication. (thanks to Jelena for the link)
Categories: Art, History
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 06, 2005
Comments (19)
In September 1939 the fledgling BBC television service was shut down because of the start of World War II. According to legend, transmission was ended in the middle of a broadcast of a Disney cartoon called "Mickey's Gala Premiere." When transmission resumed six years later an announcer came on the air and said, "Well now, where were we?" The Disney cartoon then began to play from the exact spot in which it had left off all those years ago. Is this story true? Almost, but not quite. According to, "Mickey's Gala Premiere" was the last thing shown on the BBC in 1939 and the first thing it aired when it started back up in 1946. However the cartoon was restarted from the beginning. Not from where it had left off in 1939.
Categories: Entertainment, History
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 06, 2005
Comments (7)
Here's a strange story. I'm not sure whether or not it's a joke. Supposedly the Dutch village of Wageningen commissioned the construction of a war memorial shaped like "a giant copper obelisk that rises and falls depending on the level of sunlight, and spurts flames out of the top during important festivals." Only after they built it did they realize it looked exactly like a giant penis and hastily decided to scrap it. There are two reasons I'm skeptical about this. First, the source is listed as Ananova. Second, there already is a National Liberation Monument war memorial in Wageningen that's been there since the 1950s.
Categories: History, Places, Sex/Romance
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 01, 2005
Comments (22)
It's long been thought that the word Easter and the traditions we associate with it (the Easter Bunny and hiding eggs) stem from an old Germanic Saxon belief about the goddess Ostara. The Saxons believed that Ostara was sent by the Sun King during the spring to bring an end to winter. She bore a basket of colored eggs, and with the help of a magical rabbit would hide these eggs under plants and flowers to bring them new life. The name Ostara evolved into Oestre, or Easter. Turns out this legend is a hoax, at least according to University of Tasmania researcher Elizabeth Freeman. Her research indicates that the Saxons never worshipped a goddess named Ostara. Ostara was simply invented by an 8th century scholar named the Venerable Bede, apparently because he thought it was a nice story: "He has definitely made up that goddess," Dr Freeman said. "Bede is the first one to mention it. German academics have found no evidence of the spring goddess Oestre anywhere else before Bede." She theorizes that the Easter Bunny legend actually came from ancient Celtic culture, because the Celts "revered sacred hares".
Categories: History, Religion
Posted by Alex on Sun Mar 27, 2005
Comments (19)
image Conspiracy theorists say that man never landed on the moon, but the truth is even more shocking. As this short documentary film about the Old Negro Space Program reveals, the Blackstronauts of Black 'NASSA' landed on the moon a full three years before White NASA managed to get there. However, this achievement has been covered up by an elaborate 'Black Blackout' in the media. The film manages to capture exactly the right 'Ken Burnsesque' tone. Watch for how they keep repeating 'It was a different time back then, 1957 or 58', and how a fiddle starts playing whenever the narration shifts to a more reflective mood. The guy who plays the part of the obligatory university academic is great also. (thanks to 'Ca n'Internet' for the link)
Categories: Exploration/Travel, History
Posted by Alex on Thu Mar 24, 2005
Comments (9)
According to legend, the Pony Express mail service (which operated from 1860 to 1861) advertised for riders as follows:

"Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows. Not over 18. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred."

But historian Joseph Nardone has determined that the ad is a hoax. It never ran. Or rather, it never ran during the operation of the Pony Express. He scoured hundreds of papers, but couldn't find it listed anywhere. The first time he found it mentioned was in 1902. A real ad for the Pony Express, from 1860, read as follows:

"Men Wanted! The undersigned wishes to hire ten or a dozen men, familiar with the management of horses, as hostlers or riders on the Overland Express Route via Salt Lake City. Wages, $50 per month and found (room and board)."
Categories: History
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 23, 2005
Comments (6)
image Yet another German archaeological fraud has possibly been uncovered. The Guardian reports that controversy has erupted over the authenticity of the 'Sky Disc of Nebra'. The disc, which shows the sun, moon and stars, was found in 1999 by two amateur metal detectors near the town of Nebra in Germany. It was believed to be 3600 years old. Now some experts, including Peter Schauer of Regensburg University, are claiming that it's a fake. This issue has arisen because the two guys who found it were charged with handling stolen goods after they tried to sell the disc to a museum. I don't really understand what the basis of the charge is. Were they not allowed to sell it because it's considered the property of the German government? Anyway, the basis of their defense is that the disc is fake, and therefore it is theirs to sell.
Categories: History, Science
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 02, 2005
Comments (14)
image In 1889 a curiously engraved stone was found in an Indian mound near Bat Creek, Ohio. The discoverer of the stone was John Emmert, who was working for the Smithsonian's Mound Survey Project. Emmert thought (or said he thought) that the inscription was written in Cherokee and sent the 'Bat Creek Stone' off to the Smithsonian, which accepted the stone as authentic. The Smithsonian then included a reference to the stone in its final report on the Mounds--the report in which it concluded that the mounds had been built by ancient American Indians, not by an ancient tribe of world-wandering Europeans or Israelites (the origin of the Indian mounds was a huge debate back in the 19th century and spawned numerous fanciful theories). Fast-forward to the 1960s when Hebrew scholar Cyrus Gordon realized that the Bat Creek Stone was actually inscribed with an ancient form of Hebrew, not Cherokee. Then in the late 1980s artifacts discovered alongside the stone were radiocarbon dated and found to be over 1500 years old. Some saw this as dramatic evidence of the presence of 'Hebrew sailors' in North America way back when. Perhaps a lost tribe of Israelites really had built the mounds? Or perhaps not. In the most recent issue of American Antiquity, Robert Mainfort and Mary Kwas (archaeologists at the University of Arkansas) expose the Bat Creek Stone as a forgery (The Columbus Dispatch has an article about this, but won't let people see it for free). Mainfort and Kwas discovered that the inscription was copied from an illustration that appeared in a widely available book titled General History, Cyclopedia, and Dictionary of Freemasonry, published in 1870 (nineteen years before the finding of the stone). As for who the forger was, the obvious suspect is John Emmert, since he was alone when he dug the stone out of the mound. So much for those Hebrew sailors in ancient America.
Categories: History
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 15, 2004
Comments (43)
A lot of people lately seem to be finding the lost city of Atlantis. Back in June a researcher said he located it off the southern coast of Spain by studying satellite images. Then last month US researchers said they found the city off the coast of Cyprus by using sonar technology. But my favorite is the discovery of Atlantis announced yesterday by the Hawaiian Phonics tutor Dennis Brooks. He's studied the issue deeply and has concluded that Atlantis is, in fact, Tampa, Florida. He points out that the dimensions of Atlantis as described by Plato pretty much match up with the dimensions of Tampa and Harbor Island (in Tampa Bay). So there you go. Mystery solved.
Categories: Exploration/Travel, History, Places
Posted by Alex on Fri Dec 10, 2004
Comments (9)
image In 1945 did Charles De Gaulle really say to Winston Churchill, in reference to the military aid that the Allies provided to France to defeat Germany, that "We shall stun you with our ingratitude"? Monday, November 22 was the birthday of De Gaulle, and a number of right-leaning blogs marked the occasion by posting this quotation (they seem to have picked it up from an article in the Belfast Telegraph). So did De Gaulle really say this?

Even though the tense verbal exchanges between De Gaulle and Churchill are well known, this particular remark sounded hoaxy to me. A quick google search didn't turn up any source that could verify the remark, though it did pull up an essay noting that Churchill once quoted to De Gaulle a passage from Plutarch: "ingratitude towards great men is the mark of a strong people." So it's possible that De Gaulle responded to this comment by saying that the French would stun Churchill with their ingratitude (in which context, the remark would be a compliment).

However, a second, more thorough google search revealed that the 'stunning ingratitude' quotation has been attributed to a number of other people besides De Gaulle. This 2003 article in attributes it to the prime minister of the Hapsburg Empire: When, in 1848, Tsarist Russia intervened to put down an insurrection in Hungary, thus saving the Hapsburg Empire which was then in deep trouble, the Hapsburg prime minister commented that: "We shall astonish the world with our ingratitude."

But quite a few other people (including the conservative columnists Pat Buchanan and George Will) credit the remark to the Italian statesman Camillo Benso Cavour: The Sardinian minister who guided his country to the unification of Italy in the mid-1800, Cavour, did so with French help in a war with Austria. Without the French Army the Austrians would probably still have been ruling Northern Italy in 1914. Cavour's comment was that someday the Italians would astonish the world with their ingratitude to France.

I suspect that Cavour is the true source of the saying. In which case, it's ironic that a remark originally referring to ingratitude towards France has now come full circle and is being used to demonstrate (supposedly) the ingratitude of France.
Categories: History, Military, Politics
Posted by Alex on Sat Nov 27, 2004
Comments (7)
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