Myth Busters to the Rescue!

Every day, stories about people or objects are told in museums that are not true.  Some are outright fabrications.  Others contain a kernel of truth that has been embellished over the years.  Because they are catchy, humorous, or shocking, these stories often stick in our memories when less sexy information slips away.

Some of the weird things we hear are actually true. Hat makers really were driven ‘mad’—or more accurately, they were poisoned—by the mercury they used in making hats from furs. The symptoms: hallucinations, tremors, and twitching, looked like insanity to people of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the phrase ‘mad as a hatter’ came about. But many myths are utter nonsense.

It is hard to visit a historic site or museum today without encountering at least one myth.  How many have you heard?  How many do you believe? Let me know what you’ve heard and I’ll try to confirm or debunk it.

Who am I? Mary Miley Theobald, a historian and writer with an M.A. in American history, 13 years of teaching American history at Virginia Commonwealth University, 9 years working for Colonial Williamsburg (the country’s largest history museum), and 35 years of writing books and articles, mostly about history. I got started busting myths in a magazine article, and it seemed like the more I dug, the more I uncovered. I’ll post one a week until I run out . . . at that rate, I think I can go for a couple years.

It’s fun. Feel free to join in!

4 Responses to Myth Busters to the Rescue!

  1. Katherine Keena says:

    Wonderful! one of my favorite most dreaded myths! please go on to cross and bible doors, taxing mirrors and other horrors!

  2. Please do post something about food myths – the one regarding medieval people heavily spicing their food to hide the fact that it was rotten is still around!

  3. Steven says:

    Who are you? I’d love to read your books.

  4. Adé Oba Tòkunbò says:

    Thank you Ms. Miley for bringing forth the facts about #88.
    A few decades ago when I first heard about John Hanson being Black and the first president of the U.S.A. it sounded obviously false and idiotic to me then. The first and most blatant anomaly of this pseudo-factoid was the assertion that an African/Black man would be chosen as president of the Continental Congress by a gathering of Anglo-American/White Racists. Some years later when I heard this pseudo-factoid again, a photograph was presented in an attempt to fortify the idiotic assertion. The photograph didn’t convince me because the style of the clothing that the Black man was wearing was obviously indicative of the 19th century, and not the late 18th century.
    Your information was particularly helpful because I didn’t know where the photo of the black “John Hanson” came from.
    Thank you again.

    Adé Oba Tòkunbò

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