Three Myths in the News

Contributed by readers:

Three myths surfaced in the news this week. Our first chuckle is the myth about myths. Here’s the article–

A billboard in Costa Mesa, Calif., is getting some attention, but it’s certainly not the kind its sponsors were hoping for.

The sign, paid for by atheist group Backyard Skeptics, includes a quote about Christianity attributed to Thomas Jefferson. But further research reveals there’s no solid evidence that Jefferson ever uttered or wrote the words, the Orange County Register first reported.

The billboard includes a picture of Jefferson with the quote: “I do not find in Christianity one redeeming feature. It is founded on fables and mythology.”

Experts at the Jefferson Library Collection at Monticello are constantly asked about the quote, the Orange County Register reports. Some say the former president wrote the words in a letter to a Dr. Wood, but officials cannot find trace of any correspondence to a person by that name.

Bruce Gleason, a member of the group, told the Orange County registrar that he should have done a bit more research before putting the words on the sign. (Ya think?)

This story reminded me of the George Washington myths (see posting “Myths of George Washington” from February 2011) that professor Edward G. Lengel of the University of Virginia talked about when his book on that topic was published. As the director of the Washington Papers for the past 15 years, Lengel constantly gets requests to authenticate supposed quotes from Washington, most of which have no basis in fact. 

The second item is from N. B. Hilyard. Thanks for bringing this to my attention! It comes from the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History and concerns the secret message supposedly hidden inside Lincoln’s pocket watch. Fact or myth? Turns out, it’s true, or very nearly so. Read about it here: 

And the third story comes courtesy of another reader who sent this amusing article from the Nashville Business Journal of Sept. 30, 2011:

“A public art announcement that was barely noticed by some in Nashville has made waves across the rest of the country.

The Metro Arts Commission voted earlier this month to award $300,000 to David Dahlquist, an Iowa-based artist, to install art along the new 28th/31st Avenue connector. As The City Paper reports, Dahlquist aimed to mimic different quilt designs that had originally been used to guide slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad.

One problem: The quilt-as-guidepost tale is a myth, as many from across the country were happy to inform the arts commission.

Jen Cole, director of the arts commission, told The City Paper the installation will maintain a quilt theme but will no longer commemorate the Underground Railroad.”


That’s cheering, isn’t it, that “many from across the country” debunked the Underground Railroad quilt code myth. It gives me hope that truth will ultimately prevail!


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