A New Record for Myths?

DeathByPetticoatfinalCover

Rhonda Florian recently visited a historic house in eastern Pennsylvania and reported that she heard SEVEN history myths on one tour. Surely that’s a record! Rhonda reports:

“These are the ones I heard, but some of them had a little twist to them that I’d never heard before:

1. Most women died of infection from burns acquired while cooking.
2. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater–the line of bathing from head of the house downward to the baby.
3. Petticoat mirrors…I went over and checked to see if I could see my feet in the mirror. NOT POSSIBLE!
4. Heads painted onto generic bodies.
5. Melting wax makeup so they used fire screens to prevent that (but he was actually using a beautiful painted hand fan in a room supposedly designed for Civil War years)
6. Low chairs were used to prevent the women’s skirts from flipping up and they didn’t have arms because the arms would have “shredded” the skirts (this was also in the Civil War room. Apparently, he’s never worn a period correct cage. It doesn’t flip, and I’ve sat in my armed office chair to check my computer. Needless to say, it did not shred my dress.)

But number 7 was one that I had never heard before and in my opinion was the most outrageous claim of all. This colonial style house had the front and back door opposite each other with a hall connecting them. He said there were two purposes for this configuration. First of all, for air flow to get a breeze in the summer time. Secondly, so that they could bring the horse into the house! He said that they would load the wood onto the horse, bring the horse in through the front door, unload the horse, and then take the horse out the back door. He said there were scuff marks on the floor from the horse.

Of course, I looked for the “scuff marks.” There was nothing more than normal wear and tear from human shoes. Nothing at all resembling a hoof print from a horse shoe.”

I’ll decided to leave the name of the house out of this blog post because I don’t want to humiliate anyone. I know they are doing their best. Shall I send them a copy of my book, or would that be too rude? 

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14 Responses to A New Record for Myths?

  1. I recently heard similar claims about the makeup and the fireplace screen on a similar tour here in Virginia. This docent also suggested that more women died by their skirts being set aflame by fireplaces than in childbirth. So there’s a topic for you.

    • Mary Miley says:

      I addressed those two early on, in Myth # % and Myth # 2. In fact, I used the burning skirts (called petticoats then) as the title for the book, DEATH BY PETTICOAT.

  2. Cannon, Brian (DOS) says:

    Mary,

    I recently visited an historic house complex in Lewes DE, and heard for the first time about the horse dragging wood into the house, and like Rhonda, looked for the drag marks and hoof prints. Needless to say, both were lacking. Since the guide had also included some of the well debunked myths that should now be known by all, I didn’t say anything to the poor guide. I imagine she is only repeating what the management wants people to hear.

    Keep up the great work.

    Brian Cannon, New Castle, DE

    ________________________________

  3. Victoria L says:

    Wow! Those are some doozies! I know that horses would leave more than scuff marks on a wood floor – if they wore shoes, you might see imprints and even barefoot (no shoes) there would be more than just scuffing!

  4. Melissa says:

    I seriously laughed out loud about the horse. Wow.

  5. Melissa says:

    Do you address “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” here or in your book? I just heard that one again recently as well. Now, it is true that my mom and my aunt (twins) got bathed before their older and younger brothers because the boys were usually more filthy from playing in the dirt, and Mom does remember them all being bathed in the same water, but I don’t think any of them were ever in danger of being tossed out.

  6. Nancy Webster says:

    Sadly, this doesn’t surprise me. Those of us living in this area fight a constant battle to correct these and other ridiculous but oft-repeated myths. BTW, I’ve heard the horse-and-firewood myth at many sites. Go figure.
    Nancy W.

  7. Pat McMillion says:

    That’s the wise thing to do. They need to join ALPHAM!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  8. Bernadette says:

    Ah! The headless body portrait one! My fave! I love to imagine a traveling artist spending his time creating fantasy bodies (sort of like the cutouts you see on the boardwalks) and then hoping to find a match with a customer (“Gosh! I wish I could find someone who wants to be portrayed as a portly gentleman in a blue coat!”).

    • Mary Miley says:

      Yes, that’s my favorite “I-wish-it-were-true myth. It is so logical and appeals to my sense of efficiency. Sadly . . . it isn’t true.

    • Damien says:

      I knew a part time painter who spend the winter painting summer landscapes off site and then sold them on site during his summer vacation while ‘painting’ near the crowds. I can imagine portrait painters had also some clever tricks.

  9. John Simpson says:

    Definitely send them a copy of your book. I don’t think that it would be rude at all.

  10. Dixie Lee says:

    My local historical society is selling your book in their shop but it doesn’t stop their docents from using the myths – because the ladies don’t like real history – just filial piety.

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