The truth is like Silly Putty: you can stretch it, mold it and use it to destroy someone's life.
Just ask anyone who's ever run a nasty smear campaign; a good, juicy lie or half-truth about someone can not only follow them to the grave, but can echo down through history long after.
Just look at how the following "historical facts"--all complete bullshit--have continued to show up in print for centuries after the subject has passed away.
Quick, let's do word association. When we say "Napoleon" you say the first word that comes to mind.
About 20 percent of you just said, "French!" and the other 80 percent said, "short!"
Yes, in a world where our hazy history education won't let most of us quote even five facts about the guy, what we all know is that he was a tiny, tiny little man.
Now, it's true Bonaparte didn't tower over anyone. For instance, he was shorter than the Imperial Guards he was often seen with (who had a height requirement, since like all such guards through history part of their job was to look intimidating).
But most agree that Bonaparte was almost 5' 7", which was in fact just above average for the early 19th century (and wouldn't exactly make him a freak even now).
The French, however, used a slightly different system that listed the emperor at 5'2". And that appears to be the source of the whole "Napoleon as midget" image. When word got back to England that the terror of France was only a tick taller than five baguettes, the British propaganda machine had a field day. After all, it's much easier to win a battle when you imagine the other guy's Marty McFly and you're Biff Tannen.
"Voulez-vous make like a tree and get outta here?"
As we'll see often on this list, if you repeat a lie often enough, it eventually becomes truth. Fast forward 200 years and a man who at worst was a few inches shorter than average, and at best was exactly as tall any random dude at the time, is portrayed as a laughable cartoonish freak of a man.
The lesson? If you're going to be a world leader, surround yourself with shorter people.
John Edgar Hoover directed the FBI from 1924 to 1972, and based on anything you read about him today, he spent that entire time wearing frilly ladies' undergarments. At this point it's almost as common as the "Napoleon was midget" thing.
Why? Well, as the head of the nation's largest crime-fighting bureaucracy, Hoover spent his days single, secret-filled and surrounded by lawmen. Hoover's acquaintanceship with agents was beyond professional--he dined with feds, went out to nightclubs with feds and even holidayed with feds. And a the time these were all dudes.
This led to gossip that Hoover was gay, which is a possibility historians have yet to reach consensus on. Hoover's raging homophobia didn't help his case (he attempted to out Eleanor Roosevelt and presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson) and made him some enemies, most notably openly-gay Southern playwright Truman Capote.
It was in the early 60s when Susan Rosenstiel, an ex-wife of an alleged mobster, claimed she had seen Hoover at gay orgies, bewigged and bedazzling. No one took Rosenstiel seriously, the least of all Capote. In fact, he found her story so fucking hilarious he told everyone within earshot.
How did Capote get away with it? Well, he was famous and consorted with the movers and shakers of the day. When asked whether he believed the rumors about Hoover's transvestite tendencies, Capote pithily replied, "Who cares?" This is easily the most gangster outlook one can have when casually annihilating another man's reputation.
O.G. with pimp hat.
But the image of the pudgy tough-guy Hoover prancing around in nothing but see-through panties and a feather boa was too ironic, and nightmarish, for the nation to ignore. As usual, when the smear is more hilarious than the truth, we go with the smear.
But it could have been worse, when you consider...
Go to Google and type in "Catherine the Great" and one of the top recommended searches is "Catherine the Great + Horse." So... was there a horse named Catherine the Great? Was her horse famous for some reason?
No, the reason is that these days half the people who know who Catherine the Great is, know her as "that lady who died fucking a horse." It's the kind of thing that kind of overshadows all your other accomplishments.
In Catherine's case those other accomplishments include being the sole ruler of Russia from 1762 to 1796. Under her rule, Russia expanded its territory and modernized in step with the rest of Europe. But her reign infuriated the other nations, as A) Russia was widely considered the backwoods retard of the continent; and B) she had a vagina. And boy, did those grumpy old monarchs hate her vagina.
"What SHALL we do about this troubling vagina?"
It didn't help that the unmarried Catherine loved her pink parts and put them to good use regularly, something that ladies weren't allowed to be open about in those days. She reportedly "tested" her suitors on one or more of her handmaidens first.
Catherine's fondness for 18th century sex was matched by her love of equestrianism. Seeing as how the empress' favorite mounts were both man and beast, it was easy for pesky French aristocrats to combine her hobbies into a nasty rumor designed to knock Russia's hillbilly queen down a peg.
The rumor culminated in what is today the most well-remembered detail about Catherine: That she perished when a stud crushed her during coitusequus.
In reality she died in her bed, of a stroke, at the age of 67. But the smear gained legitimacy on the continent, being too misogynistic and Russophobic to ignore. And today it's just so much more awesome to remember Catherine as a quasi-mythical creature that ran through multiple species of dicks to prove her might.
Angelina Jolie, ladies and gentlemen!