The whole point of landmarks is that they let you know at least one thing about a place you've never been. Maybe you've never set foot in New York, but you know you'll find the Statue of Liberty there, welcoming immigrants. Go to Stonehenge and you'll find a bunch of rocks the ancient druids put there for some reason. But, as with anything else we think we know, the most basic facts about famous landmarks turn out to be mostly wrong.
#5. No, There Isn't an American Flag Standing on the Moon
On the gray, desolate surface of the moon, you'll find a vivid symbol of freedom: the American flag, planted into the lunar surface by Neil Armstrong. Its stars and stripes offer both a promise of freedom and the message that if anyone drives recklessly past the flag on their way to Earth, they can soon look forward to being punched in the face by Will Smith.
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"Your emissary's haymakers were as flawless as his enunciation."
In fact, given the number of Apollo missions, there should be half a dozen or so flags on the moon now, making its surface more visibly American than a NASCAR race on Independence Day.
But Actually ...
According to Buzz Aldrin, he and Neil Armstrong accidentally placed the original American flag too close to their spacecraft, and when they took off, the flag was blown away. Whoops.
The film crew was already on overtime, so the director decided to wrap instead of shooting the scene again.
It's true that subsequent flags planted by astronauts are still standing, but the message we're sending out to any passing aliens is less "America, fuck yeah!" than "WE SURRENDER."
Which is to say, they're not American flags anymore, just hunks of white cloth. You know how dye tends to fade in the sunlight, like when depressing old video stores used to leave their movie posters in the window too long? Well, when you leave fabric outside on a barren space-rock without the protection provided by the atmosphere, it fades even quicker. All the American flags lost their colors a long time ago, and are now a surrender-friendly shade of white.
NASA via Gizmodo
"Look! The Earthlings are displaying the white flag of war! Man your battle stations!"
Maybe that's not such a bad thing: If alien invaders do stop there first, perhaps it will make them let their guard down.
#4. No, Stonehenge Wasn't Built by Druids
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Stonehenge, the mysterious giant monument in England that looks like a drunken domino game played by God, is a work of the druids -- the priestly caste of an ancient Celtic tribe -- for use in their mysterious ceremonies. This Stonehenge/druid connection pops up everywhere, from the Spinal Tap movie to real-life seasonal druidic ceremonies at Stonehenge, which have been going on since the early 20th century and offer a slightly more socially acceptable way to dress up in white robes and call yourself a wizard.
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They're also not afraid to cut any Harry Potter fans who encroach on their turf.
But Actually ...
The fact is, no one knows much about the people who built Stonehenge. The builders didn't leave any written documents or little self-portraits carved into the rocks or anything. We do know one thing, though: It wasn't the druids. Carbon dating puts the finished monument centuries before the Celtic tribe with druid priests even arrived in Britain, and since it took over 1,000 years to build, we're pretty sure that means they weren't around during the initial building consultations.
This isn't exactly surprising, though, because everything we know about druids has them worshiping in oak groves, not in open plains more suitable for picnicking.
Real druids weren't much into the whole "dancing naked under rocks" thing. They hadn't invented Ecstasy.
So how did the monument become so connected with druidism? We can thank 18th century archaeologist William Stukeley, who popularized the theory. Stukeley was a member of a historical re-enactment club in which he played a druid called Chyndonax, and in his spare time was fond of re-enacting druidic ceremonies with his wife (as weird as you think it is, trust us, it's weirder).
So, given that this druid-obsessed dude was basically the 18th century version of the Ancient Aliens Guy, it wasn't surprising that when it came to Stonehenge, his opinion was "Screw it, probably druids." He was the kind of guy who probably thought druids were behind everything.
"I'm telling you, it was the druids who left an upper-decker in your toilet, Steve."
#3. Four Corners Monument Is Not, in Fact, at the Intersection of Four States
Four Corners Monument is a quadrilaterally neutral landmark to celebrate equality, cooperation, and the joining of different tribes and peoples into a single, proud entity: a modern American nation spanning both coasts and everything in between.
Nothing says "patriotism" like the arbitrary intersection of two imaginary lines.
There's no other place in the country where four states meet up at the same point, and this monument is unique because it stands at the exact intersection of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado, allowing countless tourists to take photos proving they have "stood in four states at once."
But Actually ...
If it's not exactly in the right spot, then it's pointless and just a stone blemish set against a serenely beautiful desert backdrop. Plus, "Come see the point where a bunch of states almost come together" is a much less effective slogan to draw crowds of tourists. However, recent surveys have shown that this is, sadly, the case. Originally, critics claimed the monument was 2.5 miles away from the actual spot where the states join, so the government did a survey to prove them wrong and found that it's "only" about 1,800 feet away from where it's supposed to be.
"Bet you critics feel dumb now!"
Incidentally, the government has declared that, regardless of its location, Four Corners Monument is legally in the correct spot. Except that in reality it isn't. And even though geology has had a 4.5 billion-year head start on bureaucracy, the latter wins because lawyers.
We don't feel like this is being pedantic here -- we can understand if maybe some battlefield monument isn't exactly where Custer was killed or whatever. Hell, we don't even mind if a famous tomb doesn't contain the figure supposedly housed there -- the idea is to give people a place to pay their respects. But the Four Corners Monument only exists because of its physical location. That's the entire point.
Welcome to ... just some random part of Utah.