#2. William Tell
Why He's Famous
The average person probably knows the name "William Tell" for one of two things -- either "The William Tell Overture," aka "The Lone Ranger Theme," or simply "the guy who used an arrow to shoot an apple off of a child's head."
But everyone in Switzerland knows the story by heart: In the early 1300s, what would become their country was occupied by Austria. One day, an official named Albrecht Gessler demanded that everyone in the village of Uri bow to his hat. William Tell was like "No, that's silly," so in punishment, Gessler forced Tell to shoot an apple off his son's head with an arrow at 120 paces. If he failed, both Tell and his son would be put to death.
"I'm just trying to stress to you the importance of hats."
Tell grabbed two arrows and successfully de-appled his kid. When Gessler asked him about the second arrow, Tell informed him that if he'd killed his son with the first one, the second would have been aimed at him (presumably in the crotch area). Furious, Gessler ordered him to the dungeon, but Tell escaped and killed him. Tell's defiance of Gessler inspired the people to fight, and the resulting rebellion led to the formation of the Swiss Confederacy.
But It Turns Out ...
Most historians agree that neither Tell nor Gessler ever existed. In fact, the Swiss apparently "borrowed" that story from the legend of a 10th century Viking named Toko. Like Tell, Toko was forced to shoot an apple off his son's head, and he reserved a second arrow for the jackass who made him do it. The main difference was that Toko had to shoot the arrow while the kid was running downhill, and that he was completely shitfaced at the time.
And we think Batman was there, too. At least judging from this illustration.
The earliest written account of the Tell story was created around 1568, some 250 years after the events it describes. Also, the date of the apple incident is supposed to be in 1307, and supposedly it inspired the villagers to unite and destroy the castles of the Austrians -- however, evidence showed that those castles had already been wrecked decades earlier.
Nevertheless, Tell has become such an integral part of Switzerland's culture that in a survey, some 60 percent of Swiss respondents said they believed he did exist. Even today, all Swiss exports carry a little symbol of a crossbow in his honor.
"Honestly, by now it's more about Daryl from The Walking Dead."
#1. Tokyo Rose
Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images
Why She's Famous
In the U.S., whenever people openly criticize American troops or side with the opposition in a military conflict, they're accused of being like "Tokyo Rose" (anti-war protester Jane Fonda was called this during Vietnam, or snidely referred to as "Hanoi Jane"). If you've seen the movie Flags of Our Fathers, there's a scene where the American GIs stationed in Japan hear a sexy English-speaking lady on the radio taunting them with the fact that, while they're being blown to pieces, back home their wives are probably blowing other dudes. That's "Tokyo Rose" -- she would broadcast anti-American propaganda aimed at demoralizing troops overseas.
After the war, two journalists actually found this traitor and the government threw her in jail.
Yeah, suck it. You just got AMERICA'd!"
But It Turns Out ...
The only problem is, the U.S. military had an agency monitoring enemy broadcasts 24/7 during the war, and they declared that there was no "Tokyo Rose." It was just a catchall name soldiers gave all English-speaking Japanese women on the radio. So wait, who the hell did they arrest, then? A California-born woman, Iva Toguri, who actually did the opposite of what we just described.
It's complicated. War isn't science, OK?
In 1941, Toguri was in Japan, taking care of an aunt. She was set to return to the U.S. on December 9 of the same year, but a little thing called "Japan bombing the shit out of Pearl Harbor" made that impossible. So she stayed there against her will and eventually got a job in Radio Tokyo, where she worked under a captured Australian major who had been tasked with broadcasting propaganda in English. However, since their Japanese superiors/captors didn't actually understand what they were saying, the major and Toguri began slipping pro-American messages into the broadcasts, which were always done in a playful tone. Here's one:
Toguri never went by "Tokyo Rose" (her moniker was "Orphan Annie"), and you'll note that her voice was anything but sexy. When the war ended, reporters desperate to confirm the rumors found Toguri, thought she fit the profile, and basically conned her into admitting that she was the real deal. As a result, she was convicted of treason, fined $10,000, and sentenced to 10 years in prison, and she had her citizenship revoked. Toguri was finally given the old presidential "Whoops, our bad" by Gerald Ford in 1977.
For imaginations we think are real, check out 6 Famous Things From History That Didn't Actually Exist. Or learn about 6 Things From History Everyone Pictures Incorrectly.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn which columnist is all in your mind.
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