5 Iconic Scenes from History Everyone Pictures Incorrectly
We all have at least one person from our past that we remember incorrectly. Maybe you pictured your bully about 50 pounds heavier than he was, or your favorite teacher with 10 percent fewer chin hairs. Your seventh grade girlfriend didn't really have double-Ds in retrospect, did she?
Well, history is like that. As a culture, we get a picture in our head and it sticks, no matter how wrong it is. For example ...
The Signing of the Declaration of Independence Wasn't an Event
If you're wondering why Americans set off all of those fireworks on the Fourth of July every year, it's not because they want to upset their dogs -- it is, of course, the day the American Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. John Trumbull's iconic portrait of the event is pretty much how we picture the signing: Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams are presenting John Hancock with the document, everyone else is waiting around for their turn to sign their names on the dotted line and start independencing.
Instead of his last name, Hancock was originally just going to draw
a hand holding a giant dong, but Franklin convinced him otherwise.
How else could the signing of the Declaration of Independence have possibly looked? It's not like we'd expect them to sign with their feet.
How We Got It Wrong:
Let's start with the date. No one signed jack on the Fourth of July. The committee that wrote the document presented it to Congress on June 28, at which point the Congress put it aside while they spent a few days debating if they had the guts to break off with England. It wasn't until July 2 that Congress came to a consensus and voted for independence. Then Congress spent a few days editing what was actually no more than the press release of the event, the Declaration of Independence. It just so happened that the final (unsigned) product wasn't ready for publication until the 4th, but by then Americans already considered themselves not-English for two straight days. The Declaration was like the wedding announcement published in the local newspaper a week after the actual ceremony. Or better yet, the divorce announcement, if people were tacky enough to publish those.
"We hardly talk anymore, and when we do, it's like there's an ocean between us."
As for the actual signing of the document, it took months. Historians argue that all 56 signers were never in the same room at once, and some of the representatives on the document hadn't even been elected by July 4. It wasn't until an August 2 session that John Hancock got the ball rolling with his signature, and other congressmen followed suit in the very tiny space that was left. But that process wasn't a one-day event either -- signers were still laying down their John Hancocks up until freaking November.
So what we're saying is that American employers should give everyone those five months off.
We'll admit that "Our Independence Trimester!" doesn't hold the same weight.
Manhattan Wasn't Purchased for $24 Worth of Beads
Among the many terrible atrocities white people have been accused of committing is what has to be the world's biggest real estate swindle. The story goes that in 1626, the Dutch pulled a fast one on American Indians living in Manhattan by offering them $24 in dinky beads for the whole shebang.
Fast forward a few centuries and that island is the most valuable real estate on planet Earth, and the natives don't get a penny of the profits. Poor, bamboozled Indians.
"Man, fuck this. Next time we're asking for stuff we can actually use ... like blankets."
How We Got It Wrong:
The traditional version of the Manhattan purchase is like a juicy piece of gossip missing the key facts, so we filled them in with tropes that we're familiar with. Let's say you see a slutty neighbor creeping around with a married man (or woman). The quickest conclusion you or any other reasonable person would come to is that the two are boinking. You don't need to see actual semen to get to that assumption, you just put two and two together.
It's kind of the same thing with the purchase of Manhattan. Let's start at the beginning. We know that the Dutch settlers were instructed to pay for the land they settled, not just take it by force. So kudos for that, we guess. But there was a glitch. Like 99 percent of the people you meet in Manhattan today, the Canarsie Indians didn't actually live there. They were borough Indians who shared Manhattan as hunting grounds with other tribes. When the Dutch and the Indians made their exchange, the natives probably thought they were letting a new group join their hunting grounds, and maybe they'd even strike up a future strategic alliance.
They were basically like the shittiest Survivor contestant ever.
As for the exchange itself, we have no reason to think beads were involved at all. The only evidence we have from the purchase is one single letter written by a Dutch merchant to the West India Company mentioning buying the land for the value of 60 guilders. That could have meant 60 literal pieces of Dutch currency or goods valued at 60 guilders. A later trade between similar parties included kettles, ax heads, duffel cloth, hoes, drilling awls, and, yes, beads -- all of which were considered a "high end technology transfer."
"Hey, man, when you said they gave us a bunch of hoes, this isn't what I had in mind."
Two hundred and twenty years later, a New York historian took that original price of 60 guilders and converted it to $24. And for some reason, that's the number that stuck all these years. Dutch historians claim the equivalent is more like $1,000. It was still a bum deal, of course, but no one thought they were getting the short end of the stick at the time.
Ponce de Leon Never Hunted for the Fountain of Youth
Everyone knows Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon found Florida while searching for the Fountain of Youth, which is hilarious because look at Florida now! It's full of old people! Irony!
What do you expect from a state that looks like a cross between a flaccid dong and an old person's neck flap?
It's also a great example of what a bunch of superstitious dimwits people used to be. People used to risk their lives exploring new territory not for gold or other resources, but magical artifacts that grant eternal life? What a bunch of assholes!
How We Got It Wrong:
The whole Fountain of Youth story was a satire, like the story of Don Quixote chasing windmills or the movie Airplane!
"Jose, do you like movies about conquistadors?"
Ponce de Leon started out as one of the 1,200 explorers, sailors, and volunteers who voyaged on Christopher Columbus' second trip to the New World in 1493. And he must have impressed the right people because within 20 years he was governing provinces in Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. According to documents of the time, the guy was neither superstitious nor a moron. He was just really good at violently suppressing indigenous populations, which was pretty much all the Spanish government wanted in a person back then.
There was one problem, however. Or another problem, in addition to the one that had to do with killing native people. Twenty years after Christopher Columbus' initial voyage, Columbus' son Diego thought he had a right to a chunk of the land his dad had stumbled onto. After years of wrestling with the Spanish courts, Diego finally got a ruling in his favor, which gave him the authority to kick Ponce de Leon out of the provinces he was governing. But the Spanish throne was still pretty happy with Ponce, so they threw him a bone: If he kept looking for new lands, he could rule them in Spain's name. So he did. Boom. That's how we got Florida.
Which sadly is how we got Flo Rida.
So where did the story of the Fountain of Youth come into play? Years after de Leon's death, one of Diego's cronies was asked to write a history of Spain's adventures in the New World. When this historian got to Ponce's chapter, he took the bitter family rivalries to heart and threw in a made-up story about the explorer chasing death-defying magic water like some kind of dipshit. The actual paper trail between de Leon and Spain makes as many mentions of a Fountain of Youth as it makes of a Fountain of Spider-Mans. Soooo, none. The whole thing was intended to make de Leon look like an idiot.
Hitler and Jesse Owens Were Not Bitter Enemies
The 1936 Olympics was supposed to be Adolf Hitler's coming out party, but not in the sense that we think of "coming out" today. In Hitler's twisted mind, the games would be the perfect international showcase of Aryan superiority and fast running skills. So Adolf sure did have egg on his face when African-American Jesse Owens won four medals. In fact, Hitler was so embarrassed that a black man had beat his whiteys that he refused to shake Jesse's hand, something the media was quick to report back home in America. What a racist idiot!
We can't tell if that guy is offensively saluting, or offensively trying to touch Owens' hair.
How We Got It Wrong:
While it's true that Jesse and Adolf never slapped hand skins, the idea of the Fuhrer storming out of the stadium in a dramatic huff is totally made up. No, the guy who orchestrated the greatest racially motivated genocide in history didn't want to shake hands with a black man, obviously. In fact, he didn't want to shake hands with any medalists who weren't German, because he didn't want non-Aryan cooties. So when the International Olympic Committee told him to shake hands with either all of the winners or none of the winners, Hitler chose none. What did you expect? It's not like the world's greatest monster was suddenly going to turn into a gracious sportsman.
The real surprise came when Owens was later asked about his time in Berlin. You have to remember that in 1936 Owens was a second-class citizen in his home country. Like other American blacks, Owens had to ride in the back of the bus and use the back door at restaurants, and once he got home from Berlin, this famous, world-class athlete even had to take the freight elevator at his own reception. But during the Olympics, it was a different story. Owens didn't just train, eat, and travel with his white teammates, he struck up a friendship with one of Germany's superstar athletes, Luz Long. Here's a picture of Jesse and Luz sharing a giggle fit.
So in Jesse's mind, he got more respect during the German games than he ever did before or since in America. It didn't bother him that the Big Nazi in Charge didn't shake his hand; it did bother him that his own president didn't send a congratulatory telegram because he didn't want to offend Southern voters. Especially since, according to Owens, Hitler sent him an inscribed picture of himself when the games were over. Sure, it was a tacky, egomaniacal gesture from a monster, but that was more than Owens got from FDR.
Plus, the stupid inscribed picture wasn't even the only recognition Owens got from Adolf. Jesse said Hitler gave him a wave:
"But before he left I was on my way to a broadcast and passed near his box. He waved at me and I waved back. I think it was bad taste to criticize the 'man of the hour' in another country."
Some historians think he may have changed his mind and was calling for a high-five, in which case he totally got left hanging.
For all we know, Owens might have inadvertently given Adolf Hitler the Nazi salute and he just didn't know it. Still, you'd expect Hitler to be more of a dick about the whole thing.
And while we're on Hitler ...
The Third Reich Didn't End With Hitler's Suicide
Aside from people who mistake Inglourious Basterds for historical fact, we all know how the Nazis met their end: On April 30, 1945, Hitler finally got the hint from the rest of the world and shot himself. With that final hit to the brains behind the Nazi empire, the rest of the organization fled, surrendered, or committed suicide before the Russians could get their big angry bear paws on them.
His greatest regret is not getting to Zangief-piledrive that silly little mustache off.
How We Got It Wrong:
Everyone, that is, except the guy that Hitler named as his successor, Karl Donitz. Karl and his leftover Nazis tried to make a go of being the new Hitler for three whole weeks.
If the situation wasn't tragically bookended by the 20th century's greatest atrocities, it would almost be funny. Karl Donitz and his remaining stubborn cohorts hunkered down in a North German town called Flensburg where they held cabinet meetings, hired a photographer, and flew the swastika with pride. The problem was that all that was left to do was surrender, and by May 9, the surrender was a done deal. Still, Donitz drove his Hitlermobile the quarter mile to work every day and sat with his cabinet while they planned a whole steaming mess of nothing.
They considered blaming it all on the Jews before remembering that was what got them in this mess to begin with.
By May 15, the Allies surrounding the Nazi headquarters were just about embarrassed for the sad saps -- no communications with their people, no work to do, no barbarity left undone. Finally, on May 23, the Allies put the men out of their misery with an arrest. It was all very awkward and anticlimactic, so we all focus on the Hitler story instead.
You know you've gotten your ass handed to you when they don't even bother to bring handcuffs to your arrest.
But never forget that for 23 days in 1945, one man and his ragtag gang of pure evil tried to pull the Nazi regime back from the brink of destruction. Oh, and that this president of the Third Reich lived safely and happily with his family until 1980 when a nice, quiet heart attack struck him down. You could probably learn more about him from his memoirs, if you're so inclined.
He could never take off that hat due to the swastika carved into his forehead.
For more things you're just plain wrong about, check out 6 Things From History Everyone Pictures Incorrectly and The 5 Most Statistically Full of Shit National Stereotypes.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Ridiculous Ways 'Law & Order' Covered Celebrity Scandals.
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Extra Credit: The Bible doesn't look the way you pictured it either- this article is all the proof you need. Did you know Jesus had a ton of brothers and sisters? You will. Great mythology can be pretty raunchy. Just ask these ancient cultures who based their society around depraved sex scenes. Which is how we end up with Loki's horse rape babies. Looking to further shock your image of the past with some ancient turtle porn? Cracked has you covered.