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."