6 Historical Hoaxes That Are Too Stupid Even For 2017
The convenient thing about the media these days is that they're both clear-minded truth-tellers and malevolent purveyors of fake news, depending entirely on what you need from them. It's almost as if we don't even need the news at all!
It's worth pointing out that the concept of fake news isn't entirely fake. Many times throughout history, the media has doctored, embellished, or outright fabricated stories for the explicit purpose of embarrassing people. Here are six such examples.
The Slander That Killed Andrew Jackson's Wife
Andrew Jackson met his first wife, Rachel, while she was fleeing her abusive first husband, a guy named Lewis Robards. Rachel and some friends ended up having to travel from Kentucky to Mississippi to escape him, which in those days was not a trivial journey. Jackson, a friend of the family, helped escort Rachel during this trip, and as is so often the case in these situations, he fell in love with the woman he was protecting. They married a year later.
A key point here is that Rachel didn't file any divorce paperwork here before taking off. She just assumed, reasonably, that the dick she'd previously married would file for divorce after she fled into the wilderness.
Generally not a good sign when the wife packs off into the hills.
But Robards didn't get that divorce, thus rendering the Jacksons' subsequent marriage invalid in the eyes of the law and the noses of busybodies. Robards had almost certainly done this deliberately, waiting for evidence of Rachel's second marriage to arrive that proved her "adultery." Still, the divorce was soon cleared up and done with, Jackson and Rachel married a second time to make everything nice and legal, and everyone was happy (except maybe Robards, but seriously, fuck that guy).
And then 1828's presidential election rolled around, and everything went to shit.
The circumstances surrounding the Jacksons' first marriage were hardly scandalous. It was clearly a mistaken assumption on Rachel's part combined with the final dick move of an evil ex. But Jackson's political opponents dug up this "scandal" and tore into Rachel like a murder of crows, calling her a bigamist and an adulteress while somehow simultaneously also painting her as a dumpy, chicken-fried country bumpkin. One newspaper even asked, "Ought a convicted adulteress and her paramour husband to be placed in the highest offices of this free and Christian land?"
You leave her alone, Cincinnati Gazette!
The attacks got worse and worse as the Jacksons made their way along the campaign trail, setting a precedent that candidates' wives were now fair game for political sniping. Rachel was ridiculed for her weight, her rural background, and, of course, the botched marriage. To make matters worse, Jackson's opponents continually compared his wife to John Quincy Adams' wife, Louisa, considered to be more appropriate for the White House than Rachel almost exclusively because she was wealthy and pretty.
"Oh Christ, she brought out the harp. She is good."
Sadly, although her husband's political career survived the rumors and he won the presidency, Mrs. Jackson would never set foot in the White House as first lady. The anguish from being repeatedly ridiculed caused Rachel to sink into a deep depression, and she died of a heart attack before the inauguration. Jackson himself attributed the death to the attacks against her, and -- while making clear that we are ourselves not doctors and can't claim firsthand knowledge of the medical conditions at play -- he was 100 percent right.
The Death Of Thomas Jefferson
In July 1800, newspapers up and down America began reporting on the death of Thomas Jefferson, news which took no one by greater surprise than Jefferson himself.
"I don't recall being that."
The reason for the spread of the tale is still a matter for debate, and will be until Timecop becomes a real thing. There are a couple explanations, though. The first one is straightforward: There may have been another Thomas Jefferson whodied on June 30 -- one of his namesake's slaves. Simple enough.
Luckily, we have another, radder explanation. According to a number of Jefferson's fellow Democratic-Republicans, the whole thing was a hoax perpetrated by their Federalist rivals to interfere with the presidential campaign going on at the time. In particular, this was all occurring prior to and during the Fourth of July, which meant that in the minds of at least some voters, Thomas Jefferson spent Independence Day 1800 as a dead man.
"What!? I practically invented that thing!"
According to the Democratic-Republicans who cried "hoax," the Federalists spread the report of Jefferson's death so that he wouldn't be honored on the Fourth for writing the Declaration of Independence, and indeed, a lot of the discussion in the newspapers that reported on his "death" was eye-wateringly acidic. Consider the Connecticut Courant, where one of those tricksy Federalists wrote that on a slow news day, "some compassionate being ... very humanely killed Mr. Jefferson."
Hitler's Little Jig
It should come as no surprise that when accepting France's surrender on June 21, 1940, Adolf Hitler demanded a little more pomp than the signing of a piece of paper normally affords. After all, der greasy little fuhrer had gotten where he was by crowd-surfing a combination of propaganda and xenophobia. There was hardly any reason to stop now.
History's greatest monster, 2,589th-greatest showman.
Hitler insisted on a special location for the surrender ceremony: the train car where the 1918 armistice was signed that ended WWI and bent Germany over a barrel for the next couple decades. It was symbolic, see, and of course there would be cameras there to capture the great irony of Germany's triumph on the site of their last defeat. But little did Hitler suspect that these cameras would also capture something that would make him look like a complete idiot.
You see, at one point during the signing, Hitler took a weirdly high step backward, as if suddenly startled by a mouse.
"Ach! Und grundrodunt!"
Where many saw only tragedy and a tyrant standing like a flamingo, one man saw a way to bring laughter back to the Allies. John Grierson, a Scottish filmmaker, looped the clip so that it would look like Hitler decided to do a goofy hopping dance.
Like the macarena, only 20 percent more humiliating to France.
The reel was a sensation, sweeping through theaters across the Allied world during one of the darker periods of the war. It provided a little bit of laughter during a much-needed time, and paved the way for generations of comedians to take cheap shots at Hitler.
FDR's Dog-Related Malfeasance
No scandal sticks in the taxpayer's craw quite like wasting public money. Making the electorate live with potholes and man-eating leopards is fine as long as they don't find out you were secretly siphoning off funds for haircut money. And if your opponents find out about it, they won't hesitate to bring it up when election time rolls around.
In 1944, following FDR's trip to the Aleutian Islands, the Republicans, in particular a representative called Harold Knutson, started asking some difficult questions about the trip. Namely, why did the president need so many warships guarding him as it sailed through the Pacific? Now, it's fair to say that Knutson was being a little bit of a knutsack here, considering the state of the Pacific at the time.
Pictured: some inconsequential bullshit, apparently
But the bigger attack was to come. Knutston questioned the president about whether he left his pet dog behind and ordered a destroyer to turn around -- at an estimated cost of $20 million -- to bring him home.
"How good of a boy could he have been, sir?"
At the time, FDR's love for his pet dog, a tiny terrier called Fala, was well-known, so it seemed entirely reasonable that he would misappropriate a destroyer to rescue him. It didn't happen, though. The Navy harshly denied the report, and Knutson soon backed down.
You know who didn't let it go, however? FDR. With some input from, no biggie, Orson Welles -- who often moonlighted as FDR's speechwriter -- he used the incident to give the Republicans a damn good kicking in his next campaign speech, accusing them of hurting his dog's feelings because they were incapable of dealing with the real problems facing the country.
In the game of political slap fights, nothing beats making your opponent look like they were being a dick to an animal.
A very good boy indeed, it turns out.
The Sale Of Lenin's Corpse
There are few worse indignities imaginable than being slapped in a suit, embalmed with chemicals until your skin resembles a toxic wasteland, and installed in one of the world's most iconic locations so listless tourists and beleaguered countrymen can silently curse you.
Hey, wait a second ...
Lenin's got a shitty deal going on too.
And in November 1991, it looked like it was going to get a lot worse. The USSR was teetering on the edge of destruction, and money was in short supply. Like, more than it usually was. A situation which led, as reported by Christopher Buckley at Forbes, to the Soviets issuing a press release that stated they were looking to sell Lenin for a cool $15 million.
There were some restrictions, of course. The buyer couldn't buy the body and let it rot. They'd be responsible for preserving it in mint condition -- at a cost of $10-15k per year -- and they also couldn't use the body for commercial reasons or exhibitions or skirting carpool regulations.
Because heaven forfend a mummified corpse used as a political prop for decades be treated with anything less than absolute dignity.
The Soviets swiftly issued a denial calling the whole thing an "impudent lie" and "an unpardonable provocation," and Buckley was forced to out his fakery. But that didn't stop the bargain-hunters. Within days, would-be buyers had flooded the Kremlin's phones, offering Lenin a new home everywhere from a museum, to a car dealership, to a seat in the new lobby of a printing company, like the most awesome episode of The Office we never got to see.
LBJ Had Sex With JFK's Corpse
In 1967, the book Death Of A President was released. Written by historian William Manchester, it provided a blow-by-blow account of the days before and after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Although it was written with the permission of the Kennedys, it soon emerged that Jackie had ordered several sections removed from the final text. We know this because The Realist -- the biggest counterculture magazine of the decade -- had gotten ahold of them. And oh boy.
According to the unused manuscript, Jacqueline had gone to visit her husband's body, whereupon she discovered LBJ crouching over the corpse, wheezing like a steam train and rocking himself rhythmically. At first she thought he was performing some kind of religious rite. But ...
And then I realized -- there is only one way to say this -- he was literally fucking my husband in the throat. In the bullet wound in the front of his throat. He reached a climax and dismounted. I froze. The next thing I remember, he was being sworn in as the new president.
"Oh, I'll solemnly swear to do lots of things."
The rumor was too perfect not to believe. It fed into the general air of conspiracy surrounding the assassination, and was supported by the existing perception that LBJ had it out for JFK. And it's fair to say that LBJ had some ... issues when it came to his wang. Trust us, we're practically the internet's foremost experts on the subject. So when the rumor began to spread about LBJ "firing another round" into JFK, the country shrugged and said, "Yep, that sounds about right."
Fortunately, this would be the last recorded instance of a nation not respecting its president.
In everyone's speed to trademark #Throatgate, however, they forgot to check who the source of this story was. The Realist wasn't just a counterculture magazine; it was a satire magazine. The author of the piece, Paul Krassner, mimicked the writing style of Manchester and basically set out to write out the most libelous thing he could, knowing that the worst thing LBJ could do in retaliation was come out and deny the charges.
"No, son, I can do much worse than that." *sound of zipper*
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