Churchill wouldn’t be Churchill if there weren’t myths about him from the very beginning. Stories about his birth in 1874 usually include the “facts” that he was born in a closet or ladies’ room at Blenheim Palace. The birth was premature, dramatic, and rushed, according to legend. And there wasn’t time to find a more suitable room. Or was there? Find out, Buzzkillers!
Marco Polo was a Venetian Merchant who left Europe in 1271 at age 17, traveled all around the Mongol Empire in the time of Genghis’ grandson Kublai Khan, and then came back to Europe in 1295, age 41. But did he really go on this trip, or are the stories that he made it all up true? Professor John Giebfried enlightens us, Buzzkillers!
Laura Trevelyan from the BBC joins us to discuss to her new book, Winchester: the Rifle that Built an American Dynasty. She busts myths about the famous rifle and family, and explains its importance in American history. Recorded live in Georgetown, Washingtong DC! The first Buzzkiller who emails us - firstname.lastname@example.org - gets a signed copy of the book!
The White House is called the “White House” because it was painted white to cover up the fire damage from its burning by the British army in 1814, right? Well, no. But that’s the myth that has been flying around the internet for years. Unfortunately, the story is less dramatic, but the history of the White House name is interesting. Listen up, Buzzkillers!
Hello again, fellow Buzzkillers. In this week’s mini-myth, we tackle Isaac Newton’s famous apple – an object we all heard about in grade school that allegedly hit Isaac Newton on the head some time in 1666, causing him to have a sudden epiphany about the universal law of gravitation. So, did Sir Isaac really discover the secrets of the heavens because of a sudden, concussive insight under an apple tree, or is this just a fruity story, embellished over time by overzealous Newtonians?
Everybody knows that Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, but how did he do it? Did he really paint the entire ceiling from atop a scaffold while reclining on his back? Well, not really. In some cases, the truth is even more amazing than the myth, and this is one of those cases, Buzzkillers. Not only did Michelangelo paint one of the most famous masterpieces in the history of art, he did so under great duress. Listen to find out why the painting of the Sistine Chapel is even more awesome than you thought..
“Ring Around the Rosie” has been a popular nursery rhyme for a very long time. Many of us learned it when we were children. But we often hear people claim that the rhyme is traceable to the time of the Black Plague, and that each line is a morbid reminder of the horrors of Bubonic disease. But was it?
Who built the ancient monument, Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain in England. Merlin and King Arthur? The Devil? The Druids? And what was it used for? Religious rituals? As a solar or seasonal calendar? A burial site? Or as site of ancient healing? Find out, Buzzkillers. The Professor tells all, along with help from Spinal Tap.
The idea that the “original” Olympics in ancient Greece (which ran from 776 BC to AD 393) were only open to amateurs, void of cheating and corruption, free from commercialism, and a time of peace across Greece is just a myth. It didn’t exist in Greek mythology, though. The myth of an amateur Olympics is entirely a product of the late 19th century, when the idea of organized, regularly-scheduled games with international participation was conceived.
Enigma, the German World War II message encoding machine, was famously cracked by British codebreakers led by Alan Turing. But were there more people involved? Buzzkillers in Dayton, Ohio, will be very proud to hear that one of their native sons, Joseph Desch, was an Enigma hero. And Buzzkillers in Poland will welcome the fact that we’re gonna remind everyone that Polish cryptanalysts were the first to crack Enigma.
Hitler storming out of the stadium after Jesse Owens won the 100-meter dash in the 1936 Berlin Olympics is one of most enduring images we have of the tumultuous history of Nazi Germany. Hitler famously “snubbed” Jesse Owens and all African-American athletes because of his ideas of Aryan racial superiority. But did it actually happen? And did it happen the way we usually think? Find out, Buzzkillers!
In 2010, Time magazine called the traditional school year calendar a “legacy of the farm economy.” And a few years later, National Public Radio referred to summer vacation as having its origins in an “agrarian calendar that dates back to farm cycles and harvests.” It’s always been that way, precisely so school children can be freed up to work on the farm back home. Right, Buzzkillers? Find out in today’s episode!
Was the Liberty Bell used to announce the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776? Did get its crack from zealous and patriotic bell-ringing? Those are the standard stories, Buzzkillers. But, like the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, there’s more myth and mis-understanding in that story than actual historical fact. And most of the symbolic history of the Liberty Bell comes from the 19th century, rather than the 18th century. Proclaim Buzzkilling throughout the land!
The Star Spangled Banner has been the national anthem of the United States since its founding, right? Wrong. Francis Scott Key wrote it 1814, and the song didn’t become the official national anthem until 1931, 117 years after it was written, and 155 years after the Declaration of Independence founded the nation.
Douglas MacArthur is one of the most famous and celebrated generals in American history. Along with Patton, however, he’s one of the most misunderstood and most mythologized. Born in the 19th century, MacArthur served in both World Wars, the Korean War, and other, less extensive US military actions. Yet he is also considered another attention hound (like Patton), sometimes overly-dramatic, and often letting his over-inflated view of his own abilities and destiny get in the way of sound judgement. In this episode we look at his early life and his career through World War II and try to determine who was the real Douglas MacArthur.
Listen, oh Buzzkillers, and you shall hear,
the true story of the Ride of Paul Revere.
Silversmith, patriot, brave man and true,
but he wasn’t the only one to carry the news.
The myths about the RMS Titanic, which sank on April 15, 2012, are themselves so big and numerous that we could call them titanic in their own right. In fact, they’ve lasted so long they might be considered unsinkable. Listen and learn the real story, Buzzkillers!
On April 24, 1925, a high school teacher named John Scopes taught a class in Dayton, Tennessee, using a state-mandated textbook that included a chapter explaining Darwin’s theory of evolution. In doing so, Scopes was in violation of Tennessee’s Butler Act, passed earlier in the year. He was arrested, tried, convicted, and fined $100. The verdict was later overturned on a technicality, but the case has gone down in history as an example of faith against science, ignorance against knowledge, and tradition against progress. But what really happened? Why was the Scopes Trial held? Find out, Buzzkillers!
The image of the Pony Express is very strong in the American consciousness. Here’s what we “remember” -- a rider galloping as fast as the wind through the wild west, ignoring the elements, dodging hostile Native Americans, and delivering the mail. But that image owes more to Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show and Hollywood movies than to the history of the actual Pony Express. According to the US Department of the Interior, “Few events in U.S. western history have generated more myths and half truths than the Pony Express.” Listen and learn, Buzzkillers!
It’s a story that drives tour guides and historians of engineering crazy. A worker falls into a pool of wet concrete that’s being poured as part of a major construction project. Before he can be saved, his body slips beneath the surface and he drowns in the thick soup of the concrete. It’s too difficult to extract the body and the construction bosses don’t want to stop the “concrete pour,” so he gets entombed in the concrete pillars of the bridge, or the concrete walls of the dam, or whatever it is they’re building. Were bosses that cold? Was the march of progress so heartless? Find out, Buzzkillers.
The great influenza pandemic of 1918-1920 was the one of the worst disasters in human history. Somewhere between 50 and 100 million people were killed by the flu world-wide. But did it start in Spain? Was the Spanish health-care system to blame. Listen and learn, Buzzkillers!
St. Francis of Assisi is one of the most popular saints in the Christian religion. He’s known as a lover of animals, the first eco-warrior, and a peace-negotiator during the crusades. How much of this is true, and how much is myth? “Make me the instrument of your buzzkilling!”
Was the Ty Cobb, the Georgia Peach, rotten to the core? He is often referred to as one of greatest baseball players of all time. But was his professional greatness mirrored by personal reprehensibility? As is so often the case, his soiled reputation was mostly the product of a bad biography and reporters repeating old rumors. Play ball, Buzzkillers, and don’t forget to sharpen your spikes!
The 1937 Hindenburg disaster was one of the most dramatic events of the 20th century. And it certainly was dramatically reported. But what if the report we're used to hearing was partly the result of a mechanical error in the recording equipment? What if the emotion that comes through in the "oh the humanity" quote was inadvertently enhanced through this error? Would the disaster "sound" different to us if we heard the genuine report?
For decades, a story flew around that Coke was originally full of coke, as in cocaine. The early developers of Coca-Cola stirred cocaine into its famous syrup, so the legend goes. Once mixed with energizing carbonated water, early Coca-Cola became irresistible, and customers became addicted. That’s how Coke dominated the soft drink market. Is this a myth? Is it a half-myth? Find out, Buzzkillers!