Life is full of unknowns. Thankfully, there are certain infallible truths we know we can count on. Whenever we feel oppressed by the impenetrability of the universe, we remind ourselves of the things we do know: Jon Snow is totally alive, Ben Franklin discovered electricity, and Paul Revere saved the free world when he yelled "The British are coming!" Am I right? Not so much. We totally stand by the first statement, but the latter two didn't actually happen. We've compiled 5 American history myths everyone believes—that are dead wrong. The lies stop now.
1. People were burned at the stake during the Salem Witch Trials
Between 1692 and 1693, more than 200 people in colonial Massachusetts were accused of practicing the Devil's magic. By the time the hysteria subsided, 24 people had died. Nineteen were hanged on Gallows Hill in Salem Town, but some perished in prison. Key takeway: Nobody burned. In Britain, witchcraft was considered “a crime against the government and a felony punishable by hanging.” Since we were still ruled by Blighty, stakes were no longer en vogue. Would you have survived? You can find out here.
2. Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity when his kite was struck by lightning
Nope. Ben Franklin wasn't short on accomplishments, but discovering electricity wasn't one of them. It only gets worse from here. In October 1752, Franklin wrote a letter describing a thunderstorm-themed kite flying session in Philadelphia—but historians aren't sure if he ever went through with the fabled experiment himself. The good news? Franklin did establish that lightning is electricity. So you weren't totally lied to.
3. Paul Revere yelled “The British are coming!”
This one hurts, so we're going to rip it off like last Tuesday's Band-Aid: Paul Revere never yelled "The British are coming!" On April 18, 1775, Dr. Joseph Warren instructed Revere to ride to Lexington, Massachusetts, to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that the Redcoats were on the march. The American silversmith and exemplary patriot did sound the alarm, but it's highly doubtful that he yelled the famous phrase. Why's that? Colonial Americans still considered themselves to be British and it would have been super confusing.
4. Everyone panicked when Orson Welles read “The War of the Worlds”
Who doesn't love the idea that Orson Welles caused a nationwide panic in 1938 by reading H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds on the radio? It's hilarious. Sadly, the story isn't totally legit.
Although some people did freak out over his description of a Martian invasion of New Jersey, the mass hysteria caused by the fake news bulletin was greatly exaggerated by the press. Clickbait existed way better the Interweb, folks.
5. Stockbrokers jumped out of their windows on "Black Thursday"
Most millennials are too busy navigating the post-Lehman Brothers hellscape to think much about the Great Depression. Still, there are two things everyone knows about the Wall Street Crash of 1929: It destroyed the world economy and everyone jumped out of their windows on "Black Thursday." The first statement checks out, but the second is another example of yellow journalism. Contrary to popular belief, the 1929 crash didn't cause a massive suicide spike. In his classic study of the Wall Street crash, J.K. Galbraith wrote:
"In the United States, the suicide wave that followed the stock market crash is also part of the legend of 1929. In fact, there were none... Indeed, the suicide rate in the US was higher in the summer months before the crash when the stock market was prospering."
The idea that the crash prompted a wave of self-defenestrations on Wall Street is ingrained in our national consciousness. In reality, "the number of suicide leaps in Wall Street during this period was a mere two." That's one myth we're all too happy to let go of.