Frank Fiore – Novelist & Screenwriter

May 14, 2016

Some Interesting American Myths

Filed under: Jeremy Nash Chronicles — Frank Fiore @ 5:33 PM

America is a land filled with myths and legends.

Here are four myths that you probably already believe as fact:  Ole Betsy Ross, those boys down in Houston, the cowboy hat and Paul Revere… What could possibly be false about these great American icons?

Betsy Ross and the American Flag

The legend of Betsy Ross designing the first American flag is very pervasive today, mostly due to great timing. But the truth is that there is no historical evidence to suggest that Ross or any other person was solely responsible for creating the flag design with the 13 stars arranged in a circle.

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However, it should be noted that during her time Ross herself never claimed responsibility for this feat. According to Betsy, her contributions involved selecting a five-pointed star over a six-pointed one because they were easier to make.

The concept of Ross creating the flag came 35 years after her death, courtesy of her grandson, William Canby. He had quite a great story to tell that was supposedly passed down through the family.

It was all about how Washington himself came into Ross’ store one day and she impressed him by showing how easily a five-pointed star could be made, so he commissioned Betsy Ross to create the entire flag. It was a very appealing story, but Canby didn’t have any evidence to support it.

However, he did come out with it during the Centennial Celebrations. People were eager to learn about the first patriots of this country so the story gained a lot of publicity. Many of them preferred this version over the truth, whatever that might be.

The Iconic Cowboy Hat

The cowboy is one of the most iconic images in American history, but that doesn’t mean our understanding of it isn’t flawed. The iconic cowboy hat, the Stetson, might be what every cowboy wears in Westerns, but it wasn’t what they actually wore in real life until the very end of the Wild West.

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The Stetson wasn’t even around until 1865 and in fact, it became really popular at the end of the 19th century. Up until then, you can clearly see from the famous image of the Wild Bunch pictured above which hat cowboys preferred: the derby, also known as the bowler hat. The sombrero was also quite popular, but a gentleman might have preferred a top hat.

“Houston… We have a problem”

It’s a famous real-life line that turned into one of the most recognizable quotes in cinema history. It’s a little wrong, though. What was actually said in the mission was “Houston, we’ve had a problem”, but that’s not the real issue here. This is actually a case of misattribution.

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Most of us know the line from the Apollo 13 movie where Tom Hanks played Commander Jim Lovell and, since he’s the main character, he delivers the line. However, in real life, the line was initially said by backup Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert, played by Kevin Bacon in the movie.

Paul Revere’s Famous Midnight Ride

It is one of the most iconic scenes of the Revolutionary War. The image of Paul Revere on horseback, shouting “The British are coming!” turned him into one of the country’s greatest patriots. But this moment has little to do with reality.

In fact, the valiant Paul Revere on horseback can only be found in a famous poem titled “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which appeared 85 years after the ride itself. Obviously, since he was a poet and not a historian, Wadsworth took significant liberties in order to portray Revere as heroically as possible.

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Truth be told, Revere’s ride wasn’t seen as a big deal in his own time. It wasn’t even mentioned in his obituary. For starters, he didn’t do it alone. As he went along his route, he was joined by several others who helped him warn of the arriving British forces. We know of at least two other men who accompanied him: Samuel Prescott and William Dawes.

And he wouldn’t have shouted “The British are coming” for two reasons. One, this was a secret mission where he had to evade British patrols. And two, most people living in Massachusetts at the time were ethnically English and considered themselves British. If anything, he would have warned that the Regulars are coming.

Check out more great myths by checking out my book page on Amazon here.

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