Five Popular Myths You Should Not Believe

We all have our cherished theories about everything from famous quips to favorite cures, not to mention history. But the facts tell a different story. How many of these five myths did you buy?

By Herb Reich from the book Don’t You Believe It! from Reader's Digest | June 2010
Five Popular Myths You Should Not BelieveIllustrated by Edwin Fotheringham

1. Showman P. T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
No, he didn’t. Here’s how we fell for this misconception, according to the Barnum Museum: In 1868, a man named George Hull, of Binghamton, New York, arranged for a slab of gypsum to be carved in the shape of a huge human being, then had it treated to resemble an ossified corpse and buried it on a farm near Cardiff, New York. About a year later, the artifact was “discovered” when the owner of the farm engaged some friends to help dig a well. Newspapers everywhere picked up the story of the “Cardiff Giant,” and soon thousands of the curious were paying 50 cents apiece to view it. Hull sold part ownership to a group of investors led
by a man named Hannum, who moved the giant to Syracuse and doubled the admission fee.

Plus: 10 Food Cure Myths Put to the Test

Barnum made an offer to buy the giant but was turned down. Not to be outdone, he had a duplicate giant carved, which he exhibited, claiming Hannum had sold the original to him and had replaced it with a fake. Newspapers picked up Barnum’s version, and the crowds started coming to see his giant. It was then that Hannum—not Barnum—was quoted as saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” assuming his giant was real and the thousands paying to see Barnum’s fake were being ripped off. Hannum sued Barnum for calling his giant a fake. In court, the original hoax was revealed, and the judge ruled for Barnum, finding that Hull’s Cardiff Giant was a fake and Barnum was thus not guilty of anything.

Hannum and Hull have long since been forgotten, but the “sucker” quote has stuck to Barnum—who was nobody’s fool.

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