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.

PLUS: 20 Secrets Your Waiter Won’t Tell You and 15 Foods You Should Never Buy Again

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  • Your Comments

    • ryoni

      GW’s dentures weren’t wood but they were still very uncomfortable and did likely contribute to the dour expression we see in his portrait. Imagine what he would look like if he left the dentures out! Lips and cheeks caved in, like an old homeless man.

    • 3rd Gen T

      Protestant churches have also carried out inquisitions and killed those found guilty. St. Paul warned that there would be ravenous wolves among Church leaders. The Inquisition shows that evil men some disguise themselves to carry out their heinous deeds.

    • Jdsbjs

      It was Saint Bridget and Saint Columbine who spread Christianity in Ireland. St Patrick had a better PR person