Top 5 real stories that are completely false

Here is a strange fact about the human mind. If you tell yourself a lie over and over again eventually you will come to believe it. For example, citizens of North Korea believe ridicuous lies about their ruler (such as he found a unicorn lair) because they have been told the lie repeatedly over several years. On a smaller scale, if you told a friend about a childhood memory in which you fell off your bike and cut your knee but you didn’t mention how you burst into tears and ran to your Mum, this new altered memory would eventually replace the original. Isn’t that strange? You wouldn’t remember the part where you cried, you would remove it from your mind. 

The entries you will see below follow these two example. These are my top five real stories that are completely false. I hope you enjoy.

  1. The Cursed Mummy the British Museum

In room 62 of the British museum is exhibit EA22542, an Egyptian Mummy most commonly known as the Cursed Mummy or the Unlucky Mummy. The Mummy was discovered in a mass grave during an archaeological dig in the 1800’s by Arthur F Wheeler who had the Mummy shipped to England to join his private collection. As the Mummy was being loaded onto a ship, three porters died in unexplained circumstances and simultaneously Wheeler was injured when his shotgun misfired while he was hunting on the River Nile. As the Mummy entered British Waters, Wheeler died of his injuries.

Upon its arrival in London the Mummy was sold to Mrs Warick Hunt who kept the relic by her fireplace. Before her death in 1899 Mrs Hunt reported several supernatural events linked to the artefact. All of her dogs died in front of the sarcophagus, an elderly relative collapsed upon seeing the Mummy and any photos taken of the artefact, when developed, contained a giant red eye. At one point, this particular event is undated, every window in Mrs Hunt’s house shattered as though caught in an explosion. When Mrs Hunt died of a heart attack in 1899 the Mummy was donated by her family to the British Museum.

The Mummy was placed in, what was at the time, the museum’s Egyptian room and the night watchmen soon began to report strange events while on patrol. The exhibits in the same room seemed to move of their own accord during the night and strange noises were heard when visitors were absent. At the time the museum had its own London Underground station and passengers on the Central Line reported hearing screaming coming from the tunnels under the museum. Several railway workers claimed to have witnessed the Mummy patrolling the museum’s platforms and claim that a secret tunnel exists connecting room 62 to the station. Although no exhibit can legally leave the British Museum’s collection, the Mummy has been sent on tours across the globe and was loaded onto the infamous RMS Titanic.

The Truth

I love this story because of how barmy it is. First of all, there is not a mummy. Exhibit EA22542 is nothing more than a sarcophagus lid bearing the engraving of a mummy. The discovery and ownership of the lid is unknown until Mrs Warick Hunt donated it to the museum in 1899 but she did not report anything supernatural during her ownership. The item in question has left the museum of several occasions including tours to Australia, Taiwan and America but it was never placed on the Titanic.

The cursed Mummy

There are certain elements to the story that are true. The night watchmen at the museum often reported items moving in the night and strange noises throughout the museum but this was put down to the large number of stray cats that lived in the building at the time. The museum did have its own London Underground station, now disused, but the idea of a tunnel leading to room 62 was made up by the 1935 film Bulldog Jack. The screams heard from passengers were just passing trains applying their brakes and the sightings of the mummy on the platform were mere fabrications. It is suspected that the story of the curse was started by Bertram Fletcher Robinson, a reporter for the Daily Express in 1904. It is unclear if Robinson genuinely believed that the object was haunted or if he simply wanted to sell more issues. For what it’s worth Robinson was a friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who later believed in mediums and fairies.

Should you visit the British Museum and encounter the sarcophagus lid, I can assure you that you have nothing to fear.

2) The Curse of King Tutankhamen

Sticking with the Egyptian theme let us look at the most famous curse of all, the curse of King Tutankhamen’s tomb. King Tutankhamen (or King Tut, as I shall now call him) came to the Egyptian throne at the age eight and ruled for ten years before his suspicious death (historians suspect that he was either involved in a chariot crash or was assassinated by a rival). The pharaoh was buried in the Valley of the Kings and lost to time until his burial site was uncovered by Howard Carter in 1922.

Carter had been searching Egypt for undiscovered tombs for several years and believed he had discovered the rough location of King Tut’s tomb before the outbreak of World War One. When he returned from the trenches he continued his search and in 1922 a member of his dig team discovered the entrance. Although the first chamber the archeologists entered was empty, as it had been raided by grave robbers shortly after King Tut’s burial, the team soon located the real burial chamber behind a false wall. Carter later recounted:

“…As my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold – everywhere the glint of gold. For the moment – an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by – I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, ‘Can you see anything?’ it was all I could do to get out the words, ‘Yes, wonderful things.”

― Howard Carter, 1922.

After entering the chamber Carter translated the following curse from hieroglyphics written above King Tut’s sarcophagus.

Death shall come on swift wings to those who disturb the peace of the King. 

Although the discovery made Howard Carter and his team celebrities, their success was overshadowed by the stories of the curse. The first victim was Carter’s pet canary which was eaten by a wild snake, the symbol of Egyptian power. Many members of the dig team considered this a ill omen. Out of these members, twenty died within six years of the tomb being opened. The most notable of these was Lord Carnarvon, the sponsor of the dig, who died of an infected mosquito bite in 1923. At the same time his dog in England howled into the night and a blackout stuck the Egyptian capital of Cairo. Lord Carnarvon’s half brother died of blood poisoning while in possession of artefacts removed from the tomb and Carter’s secretary Richard Bethel was murdered in a Mayfair nightclub in 1924.

The Truth

Although there were hieroglyphs above King Tut’s sarcophagus they held no mention of any curse. The idea of a curse was spun up by the newspapers, similar to the previous entry, as Egyptmania swept across the globe. This idea was strengthened, once again, by comments made by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who claimed that Lord Carnarvon’s death was caused by ‘elements unknown.’ The fact that Cairo experienced a blackout and Lord Carnarvon’s dog was howling at the time of his death are only coincidences. The deaths of the remaining archeologists were unfortunate but due to the poor healthcare available at the time, they were not treated as suspicious.

The biggest counterpoint against the curse is that more members of Carter’s dig team died of natural causes than anything suspicious including Carter himself. Carted died of Hodgkin’s Disease in 1939, seventeen years after the discovery of King Tut’s tomb.

3) The American who brought the wrong London Bridge

Before we begin I would like to clarify something for any foreign readers.

This is London Bridge.
This is Tower Bridge

Don’t worry if you made this mistake as even Google gets confused. Please see the screenshot below.

The legend goes that an American businessman arrived in London on holiday and became fascinated with Tower Bridge. He eventually offered the City of London a ridiculous amount of money to buy the bridge and transport it, brick by brick, to America as a tourist attraction. It was only after the bridge was reassembled in the American desert did the businessman realise he had brought London Bridge by mistake. The City of London quickly rebuilt London Bridge and refused a refund. The businessman was so annoyed at his mistake that he abandoned the original London Bridge in the desert where it remains to this day.

The Truth

While it is true that an American brought London Bridge and placed it in the desert he knew what bridge he was buying. It was the British who decided to put London Bridge on the market as they realised that the bridge was starting to crumble due to the weight of passing traffic. They were only selling the shell of the bridge, the parts the public can see, and planned to replace the interior. The American businessman in question was a serial entrepreneur called Robert McCulloch who planned to use the bridge as a key attraction in the tourist city he was building in Arizona. He brought the bridge for a staggering $2,460,000 in 1968 and transported it to Lake Havasu City.

London Bridge in America

Both sides were happy with the purchase and London Bridge still stands in Lake Havasu City to this day.

4) The Crying Boy Paintings

The Crying Boy paintings was created by Italian painter Giovanni Bragolin at some point in the 1950’s and depicts a crying child who is looking at the viewer. The paintings proved to be popular (I honestly don’t know why) with countless copies and alternative versions being sold across the globe.

On 5th September 1985, The Sun newspaper reported that the paintings were involved into a series of unexplained fires. Although the causes of the fires varied, the paintings always survived unscathed. A month after they published their story The Sun collected as many copies of The Crying Boy paintings as they could and attempted to burn them in a mass bonfire. The paintings survived the flames undamaged.

The Truth

Yes, the paintings did survive the house fires and even the mass bonfires but it wasn’t because they contained the souls of children.

The Sun claimed that they received the reports of the paintings from a firefighter in Essex although no such person has ever been identified. Writer and comedian Steven Punt attempted to solve the issue in his show Punt PI and reached the conclusion that the paintings were treated with a fire retardant varnish, making them immune to flames. In many cases the painting were held onto the wall by a pieces of string which would snap and cause the painting to land face down, protecting it further. 

The only real mystery is why someone would buy such unsettling paintings in the first place.

5) The Battle of Thermopylae

The Battle of Thermopylae, most commonly known as the Battle of Three Hundred, took place in 480 BC and involved a force of three hundred Spartan soldiers embarking on a suicide mission to delay the invading Persian army. The Spartans succeeded by forcing the Persian’s through a narrow mountain pass, negating their advantage of numbers. Although the Spartans were betrayed by a hunchback whom they had rejected from their army, they were successful in delaying the Persians which contributed to their eventual defeat. Most people of my generation know the battle from the portrayal in Zack Snyder’s film 300, which is often mocked for its historical inaccuracy and over the top gore.

The Truth

Surprisingly the film 300 is more historically accurate than you might think.

First of all, although the Battle of Thermopylae was key in delaying the Persian invasion but it also coincided with the Battle at Artemisium, a naval battle between the Athenian and Persian fleets. Both battles were paramount in delaying the invasion. The Spartans in 300 expose most of their bodies in order to impress audiences but the real Spartans would have heavy relied on body armour and instead of engaging in one on one combat they would have created a shield wall and jabbed at their opponents with their spears. The biggest inconsistency in the film is the fact that the Spartans forces numbered seven thousand, not three hundred, and out of those seven thousand soldiers only three thousand were Spartans.

Historians have learnt about the battle from archaeological digs and from the Ancient Greek writer Herodotus. Herodotus’ works have been criticised by both other writers at the time and historians as being “fanciful retellings” and “tall tales” but it is his version that has stood the test of time. It is also the version that the Spartans, and the rest of the population of the Ancient Greek world, would have heard and it is this version that Zack Snyder’s 300 is based from. With this in mind, the thirty minutes of slow motion shots and the Spartans lack of armour actually makes sense.

I hope you enjoyed this list, let me know your thoughts in the comments and social media and I’ll see you next month.

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