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Episode 49 - April Foolin'

It's hard to come up with a post for this one, since the episode itself is pretty much what I'd write. In fact, I probably should've cut the first four minutes and just slapped 'em in here. You live and you learn, I guess. Well, you live, anyway.

What's funny is that so many of these apocryphal stories that aren't true or are wildly embellished came from a single professor in college. An upcoming episode is devoted to an interesting point he made about our buildings, but I can't remember the guy's name. I think it was a class on political philosophy, but I can't be sure. But he got several stories fairly close, but passed on a few real whoppers that I was saddened to find out weren't true.

What is even more interesting to me is that so much of our cultural national identity is rooted in these anecdotes that are handed down and ever-so-slightly reworked until the truth is unrecognizable. The maddening thing is that, at a certain point, reputable news sources will then accept a popular history as a fact instead of a legend. NPR has done this twice now to stories referenced in this episode - the NORAD Santa Tracker origin story is not nearly as adorable and drawn out as NPR recounts it. The man at the center of that story started early on to enhance it, morphing it over time into the story that his children lovingly recount to NPR every year, even though it bears only mild resemblance to what actually went down as recorded in contemporary accounts. They biffed the story about Grant and the Willard as well - the Willard's publicist fed them the whole story and they just accepted it as rote fact, having to do a fact-check interview later with an etymologist to walk back their claims.

It was also the goal of Adams and Jefferson to ensure the history of the Revolution and formation of the United States was told in clean, simple narratives of heroes and villains, freedom and bondage, right and wrong, rather than the messy, complex process it was. For instance, it is far easier to say that Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence than it is to say that he wrote much of it and certainly the more memorable parts, but in the end a whole committee got their hands on it. It's hard trying to re-inject nuance back into our stubbornly popular simplified histories, but it's becoming more and more important as we cede the gray areas to those who only operate in black and white.

Also, I found this jester picture in the archives of the Library of Congress, where I get most of the images I use. It's a fun place to check out.

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