November 4, 2013

Legends Never Die: Myths in History

I told a lie at work.  A big, big lie and I am ashamed.

Revolutionary War Reenactor

A few weeks ago I was at work when I had a group of school students who had been on a lot of field trips to historical sites. The students were very knowledgeable and the teachers had been coming to our site for a long time.

I was giving a shortened version of the tour I had learned when I first started working there. Our house tour had been removed from the programs for some updating but this group was getting a shortened tour with the questionable material removed. I finished up the first room of the tour of the house, the young, pretty blonde teacher looked at me with excitement in her eyes and raised her hand.

 "Aren't you going to show them the bed?" she asked, "You know, sleep tight?"

There it was. It was one of those lies I found out I had been telling. It was told to me when I first started working and it was something I had heard and still hear at multiple historical sites.  You know the lie: The phrase "Sleep tight and don't let the bedbugs bite" came from the colonial period where bedbugs were prevalent and people slept on beds held together with ropes.

Caught in an awkward place, between admitting the previous tours she had experienced at the farm had been very outdated and telling 25 children a lie, I really wanted to tell the lie. So I did, with the cop out of "some people think" said so extremely fast that I doubt anyone could discern it from the rest of the sentence.

I feel bad but it could have been worse. What is one lie?

I  went to lunch in the kitchen and drank out of a glass bottomed pewter tankard (designed to prevent conniving navy recruiters from slipping me the king's shilling and insist I joined up) and I toasted my bread over the fire in my toaster, (so called because the apparatus is designed to be stirred with your toe once one side is done cooking) while making sure I didn't get too close to the fire because the leading cause of death for women in colonial times was catching on fire or dying from burns.

I told about how ingenious colonialists were: Did you know the fashionable tri-cornered hats  were regular hats but the soldiers folded the sides up to prevent them from knocking them off their heads with their rifles? And that tavern pipes were made with long handles so that after each use men could break off the tip, preventing the spread of bacteria?

But then again, the colonists were also so backwards they thought tomatoes were poisonous, water would kill them, and they put wax makeup on their faces so thick they had to use screens to protect their makeup from melting. Additionally, people were shorter back then which is why their beds and doorways are so small.

They were also frugal which is why they had men pose with one hand in their coats when posing for portraits because hands are difficult to paint so artists charged more to paint them and people didn't build closets into their house to avoid the closet tax which stated that closets were considered rooms and would be taxed accordingly.     

And I'd only be lying if I said that visitors didn't say these things and enthusiastically encourage me to say these things on my tours.  


  1. I work in Williamsburg and I've heard all of these and more. And you're right, people WANT you to say them!

    1. People don't like change and they certainly don't always want to let the interpretation of a time period change. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Take pride in knowing that you recognize the myths and will do your best to bust them.
    Good for you!

    1. It makes me ashamed that I used to tell so many of these when I first started out. :)

  3. I have to say, while I don't believe the one about the tricorn hats, having the brim of a broad brimmed hat pinned up actually does help when you are maneuvering with a long musket.

  4. ...So pretty much everything I learned in school about the Revolution is a lie. :(

    1. YAY I can comment again! (For a really long time when I tried to leave a comment, Blogger insisted that I wasn't logged in even though I was)

      To those who couldn't see me before, I'm Jeff. I'm the Yankee friend Steph writes letters to from the other side of the tracks. Glad you can finally see me, maybe I will get more readers ...and is bot spamming *really* enough of a problem to make me fill in a captcha form every time I post a comment?


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