Category Archives: History

Is Robert Capa’s Falling soldier a fake?

Loyalist Militiaman at the Moment of Death, Cerro Muriano, September 5, 1936 (commonly known as The Falling Soldier) was first published in the September issue of the French Vu magazine in 1936. It subsequently became a symbol of the Spanish Civil War.

Robert Capa initially said in 1937 that he took the picture when he was trapped in the trenches with a Republican soldier. The impatient soldier decided to jump out of cover, and Capa followed suit and upon capturing the death of the soldier he jumped back to cover. In a 1947 radio interview, however, he changed his story slightly. He then said that he was stuck in the trenches with about 20 soldiers, and on a whim he held up his camera to take a blind shot. Despite the two contradictory accounts, the authenticity of the picture wasn’t doubted until the 1970’s (outside of Spain, anyway).

But in 1975 an Australian reporter claimed that the photograph was staged. Capa’s biographer disputed these claims, and referred the journalist to the opinion of certain forensic experts who thought the soldier had indeed been shot. Furthermore, a historian claimed to have identified the soldier in the picture; it was a Frederico Borrell Garcia. However, the debate surrounding the photograph didn’t end there.

A documentary from 2007 concluded that the picture was taken in the morning, when there was supposed to be no fighting at all. In 2009 a Spanish newspaper claimed that it wasn’t even in Cerro Muriano. Lastly, another documentary from 2013 suggested that the photograph was actually taken by Gerda Taro, Capa’s professional partner.

So in summation, some details regarding The Falling Soldier are unclear. However, some think that that may be irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. As Sebastiaan Faber (a historian specializing in the Spanish Civil War) wrote:

“It’s time to ask the central question: What if The Falling Soldier were staged? Would the knowledge that the man depicted in this image did not die at the moment the photo was taken change the way we think about Spain, the Civil War, or twentieth-century history? The answer is that it wouldn’t. Capa did not record a news event at Espejo. What made his image so powerful was not that it pictured a history-changing, unique incident—the moon landing or the murder of a president or the conquest of Teruel. We see an unknown man dying at an unknown location in Spain, and we know, as did Capa’s first viewers, that hundreds of Spanish men and women were dying in this way every day.”

(via)

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Are fortune cookies really a Chinese tradition?

While they are mainstays in Chinese restaurants and are thought to be a centuries old tradition, they probably originate from Japan and became popular in the United States.

Fortune cookies weren’t even available in China until the late 80’s. In 1989 an entrepreneur began to import them as “Genuine American Fortune Cookies”; but the project was short-lived. “It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it just didn’t pan out. Fortune cookies are too American”, he later said.

In 2004 a Japanese researcher, named Yasuko Nakamachi, came to the conclusion that fortune cookies may originate from Japan. She found that bakeries around Kyoto have been making cookies resembling fortune cookies for centuries. They were bigger and browner than the ones we know now, and the messages were not stuffed inside, but wrapped around them. The researcher found a picture from 1878, on which a baker is seen making such a cookie.

fortune

The cookie’s American path is relatively easy to trace back to World War II (at that time they were served in California Chinese restaurants), but prior to the war the history is murky. It is uncertain who and when exactly invented them, although they were definitely sold in Asian restaurants around the early 1900’s.

When Derrick Wong, the vice president of the largest fortune cookie manufacturer in the world, Wonton Food was asked about the origins of fortune cookies, he noted:

“The Japanese may have invented the fortune cookie. But the Chinese people really explored the potential of the fortune cookie. It’s Chinese-American culture. It only happens here, not in China.”

Photo: flickr.com – Rick Harris | National Diet Library

Was Lucrezia Borgia really a passionate poisoner?

Some people believe that Lucrezia Borgia had slept with and killed an incredible number of men.

The belief probably originates from Victor Hugo’s play from the 19th century, and the opera based on it. In actuality, there is no proof that Lucrezia Borgia killed anyone; the deaths around her are connected to her father (Pope Alexander VI) and her brother (Cesare Borgia).

Lucrezia Borgia was born and raised in a monastery within the Vatican, where she acquired considerable knowledge about art and literature. At the age of 13, her father arranged a marriage between her and Giovanni Sforza, who cheated on her on a regular basis.

Before long however, the Borgia family no longer needed the Sforza’s and the marriage lost its value. Giovanni soon fled Rome fearing for his life. The Sforza family wanted to avoid an open conflict with the Borgias, so they eventually convinced Giovanni to admit to being impotent, so that the marriage could be annulled. While Giovanni eventually signed the confessions of impotence, he also accused Lucrezia of regularly sleeping with her brother and father.

According to some rumors, Lucrezia was pregnant during the “annulment negotiations”. While this was never confirmed, the alleged father, Pedro Calderon, was later found dead in the Tiber in 1498, less than a year after Lucrezia’s marriage was annulled. Some think that Cesare Borgia was the one who ordered the killing.

Lucrezia then married Alfonso of Aragon in 1498, who was the Duke of Bisceglie at the time. They were happily married for two years until Alfonso was murdered; supposedly the work of Cesare Borgia once again. Lucrezia was reportedly heartbroken, and vowed to never marry again.

However, she did eventually marry Alfonso d’Este, the son of the Duke of Ferrara. In Ferrara, she lived an exemplary life; she supported artist and hospitals. During her 30’s, she became deeply religious and prayed multiple times a day. When she eventually died to illness in 1519, the whole of Ferrara mourned her death.

Did Jack Kerouac really write his masterpiece in 3 weeks?

Rumors have it that Jack Kerouac wrote his cult classic, On the Road, in three weeks while heavily under the influence of various drugs. While there is some truth to this legend, on the whole it is more false than true.

There are a number of legends surround On the Road. Some say that Kerouac was possessed the Holy Spirit when writing it in 1951, while others say that he was just under the influence of various drugs, and that he wrote the entire book on napkins, with no punctuation.

While some parts of these legends are probably exaggerations, it is difficult to know what the truth of the matter may be. What we know is that after a sports injury Kerouac quit Columbia and started traveling around the country. Eventually, he sat down to write a book, and 20 days later On the Road was born.

Kerouac insisted to not have taken drugs; he said that he was consuming coffee at near-supernatural levels, which is what gave him the energy finish his book so quickly.

Furthermore, we now know that the original script of On the Road did have punctuation. The famous “20-day period” was more of a stich-job – Kerouac used the best sentences from previous versions of his work in order to create On the Road.

However, even this version wasn’t final. The publisher required a number of changes in order to make the book appealing to a wider audience. Kerouac agreed, and made a number of changes between 1951 and the book’s eventual publishing in 1957. He toned down the language, expanded on certain episodes, and refined some of the metaphors used in the book.

In light of this, the characterization of On the Road as a spontaneous masterpiece seems a little far-fetched.

Photo: John Cohen

Do the lions of Budapest’s Chain Bridge really have no tongues?

According to a Hungarian legend, the architect had been so embarrassed that he committed suicide.

At the time of its construction, Chain Bridge was considered to be one of the wonders of the world. Chief engineer Adam Clark was supposedly so proud of his masterpiece that he challenged people to find a flaw in it. When it was pointed out that the guardian lions had no tongues, he was so ashamed that he jumped off the Chain Bridge, becoming the first person to kill themselves there.

The lions were sculpted by János Marschalkó in 1852, who also created other iconic sculptures around Budapest. Béla Tóth (a noted collector of Hungarian anecdotes) writes that the lions having no tongues was indeed a popular topic of conversation in 19th century Budapest.

Apparently, Marschalkó let the rumors swirl for a bit before issuing a public challenge: he bet a considerable amount of money that when a lions open their mouths like his sculptures do, their tongues would not be visible. He then took his doubters to a circus, where he proved he was right. According to an article from November of 1897, he then donated the money he won for charitable purposes.

But to address to original legend; neither Adam Clark, nor János Marschalkó committed suicide. And the lions do have tongues – although they cannot be seen from the angle that pedestrians see them from.

Photo: Zsolt Andrasi/flickr.com

The legend of the paperclip

Why did Norwegians wear paperclips during World War II? Did it really become a symbol of resistance because of a misconception?

A blog post on Today I found out delves into the historic significance of paperclips in Norway. During World War II, Nazi Germany invaded Norway in order to make the transport of Swedish steel easier. The royal family and government fled to London, and the country was governed by the puppet government led by Vidkun Quisling.

According to the Today I found out article, students of the University of Oslo found an unorthodox way of expressing their hatred of the occupying forces: they started wearing paperclips, paperclip bracelets and paperclip jewellery. Symbols related to the royal family and state had already been banned, and they wanted a clever way of displaying their rejection of Nazi ideas. According to the article, the paperclip was chosen because (in addition to binding things together and signifying unity) it was invented by Johan Vaaler, a Norwegian inventor and patent clerk.

However, the paperclip wasn’t invented by Vaaler. In addition, it’s fairly possible that this misconception had nothing to do with why the students chose the paperclip as their symbol of non-violent resistance.

While Vaaler did indeed file a patent for a certain paperclip design in 1899 (in Germany) and then in 1901 (in the United States); it was never manufactured. This is because there was already a more functional design already being mass produced in Europe.

Despite this, a number of encyclopaedias wrongly identify Vaaler as the inventor of the paperclip, and there have been monuments and stamps created in his honour (depicting a design Vaaler had nothing to do with). The misconception seems to originate from the 1920’s, when Norwegian patent agent Harald Foss identified Vaaler as the inventor of the paperclip, not noticing that he patented a different paperclip design.

However, even though the legend of Vaaler inventing the paperclip originates from the 1920’s, it didn’t become well-known until the 1950’s. Norwegian encyclopaedias from the 1950’s make no mention of the paperclip being chosen because it was invented by Vaaler, and one from 1974 suggests that the idea of the paperclip symbolizing resistance originated from France. Therefore, the assertion of Today I found out is uncertain at best.

Just to illustrate how quickly legends like this begin to mutate: in 1998, high school students from Tennessee decided to collect paperclips in order to commemorate murder of 6 million Jews during World War II. During this campaign, a couple more misconceptions were born. One site referencing the campaign states that “Norwegians wore them on their clothes to show support for Jews during World War II”, while another site wrote that the “symbol of resistance originally honored Johan Vaaler, the Norwegian Jew who invented the paper clip”.

As for who actually invented the paperclip; while there are plenty of claimants, no one is quite sure. In the 1870’s, the British Gem Manufacturing Company has already mass produced them. While it’s uncertain whether these clips were similar to the ones we use today, an advertisement from 1894 depicts one nearly identical to today’s paperclips.

Photo: flickr.com/TRIUMF Lab

Was Franz Ferdinand’s Car Really Cursed?

According to the rumor, the car in which Archduke Franz Ferdinand sat when he was assassinated caused the death of multiple people over the years. According to Smithsonian.com the legend of the cursed car originated in the 50’s, but it seems that the rumor is much older.

On the 28th of June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie Chotek were assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist. This event is widely acknowledged to have sparked the outbreak of World War I.

The car in which Franz Ferdinand sat in at the moment of his death was a Gräf & Stift made in 1910. The rumor has it that the subsequent owners of the car had their fair share of “troubles” as well:

“The first owner after the Archdukes’ death was a General Potiorek. He developed mental problems and later died in an insane asylum. An army captain, the next owner; died in an accident after hitting and killing two peasants on the road. The governor of Yugoslavia bought the car, he had four accidents in four months while driving the car; the last resulted in the amputation of his right arm. The governor sold the car to a doctor, who lost his life when the car overturned and crushed him. With each successive owner the tragedies continued. They were either injured or killed in accidents while in possession of the car. In all, thirteen people associated with the car died—it was then taken out of service. Today this supposedly haunted Graf & Stift automobile is displayed at the War History Museum in Vienna—the bullet holes from the assassination are still visible.”

While it’s certainly true that the car can be found in the Museum of Military History in Vienna, the other details of the rumor could not be verified by either Smithsonian or Snopes. According to Smithsonian, the story of the cursed death car did not begin to make the rounds until decades after Franz Ferdinand’s death. The article suggests that the legend dates only to 1959, when it was popularized in a book called Stranger Than Science, written by Frank Edwards, who was a relatively well-known American ufologist in the 50’s and 60’s.

However, according to the archives of the Hungarian newspaper Délmagyarország, the legend of the cursed car is much older. An article from 1927 reports on the Berlin correspondent of the “Ewening Post”, whose job would have been to investigate another accident related to Franz Ferdinand’s car. According to Délmagyarország the reporter was sent to Hungary; only to find that the story was completely false.

evening_franz

This article is important in showing that the legend was well-known overseas well before Frank Edwards’s book came out.

As for anyone interested in another account of Franz Ferdinand’s car; we’d recommend the book titled “Das Auto von Sarajevo”. According to its writers, the aforementioned car was put on exhibition in the Museum of Military History in Vienna from 1914 to 1944. The car was severely damaged during World War II, and was moved to its current place (a different wing of the same museum) after its restauration was complete.

Photo: Hemmings Daily / Délmagyarország