Ponce, Fink, Bean, Ross, Henry & Pilgrims – WIF Folklore

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Tales From

American Folklore

That Are

Completely Misunderstood

American folklore is a vast treasury of stories and tales which have been passed down through time, often altered in the retelling. Some are based in fact, some were created as fiction and are now accepted as fact, and some are simply tall tales. In some cases, political or personal enemies slandered their contemporaries, and their falsehoods are now accepted as history. In others, the public perceptions created beliefs which are largely unchallenged today, despite their being wrong both then and now.

Some stories became accepted as true because of locations taking financial advantage of them, along the lines of “George Washington Slept Here” signs on old inns and homes, despite the lack of supporting provenance. Others lodge in the consciousness through repetition in film and literature. Here are 10 tales of American folklore which have come to be misunderstood as historical fact, and how they became that way.

10. Betsy Ross and the design of the American flag

Betsy Ross was a seamstress in Philadelphia who legend and folklore assigns the credit for the design and creation of the American flag, consisting of a constellation of stars in a blue field, and 13 alternating red and white stripes. Those who support the belief, which has been widely debunked, have recently used the premise that there exists no proof that she didn’t. They are correct. But there is perhaps less to prove that she did. There is substantial evidence to establish that Betsy sewed flags for the Continental Navy (actually for the Navy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania). But the first documented record of her creating what became the Stars and Stripes did not appear until the 1870s, coincident with America’s centennial, when it was reported by her grandson.

That gentlemen, William Canby, presented a paper around the time of the Centennial claiming Betsy had created the American flag. His sources were entirely family oral tradition. Betsy was presented as an example of patriotism and ambition to young girls of the Gilded Age as a result. However, other than the claims of Canby, and the resultant years of the story being repeated ad nauseum, there is no evidence that Betsy Ross created the American flag, and no record of her ever presenting it to George Washington. There is a record of a team of Philadelphia flag-makers presenting him the Union Flag, which contained a Union Jack in the blue field and which Washington raised above his headquarters in Cambridge, but the same record does not mention Ross by name.

9. Ponce de Leon wasn’t seeking a Fountain of Youth

Juan Ponce de Leon is widely believed to have sought in vain for a mythical Fountain of Youth in Florida, which today has many establishments using the legend to attract tourists. But it is only a legend, one in which Native Americans told the Spaniard that the key to immortality and perpetual youth could be found in Bimini. De Leon first came to the Americas as part of the second expedition of Christopher Columbus and by the early 1500s he was Governor of the Spanish settlements in Puerto Rico, acquiring significant wealth through his Royal appointment. Diego Columbus, brother of Christopher, succeeded in deposing him as governor in 1511, and de Leon decided to explore lesser known areas of the Caribbean.

His legal battles with the Columbus brothers and their allies left him with several political enemies, and it was one of these who first linked de Leon with the Fountain of Youth. De Leon made several voyages to the coast of Florida, and charted it as far south as the Keys, finally attempting to establish a permanent settlement there in 1521, after the death of his patron, King Ferdinand. Wounded in battle with natives resenting the Spanish trespass, he traveled to Cuba, where he died. A biography by Gonzalo Fernandez printed in 1535 was the first to claim de Leon had been in search of the Fountain of Youth (as a cure for impotence); later biographers picked up the unverified tale, and the legend was born. Nothing contemporaneous with the life of the explorer mentions either the search or the mythical fountain.

8. The Pilgrims didn’t land at Plymouth Rock

There were many chroniclers of the voyage of the Mayflower and the landing of the Pilgrims both on Cape Cod and later at what became Plymouth Colony, and still later Massachusetts. None of them mentioned landing on a rock. Indeed, it would have been exceedingly strange for an accomplished seaman to choose a rocky outcropping as a place to land a wooden boat laden with passengers in rough weather. The New England coast in December is seldom placid, and the Pilgrims had already landed on other sites, were concerned about the weather, and were in search of a safer location.

Over a century after the landing Plymouth Rock entered the annals of the colony, when a church elder named Thomas Faunce claimed that his father had told him the rock now known as Plymouth Rock was where the colonists first stepped ashore. The story took hold in the settlers’ collective imaginations. By the time of the Revolution it was a symbol of freedom, and a misguided attempt to move it to a place of honor near a liberty pole resulted in its being broken in two. The bottom half of the rock remained in the ground, the top later suffered another accident and was broken in two again. In 1880 what remained of the top was reunited with the bottom (using cement) and 1620 was carved into its face.

7. George Washington didn’t throw a dollar across the Potomac

Many myths exist about George Washington and a few have at least a passing reflection of basis in truth. Throwing a dollar across the Potomac isn’t one of them. The Potomac at Mount Vernon is almost one mile across. The US did mint two silver dollars of differing design in the 1790s, today known as the Flowing Hair and Draped Bust dollars. In Washington’s day they were scarce, and Spanish dollars (the famed Piece of Eight) were still in wide circulation throughout the new nation. Washington didn’t throw one of those across the Potomac either. The story of the cross-river toss was born out of another story, which featured another river and another item thrown.

According to George Washington Parke Custis, Washington’s step-grandson, the river was the Rappahannock, the site the Washington family home near Alexandria, and the item was a rock about the size of a silver dollar. But Custis heard the story from family lore. Charles Wilson Peale also told a story of Washington’s ability to throw an iron bar a prodigious distance, a popular game among young men before the Revolutionary War to test themselves against one another. Washington was also reported to have thrown a rock to the height of Virginia’s Natural Bridge. So, while he never tossed a dollar across the Potomac, he evidently had a throwing arm of considerable strength.

6. John Henry was not a steel driving man, but a composite of several men

John Henry, according to folklore, was a steel-driver drilling holes in rock to fill with explosives, part of the construction of railroads in the Appalachians. His legend is that he raced against a steam driven machine and won, only to collapse and die of exhaustion at his victory. Several locations in America claim to be the site of the race. The Coosa Mountain tunnel in Alabama is one such site. The Lewis Tunnel in Virginia is another. Yet another is the Greenbrier Tunnel near Talcott, West Virginia. Other sites which have been suggested as that of the legendary race between man and machine are Oak Mountain in Alabama, in Kentucky, and even in Jamaica.

John Henry first appeared in song, sung by the men swinging sledge hammers and handling the rods driven into rock. There were several different versions of the song depending on the area of the country but they all shared a central truth. The hard, physical labor of men with no other job prospects was gradually being eliminated by machines. Many of those workers were former slaves, or the sons of former slaves, and they sang of their woes as they worked, as had been done on the plantations of the south before the Civil War. John Henry was a legend they created out of other men they had known, the hardest worker no longer among them.

5. Manhattan was not sold to the Dutch by gullible Native Americans for $24 and change

A longstanding bit of American folklore which has acquired the authority of history is that Dutch settlers, led by the crafty Peter Minuit, purchased Manhattan Island from an Indian tribe for a collection of beads and other trinkets, worth about $24. The story at once displays the duplicity of the European settlers and the trusting nature of the Indians, who from that point on were doomed to continuous fleecing by the onrushing settlement of the whites. The truth of the matter is that the tribe with whom the Dutch negotiated, the Manahatta, didn’t own the land which they sold in the first place. Enterprising Dutch settlers had already established a fur trading and lumber camp on the tip of the island, and along streams to the north.

To protect the fledgling settlements from the depredations of roaming tribes, the Dutch approached the Manahatta, offering to purchase the lands they already occupied. The Indians didn’t live or hunt on the lands, and thus had no objection to taking Dutch goods in exchange for what was already a fait accompli. The actual value of the transaction, in today’s money, was several thousand dollars, which seems low until it is considered that the Indians sold the Dutch land for which they had no claim. Basically the Manahatta carried out the equivalent of selling their neighbor’s house and making off with the profits, leaving the Dutch to deal with an unhappy true owner.

4. The legend of Mike Fink may have been based on the adventures of several men

Mike Fink was a real person who in life and after his death took on the legends and tall tales told of other riverboat men, along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Born in Fort Pitt in 1770, he moved down the Ohio River sometime after the American Revolution and the Indian Wars in the Ohio Country ended. Although he is linked in legend to the Ohio River, there is evidence that he actually operated a freighting business along the Great Miami River of Ohio. There he carried products from the farms of Ohio to Cincinnati, and returned upriver carrying needed merchandise from the wharves of the growing city.

The river towns and frontier settlements were rough and ready places, and stories of Fink, who was well known for his size and prodigious strength, appeared up and down the Ohio, and carried along its many tributaries during his lifetime. Activities of other rivermen and travelers were related in taverns and inns, with his name attached to give them extra flavor. He undoubtedly related more than a few himself. Over time the less admirable facets of his nature made him appear as an undesirable character. When Disney featured him in a film with Davy Crockett during the Crockett craze of the 1950s, Fink was rendered little more than a buffoon. His name is still well-known along both sides of the Ohio, though few could say who he really was.

3. Paul Revere never finished his famous midnight ride to Concord

There were riders from Boston and Charlestown on the Massachusetts roads on the night of April 18 (and into 19), 1775, alerted by the famous signal from Old North Church of two lanterns, warning that the British were coming by sea. The signal was sent by Paul Revere, not to him, before he was carried across the Charles River to mount a horse locally known for its speed. From there, he is known in legend (thanks to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) for alarming “every Middlesex village and farm.” According to Longfellow it was “two by the village clock” when Revere arrived in Concord. But in truth he never made it to Concord at all. The British captured him outside of Lexington, confiscated his horse, and he walked back to the village.

The Sons of Liberty had a well-established chain of riders and church bells to spread the alarms, which had been exercised previously, and when Revere arrived in towns such as Somerset and Medford, the local militia companies sent out riders of their own. It was the sound of the bells spreading the alarm, as well as some gunshots meant to rouse the militia in Lexington, which encouraged the British patrol that captured Revere to confiscate his mount and return to the relative safety of the approaching British column, rather than confront the aroused village on their own. Revere was just one of many riders along the roads that night, several of whom alerted the village of Concord.

2. The Law West of the Pecos, Judge Roy Bean, was hardly a hanging judge

Judge Roy Bean ran a saloon in Val Verde County, near the Rio Grande River in Texas. He gained appointment as the local Justice of the Peace, and hung a sign on his business establishment which read “Law West of the Pecos.” He did have some acquaintance with the law, having been arrested himself for assault, petty theft, public drunkenness, and threatening to kill his wife. After his appointment as a Justice of the Peace was verified by Texas authorities, he used his new status to run a competitor in the saloon business out of town. He based his judicial decisions on a single law book, once letting a murderer free because he “could find no law against killing a Chinaman” in his reference.

Bean became part of the legend of the Old West, known as a hanging judge, in the sense that all who appeared before him as defendants were likely to be found guilty, and likely to receive the maximum punishment allowed. In truth he only ordered two convicted men to be hanged. He usually fined miscreants the amount of money they had on their person at the time of their appearance, which he kept for himself. As a Justice of the Peace he conducted weddings, announcing “May God have mercy on your souls” following the vows. He also granted divorces, though he had no legal authority to do so.

1. Isabella’s jewels didn’t fund the voyage of Columbus, Italian lenders did

Christopher Columbus attempted to obtain funding from several different sources, including the Kings of France and Portugal, before he approached Isabella and Ferdinand with his project. When he did, they at first turned him down. It took nearly two years of persuasion and negotiation for Columbus to obtain the support of the Catholic Monarchs, as they are known today. The longstanding and pervasive myth that Isabella pawned or sold her jewels to fund the voyage is false; the funding came from the royal treasury, which obtained them through loans from numerous sources, including Italian bankers from Genoa and Florence doing business in Seville.

The main source of the loans was the Bank of St. George, based in Genoa, with branches across Europe. The bank was operated by the powerful Genoese Centurione family, rivals of the Medici family. Security for the loans which funded Columbus was speculative, based on the expected riches he would bring back from his voyage. They were serviced, that is the interest on them was paid, through an increase in taxes in Western Spain. Christopher Columbus’s voyages to the New World were paid for in a surprisingly modern way, not by the Queen of Spain pawning her jewelry.


Ponce, Fink, Bean, Ross, Henry & Pilgrims –

WIF Folklore

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #187

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #187

Theirs is not to reason why’, writes Tennyson about the six hundred and I for one buy into that notion 100 per cent…

“Their is not to reason why., theirs but to do and die.”

“I guess they don’t read your magazine in Britain.” 14 months and a scary recollection away, James turns sober, recalling that he really did not know if his clients had boarded the Titanic or not. “I don’t know why they didn’t…”

“‘Theirs is not to reason why’, writes Tennyson about the six hundred and I for one buy into that notion 100 per cent.” Harv shakes off the morbid tone of the conversation. “Say, what McGillicuddysdo you men say to an ice cold beer over at McGillicuddy’s?”

James is willing, though he will tell Abbey who is with Judith and the women, where they are going. Alpha, however, is distracted by Maggie Lou, who has been patiently waiting her turn to congratulate him. She represents a more inviting diversion than a beer in a tavern filled with over-served Irishmen.

“We understand, Alpha.”

 There is no way we can compete with a pretty girl, Harv.” James is giving A.O. a good old-fashioned ribbing. “Beware the female charm, Campbell, or she will have you in her spell before you know it.” Some of his playfull advice is valid, considering that his doctor friend has been cuddling up to books, not females, up to the present.

Now brother Hosea could show him all he needs to know about women, but he will not get the chance, Willy has seen to that, showing his scoundrel son the way off campus, before he can flaunt his fleshly acumen and pollutes the innocent.

Medical School graduation in 1913

Instead, Maggie is allowed her time, with Laura and Ziggy lurking at a safe distance “You look so handsome, Alfrey.” She feels the collar of his velvet-trimmed robe.

“I can’t wait to take this thing off. In fact I am, right now.” The white bow tie follows. “There.”

She will always look up to Alpha, her big brother in past times, but admiration has recently altered, more in the vein of a wistful pining. She has missed his company during his academic journey to today, but she sees him now through the eyes of a woman. “Please show me where you stay, your room I mean.”

“Not much more than a cracker box, I’m afraid, a desk and a cot,” he warns, “and I am moved out.”

“Then show me the buildin’… please, I’d like to get away,” she whispers, motioning subtly in the direction of her mother Laura Bell and Ziggy.

They do not elude the opportune eye of Judith’s camera lens, the last image she will capture for posterity; Alpha and Maggie Lou, arm in arm, walking down the paths he knows so well, with a girl he is just getting to know.


Alpha Omega M.D.

“Modern Times” Charlie Chaplin

Episode #187


page 175

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #185

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #185

…We are living in exciting and dangerous times, you young people who have been called to the care and healing of your fellow man…

Tufts School of Medicine

Tufts University graduates are encouraged to take in fluids and the Dean edits some of the pomp and circumstance, skipping past the salutatorian, a disappointed young woman from Maine, who was asked to introduce the main speaker, former President and recent unsuccessful “Bull Moose” candidate, Theodore Roosevelt.

(#26) responded readily to an inspiring letter sent by Willy and Amanda Campbell, with the help of the Loves. He is moved by the expressed feelings of former slaves, turned proud parents of a real doctor, keeping in mind everything Willy had gone through in Blountstown late in 1908 and his passion for the oppressed.

Roosevelt is very much a beloved figure, his impeccable character something to be admired and emulated by aspiring professionals. He has never been a doctor, but he is intimately familiar with the trade due to his rough and tumble lifestyle, not to mention a bullet to the chest before a campaign speech in Milwaukee, just nine months before.

  “We are living in exciting and dangerous times, you young people who have been called to the care and healing of your fellow man. Most of you will go to cities and towns in nearly every state in our proud union. Some of you will discover new medicines from the leaves of tropical plants. Others will put their life on the line to tend to wounded soldiers; you have my advanced gratitude.

“And then there is Alpha Omega Campbell and his Dad.” He motions for the revived subject to join him at the podium, along with Willy, from the rear. “From out the midst of the shadow of slavery comes one of the finest young men I have ever had the chance to meet. I am told, by his proud parents, Willy and Amanda that he is returning to the Tallahassee area to serve the needs of the Negro community.

 “Gentlemen and Ladies, these are true American heroes!” He gives them a mighty bear hug.

Judith Eastman makes this a true P-E J moment, a photographic record of a life-changing event; a world leader and a world changer.

The entire graduating class of 1913 rises and cheers, tossing their hats high into the air. They are joined in celebration by the entire plaissance of attenders.

“Bully!” shades of T.R. political rallies past.

Before euphoria takes complete control, A.O. cannot pass up the opportunity to thank the two people responsible for this day, mentors of possibilities and means, in that order. ”My fellow graduates, I know it’s a hot day,” he blushes, “as my lapse in balance can attest, but I will not let this occasion pass without introducing the two men who made the School of Medicine a reality for me, Doctor Siegfried Endlichoffer and Herbert Love!” Herbert stands, while helping Ziggy conquer rusty knees. “I dedicate my future patients to the Lord God Almighty and these men, his good and faithful servants.”


Alpha Omega M.D.

Episode #185


page 173

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #184

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #184

…Alpha looks handsome in his black cap and gown,  but pays a price, his dark presence soaking in the penetrating sunlight like a sponge…

LATOBSD3-001


At the end of the second quarter of 1913 Alpha Omega Campbell is about to graduate from Tufts University School of Medicine, formerly Boston College of Physicians and Surgeons. If anyone from Quincy would have been so foolish as to predict that the runt of the family they had rescued from the grip of Jefferson Smythwick, would become a doctor 17 years later, they would have been laughed out of town.


Old Doc Ziggy was the first to have an inkling back in 1897, when Maggie Lou was new and the then Alfrey Campbell would explore all the wonders of his black bag. He has spent the intervening years as A.O.’s personal career consultant, imparting as much of his knowledge as he could and encouraging him the rest of the way. It has been sixty years and an Atlantic Ocean away, since a German university fashioned the good doctor.

Now he is the proud Omega to his dear Alpha, part of the well-traveled Tallahassee contingent, here in Boston for a slice of history; Willy, Amanda & family of course, with John, Martha, James, Abbey, benefactors Herbert and Phoebe, Laura Bell and 16 year old Maggie Lou.  Out of nowhere, Atlantic City produces brother Hosey and a floozy, though no one would freely admit to any association.

A hot summer sun beats down on the plaissance grounds, where Tufts graduations are held; ten rows of folding chairs for the graduates, twenty for spectators behind.

         Alpha looks handsome in his black cap and gown, with three rings on each sleeve and white shirt and bow tie, but pays a price, his dark presence soaking in the penetrating sunlight like a sponge. Looking closely at the second row, you can see the third person in, in between Misters Calvert and Carson; fall off his chair like a lead-filled balloon.

 Prowling nearby, as they often are where there is a significant human interest story to be had, Harv Pearson plops his notebook on the grass to rushes to his aid, without realizing there are over two hundred new doctors in a fifty foot radius. “We need some water and a towel, Campbell’s dehydrated,” says physician in waiting, Carson.

“He will not be the last,” Harv suggests, “not if they don’t shorten those speeches.”

 He will be the last black person to faint, the other two of his original freshman class minorities having dropped out of school early on.


Alpha Omega M.D.

Graduation Day by Howard Temperley

Graduation Day by Howard Temperley

Episode #184


page 172

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #156

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #156

… Doc Ziggy is as proud as poppa Willy and as attending as a mother hen, having  invested 9 years, cultivating the manifest medical interest in the most unlikely of protegees…

1906-001

It is one month into 1906, most likely to be filled with many firsts and “new” things as the rest the years in this new century: the Gibson Girl, Teddy Bear, Wright Brothers, the 1st Baseball World Series, Theory of Relativity, National Audubon Society and the hamburger.

Now at age 17, Alfrey has been accepted at Boston College of Physicians and Surgeons (soon to be named Tufts University); enrolled officially as Alpha Omega Campbell for the fall term. Thanks to the Loves’ benevolent generosity, an extremely bright young man is going to get the education and medical training he deserves. He is one of three black students in a class of three hundred.

Doc Ziggy is as proud as poppa Willy and as attending as a mother hen. He has not put up the Deutsche marks, but he has invested 9 years, cultivating the manifest medical interest in the most unlikely of protegees.

“Alpha, my boy, ve have only eight months to get you ready for za University. Frieda has found some suits for you from my younger days. You must look like a doctor.”

“They don’t have those short pants and fuzzy green hat that you wore in those old pictures… do they?” Alpha is in tune with the style of the day, at the age where you realize that somebody may actually notice what you are wearing.

“Lederhosen? Unt my alpine hat? You vould look so silly.” As part of the great melting pot of the world, diverse as it may be, the visual image of a black Bavarian would be a stretch to the most imaginative. Not even Ziggy can fathom.

“Try these on, leibshon. Let’s see if I must take zem in.” Frieda has her pincushion and thimble at hand.

  “What will it be like… at college I mean?” asks Alpha, while slipping jackets on and off. Home schooling did not expose him to organized education.

“Vell, in ze homeland, the university is ze center of life. All zat is wise comes from university. It is great privilege to study in zose old buildings.” There is much reverence in this experienced voice. “I know several doctors who studied at your school, fine men, good doctors.”

“I will not let you down,” he sincerely assures, looking more scholarly by the minute, closer to his transformation in Boston by the second.

For my German speaking friends… Prost!


Alpha Omega M.D.

Protege-001

Episode #156


page 144  (end ch. 8)

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #146

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #146

…Rochester or Tallahassee, hither and yon, you can find one; practicing the art of writing the law, knowing existing law, finding a way around the law….

Boston, Massachusetts is directly due east of Rochester, New York. The intervening 300 miles is richly historic land that was originally deeded to the Algonquin Indians, only to be replaced by the Iroquois, followed by the Dutch, English and finally independence.

Independence is the basis for James Ferrell, as he pursues his legal education, freeing him from the underlying despair of his southern roots. There are fine institutions of higher learning in his home state, but he could not pass up the opportunity to lose much of his regional accent and begin his career north of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Vertical-001  For Harv Pearson to request his involvement in the formation of his new magazine is a lucky break on an epic scale. Attorneys are quickly becoming as numerous as the stars above. Rochester or Tallahassee, hither and yon, you can find one; practicing the art of writing the law, knowing existing law, finding a way around the law. Any and every number of them is as qualified as this upstart from Florida, but this first client comes from a place where people take care of their own, not completely without logic or potential of competence, yet bending over backwards to nurture and grow those families you know. Sow a seed, water it and watch it increase in your fertilized soil.

Vertical-001 James and Abigail Ferrell are promising seedlings without pretense, fully aware of how fortunate they are. And do not assume that Abbey does not contribute to the overall plant. She has and continues to work hard to support her husband in his loftier pursuits, both monetary and motivational. She seems to stay abreast of everything that James has in the hopper, like she is a fly on every wall of every room that he occupies. If he, in her opinion, has a deviant thought in matters of the law, she corrects him lovingly with faultless knowledge. James has since stopped wondering on how she knows things, she just knows.


Alpha Omega M.D.

Episode #146


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Keep Out! – WIF 10 Cent Travel

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Forbidden Places

You’ll Never

Be Able

to Visit

For a huge part of human history, there were plenty of places left that remained a mystery. But in modern times, it seems like every square inch of the planet is accessible for anyone who has the time, money, and desire to get there. However, there are still plenty of places that truly are forbidden to the general public.

10. The Lascaux Caves Contain Ancient Cave Paintings

Deep in the Dordogne Valley of Southern France, there is a cave that holds a number of ancient secrets. The Lascaux Caves were first found in the year 1940 by a group of 13-year-old boys and their dog. They contain some of the oldest drawings in the history of mankind, and after this discovery, tourists flocked to see the cave. Unfortunately, though, the caves also contain a rare fungus that is slowly destroying the ancient artwork. In 1963, a decision was made to close the caves off from the public, because the belief was that the more human beings visited the cave, the more heat and humidity would come off of their bodies, worsening the problem with the fungus and threatening the paintings. So now, there are security guards watching over the caves full-time to make sure no one goes inside, and they only patrol within for a few minutes just once a week.

In 2010, President Nicolas Sarkozy and eight people in his entourage toured the caves to see the 900 pieces of art, sparking controversy across France. This actually sparked a debate, because many people felt that there should be no exceptions to the rule, even if you’re the President.

9. Only a Few Select People Can Access the Vatican Secret Archives

Inside of Vatican City, there are the Secret Archives filled with classified documents that date back thousands of years. For most of modern history, the Pope was the one and only person who could access the archive. In 1881, the rules were changed to allow a few select Catholic scholars to examine the documents, so long as they go through background checks and a vetting process, which includes receiving permission from the Pope. Even then, the paperwork must be 75-years-old before they are accessible to the scholars, which guarantees that the people who are mentioned in the documents would most likely have passed away before their secrets are ever revealed. So, we’re sorry to say, but you’re not likely to be allowed into the archives any time soon.

Of course, when anywhere is this secret, conspiracy theories abound. And just like literally everything else in the world, some people believe that the Vatican is hiding evidence of aliens. And in 2010, when Dan Brown released his novel Angels and Demons, more and more people began to question what, exactly, the Vatican was trying to hide. So finally in 2012, they held an exhibit where they shared some of the most famous documents with journalists.

8. North Sentinel Island Has a Tribe Isolated From The Outside World

North Sentinel Island is off the coast of India, in the Bay of Bengal. Marco Polo mentioned the island in his book, claiming that the Sentinelese people were cannibals. In the 1800s, a ship crashed on the island, and almost all of the crew was killed by the natives. Its reputation has made this island off-limits from the outside world. As the years went on, only about 150 native Sentinelese people are believed to be left alive.

In the 1970s, National Geographic attempted to film a documentary on the island, but the director was impaled by a spear. Since then, access to the island has been strictly prohibited, and it has been well-known that no one should go there. But it didn’t seem to stop a missionary from going to the island in 2018 in an attempt to convert the native people to Christianity, and he was killed after illegally stepping foot on the island.

7. Surtsey Island Is An Active Volcano

In 1963, an underwater volcano erupted off the coast of Iceland, forming a small island that is just one mile wide. It was given the name Surtsey, after the Norse jotunn Surtr, who brings fire and brimstone upon the Earth and is a key player in Ragnarok. It has continued to remain active ever since. You may remember in 2010, the volcano on the island erupted and spread an ash cloud so large airplane traffic was suspended until it dissipated.

As of right now, the only people who have visited the island are scientists who have permission from the government of Iceland. It is important for them to study what naturally occurs on the island. They want to figure out which animals and vegetation make their way there naturally. Maybe some day tourists will be able to visit, but as of right now, the island is still off-limits to the general public.

6. The Pine Gap Facility in Australia Houses American Spies

Alice Springs, Australia is home to an American military based called the Joint Defense Facility Pine Gap. It was first built in 1966 as a space research laboratory. According to the US National Security Agency, the base is now used to control satellites that track nuclear weapons, locate airstrikes, and gather other types of information. Roughly 600 US citizens live in the base, and they integrate with the rest of Australian society. However, no one is allowed inside without the necessary security clearance.

However, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are some Australian citizens who aren’t too happy with the Americans coming in to use their land. The secret base has become a target for anti-war protesters who want it gone. Many Australians have actually tried to break into the base, claiming that they want to show the visiting Americans all about peace and love, only for them to be arrested. Anyone who tries to break into the facility face prison sentences up to seven years.

5. World Leaders Will Escape to Mount Weather At The End of the World

During the Cold War, the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center was built by the US government’s FEMA program as a place for world leaders to run to in case of a nuclear apocalypse. The 600,000 square foot underground facility sits safely nestled 48 miles away from Washington DC, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It has its own fire and police force, as well as its own laws, and plenty of supplies to restart society, just in case we ever end up in a Fallout situation. Of course, the nuclear apocalypse has been avoided (for now, at least), and all of those DIY fallout shelters from the 1960s have gone to waste.

But Mount Weather still exists today as the go-to-safe space for politicians. After the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2001, some of the most important government officials in the country were rushed to Mount Weather. Average people are not allowed to visit the facility, though, so we’ll just have to leave it in our imaginations.

4. If You Step Foot on Queimada Grande Island, You Will Probably Die

The Isle of Queimada Grande is just off the coast of Sao Paulo, Brazil. It is also known as “Snake Island,” because it is mostly inhabited by — you guessed it — thousands upon thousands of snakes. The Golden Lancehead Viper, which only exists on that one island. Its venom is five times more powerful than any other snake, and if someone is bitten by one, they will be dead in less than an hour. It has been dubbed one of the most dangerous places in the world.

No one is even sure how the snakes got there in the first place. Rumors have spread that pirates buried a treasure on the island, and that they brought these snakes there to make sure no one could ever reach the gold. But that, of course, is just a legend. For years, no one lived there, except a lighthouse keeper and his daughter. However, they were both killed by the snakes. Now the Brazilian navy only visits the island once a year to make sure the fully automated lighthouse is still working. Vice News decided to film a documentary on the one day of the year that they could actually go together with the navy officials. So, they were able to get extremely rare footage of the island and, of course… the snakes.

3. You’ll Catch Your Death From Gruinard Island

Off the coast of the Scottish Highlands, Gruinard Island was bought by the British government to test deadly diseases. The first trials began by exploding bombs riddled with diseased powder over top of flocks of sheep, and scientists would later inspect the damage. In the wake of World War II, the Brits thought they may need to use Anthrax as a weapon of war. Since they had purchased the island for these life-threatening experiments, they had to make it clear to everyone not to travel there anymore.

There’s even a massive sign on the island that says: “This island is government property under experiment. The ground is contaminated with Anthrax and dangerous. Landing is prohibited.” In the 1980s, the government sent scientists to clean the island, and by 1990, they declared that it was safe to visit. However, even years after the experiments have been completed, many people believe that there are still plague spores in the ground, and that you would be foolish to ever go there.

2. Technological Secrets are Hiding Inside Area 51

Nearly everyone has heard of Area 51, which is a secret American military base in the middle of the Nevada desert. There are dozens of wild rumors and conspiracy theories about the base, mostly claiming that they hold evidence of UFOs and alien life, including the wreckage of the famous Roswell incident in 1947.

Technically, there are plenty of people who work there, so people come and go from the base all the time. But members of the public are not allowed inside. In fact, if you even get too close to the entrance, a white pickup truck will chase you down until you leave. The facility is heavily guarded, with security cameras and sensors. In reality, the base was established during the Cold War, and it is used to test experimental aircraft. Its high level of security is to ensure that no foreign nations can access new technology.

Even though the rational explanations have been published as to the history of Area 51’s existence again and again, people still want to believe it’s really all about hiding little green men. The surrounding area has become a tourist attraction for UFO enthusiasts.

1. Poveglia Island is Probably Haunted

Okay, so maybe you don’t believe in ghosts. But plenty of people believe that Italy’s Poveglia Island is actually haunted, due to its long, horrible history. It was once a hospital for people who were quarantined with the plague. Then, it was used as a hospital for the criminally insane. According to legend, a doctor was performing torturous experiments on the patients, which is why the souls of the suffering are still present on the island.

Scientific studies have shown that so many bodies were buried on the island, 50% of the soil is made of human ash. The Italian government wasn’t sure what to do with it, so they put it up for auction, and sold a 99-year lease to an Italian businessman named Luigi Brugnaro for €513,000. So, basically, Brugnaro gets to use it as his private property, and it will be decades before it returns to the custody of the Italian government.


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