Urban Legends

(Pictures from Snopes.com) Kennedy with hat

You gotta’ love urban legends. They make life so much more interesting. The problem is that most of them turn out to be false. Urban legends show how easily we accept as true anything we have heard–as long as it makes an interesting story and explains something.

Another habit many of us have is repeating a word or phrase without ever thinking about what it actually means. I have heard of the “hat trick” in hockey all my life, but I never gave much thought to what one was. I have to admit, though that I’m not much of a hockey fan.

Still, when my wife asked me, I said–“uh, mmm, —- uh, I don’t know.” So I looked it up.

(A hat trick is when a player scores three goals in one game–the fans throw their hats on the ice in tribute; a natural hat trick is when the same player scores three goals in a row in one game with no one else scoring an intervening goal.)

There are various legends about the etymology and origins of the name and the custom. Some of them sounded a bit fishy, so I turned to the famous debunking site Snopes.com.

I didn’t find hat trick–but I did find an interesting article about a “hat” urban legend. The legend–which I admit, up until a few minutes ago, I believed–is that President Kennedy destroyed the men’s hat industry when he became the first president to show up for his inauguration hatless.

Snopes disproved this legend very easily and convincingly: The article showed photographs and quoted newspaper articles from the time that described the event. The photograph above is one of the many that show the president wearing his top hat on inauguration day. The photograph below shows him giving the speech, with his hat removed (as was the custom) just before speaking; it is visible on the seat behind him.

The Greek historian Thucydides complained at “how averse people are to taking pains” to research history to find out what really happened in the past. So Thucydides became the first “modern, objective, scientific” historian–or so we are told. Actually very few take the effort to check the facts of Thucydides history.

Jostein Gaarder, in the book Sophies World mentions that for over two-thousand years everyone excepted it as a proven fact, on the authority of Aristotle, that women have fewer teeth than men. Gaarder suggested, “Aristotle could have easily learned the truth by asking Mrs. Aristotle to open her mouth and counting her teeth.” Any reader of Aristotle could have done the same thing.

Without bothering to check on what Christians actually believe, there are a lot of people out there who give the definition of faith as “believing something for which there is absolutely no evidence.” That’s not what faith is, and I don’t know many believers who believe that’s what it is.

Kennedy hatless