34 Hoaxes People Actually Believed

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Get your gullibility cap on. Here are 34 hoaxes—from alien autopsies to left-handed Whoppers—that people actually believed.

1. The One-Question Psychopath Test

A young girl chooses a smiley face over a frowning face being held by a woman
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While at her mother's funeral, a girl meets a guy whom she doesn't know; she falls in love with the guy on the spot, and then a few days later, that girls kills her own sister. What is her motive for killing her sister? If you answered that she was hoping that guy would appear at her sister's funeral, you think like a psychopath, as proven by a genuine psychological test conducted by a famous psychologist. The only problem is it isn't a question from a genuine psychological test conducted by a famous psychologist. It's just an internet hoax you probably got in a forwarded email.

2. A Televised Alien Autopsy

Autopsy tools.
James Player/iStock via Getty Images Plus

In 1995, Fox Television played a film featuring the dismantling of an alien corpse whose UFO had allegedly crashed in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. The culprit was Ray Santilli, an English filmmaker whose false footage was the basis of Fox's extraordinarily popular broadcast. Later, Santilli and his partner fessed up that their footage was merely a "re-enactment" of a real alien autopsy, which they didn't capture on camera, because, you know, reasons.

3. Lonelygirl15

Vlogging equipment.
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So pretty much every vlogger here on the Internet owes a lot to a fake, homeschooled teenage girl video blogger named Bree, whose family just happened to be members of a murderous cult. Lonelygirl15 blew up in 2006, quickly gaining over 100,000 YouTube subscribers, which back then was a lot. But a sting operation by some of her fans revealed a connection between the project and a talent agency in Hollywood. It turns out that Bree was a 20-year-old actress named Jessica Rose, and the entire series was scripted. It ran for two more years after its cover got blown, proving that its popularity wasn't solely because people thought it was real.

4. The Cardiff Giant

Farmland.
Anastasia Yakovleva/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

In 1869, a 10-foot-tall stone giant was uncovered while workers were digging a well in Cardiff, New York. The owner of the New York farm, William Newell, started charging tourists $.50 apiece to view this spectacle, which was later discovered to be a hoax, orchestrated by his cousin, a cigar-maker named George Hull. In reality, this so-called petrified giant was just a hunk of gypsum carved in the shape of a man that cost Hull around $3000 to make.

Hull attempted to deflect blame at the time by telling one newspaper that the scheme was necessary to make some money for his family. But despite the deceit, he did score some money from the whole thing, eventually selling the fake giant for around $23,000 (Newell scored $9500 for his share). That wasn't even Hull's only brush with forgery: He would later pull off a similar, but less successful, stunt in Colorado with the help of P.T. Barnum involving a fake of Darwin's "missing link."

5. Jarno Smeets Flies

A hawk flying.
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Jarno Smeets uploaded a video to YouTube in March 2012 in which he donned wings and then flew through the sky. Turns out, Smeets was not a bird-man, but actually an animator named Floris Kaayk who later admitted to the hoax on Dutch TV.

6. Camel Spiders

A spider web.
Ershela Hazizi/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

So when the second War in Iraq was just beginning, a photo emerged of a gigantic camel spider—this was sent around in emails, asking for sympathy for the troops. This email claimed that flesh-eating spiders were tormenting U.S. troops, could run 25 miles per hour, and jump 3 feet in the air. These spiders do exist, and they are big, but not quite that big. Also, they don't run that fast, and they can't jump at all. Rest easy, arachnophobes.

7. Napoleon Crashes the Stock Market

A portrait of Napoleon.
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In 1814, during the Napoleonic Wars, a man dressed as a colonel went around London claiming that Napoleon was dead, and that the Bourbons had won the war. The news resulted in British stock prices rising, before falling back to normal, when it was revealed that Napoleon was not dead. Lord Thomas Cochrane, the man who benefited from the stock fraud, was subsequently arrested for fraud.

8. Microsoft Buys The Catholic Church

A Catholic priest.
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People went wild in 1994 when an internet press release made the rounds stating that Microsoft had acquired "the Roman Catholic Church in exchange for an unspecified number of shares of Microsoft common stock." The press release was, of course, phony, but Microsoft had to come out with an official statement, assuring that they were not going to make sacraments available online anytime soon.

9. Fairy Bones

Bones at an excavation site.
Ирина Мещерякова/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

A widely circulated email in 2007 claimed that an 8-inch mummified fairy was found in a garden in Derbyshire, England, with descriptions of wings, teeth, hollow bones, along with pictures. Many people were hopeful that we had finally located Tinker Bell, but it was a hoax perpetrated by a professional illusion designer.

10. Fairy photos

Fairy mushrooms.
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That's not the first fairy hoax, either; perhaps the most famous was the Cottingley Fairies, which were pictures taken by two young girls "proving" the existence of fairies in 1917. The fairies turned out to be cardboard cutouts, because, you know, no Photoshop.

11. The Mechanical Turk

The mechanical Turk.

Marcin Wichary, Flickr/CC BY 2.0

In the 1800s, in Hungary, the Mechanical Turk amazed everyone with its ability to play clever chess against human opponents, often winning. It even beat Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon. But it was a hoax—turns out, there was a man inside controlling it the whole time.

12. The Fiji Mermaid

Mermaid Statue.
ELENAPHOTOS/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

The Fiji mermaid, allegedly discovered by an English doctor (known only as "Dr. J. Griffin"), was a widely discussed hoax in the mid-1800s. Many came to see it and were immediately disappointed by its non-beauty, which makes sense, considering that the mermaid was just a papier-mâché'd monkey connected to a fish bottom.

13. Not The Missing Link

Bigfoot Crossing Sign.
pabradyphoto/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

In 1912, Charles Dawson found a bunch of skull fragments which were put together by his team to reveal the Piltdown Man. This completed skull would essentially serve as proof of evolution by fitting the description of half-man, half-ape. The scientists were right to be skeptical: the Piltdown Man skull was actually comprised of the bones of three different species.

14. Marathons Made Easy

People running in a marathon.
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In 1904, Frederick Lorz won the marathon at the Summer Olympics...sort of. Lorz stopped after nine miles, got a car ride from his manager for the next 11, and when the car broke down, he walked back to the Olympic stadium and still wound up winning the marathon. Then he went on to claim that it was all a big joke, but only once people started to accuse him of not actually running the entire race.

15. Crop Circles

An ornate crop circle in the middle of a field
yuelan iStock via Getty Images

Alien crop circles are pretty common hoaxes these days, including in M. Night Shyamalan movies. That's all thanks to Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, who cut the first of many flying saucer nests in an English wheat field in 1976.

16. The War of the Worlds

Orson Welles.
Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty Images

In 1938, Orson Welles went on CBS Radio, reading from The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, but in a standard news format. Confused listeners believed that they were listening to a report of an actual alien invasion occurring in the United States, and this unintentional hoax was so believable that some people initially tried (but failed) to sue CBS for mental anguish.

Ready for a double hoax? The accepted knowledge that people panicked because of the broadcast might not be real.

17. Operation Copperhead

D-Day Landing.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A hoax was actually used to help ensure D-Day's success in World War II. Ten days before the fighting began in Normandy, the British used actor-soldier M. E. Clifton James, a general Monty Montgomery lookalike, to distract the Germans by doing high-profile appearances in Gibraltar. It's not clear whether the deception had much impact beyond confusion, but M. E. Clifton James later played both himself and Montgomery in a movie dramatizing the hoax.

18. The Left-Handed Whopper

A Whopper from Burger King.

Mike Mozart, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Did Burger King announce a Whopper specifically for hungry people with dominant left hands? Yes. That was a real hoax that had right-handed Whopper-eaters up in arms. Burger King said they were rotating condiments 180º for their left-handed customers, but that turned out to be an April Fool's Day joke, despite customers showing up and asking for it.

19. Hitler's Diaries

An old diary.
BlackQuetzal/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

Those Hitler Diaries, purchased by a German news magazine for $6 million? Hmm...not Hitler's diaries, in fact.

20. Pope Joan

Pope Joan shrine.
A shrine to the nonexistent Pope Joan in Rome.
MarcPo/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

And I'm sorry, everyone, but Pope Joan, the pope who casually went into labor during a procession, is a hoax, deriving from folklore. There has never been a female pope.

21. Home Remedies for Burns

A knife with a pad of spreadable butter over a tub of butter
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Despite what you've heard on the internet: egg whites, flour, and butter do not heal burns. In fact, butter helps trap heat in the skin, which is really not good for burns. These ingredients do, however, make for delicious baking, if you want to turn your burns into cookies.

22. Balloon Boy

Hot air balloon.
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Balloon Boy was up in the attic the entire time his family claimed that he was on a crazy balloon ride. The wildest part? They pulled the stunt to try to score a reality TV show.

23. A Font Predicting 9/11

A person typing on a keyboard.
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Repeat after me. The Wingdings computer font did not predict 9/11. Typing in "Q33" NY does give you an airplane, towers, a skull, and a Star of David. And no, Q33 was not the flight number of either of the planes.

24. Triple WaterSpouts

A hurricane
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There's no such thing as triple waterspouts. The photo from Hurricane Lili was doctored.

25. Andy Kaufman Is Still Alive

Comedian Andy Kaufman.
Joan Adlen/Getty Images

He's not. Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Tupac, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison are also definitely dead.

26. And Paul McCartney is Dead

A picture of Paul McCartney.
John Downing/Getty Images

He's alive! Despite the perennial hoax machine revving up to mourn people who are still with us, the Beatles bassist is still alive and kicking and having a wonderful Christmas time. So are Gene Simmons, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Garth Brooks, Eddie Murphy, Tony Danza, Justin Bieber, and Dave Matthews.

27. The Masked Marauders

A picture of singer Bob Dylan.
Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Speaking of Paul McCartney, the Masked Marauders—an album featuring a collaboration between him, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, and John Lennon—was the subject of a satirical article in Rolling Stone, much to the disappointment of many fans.

28. Charging Your iPod With an Onion

A pile of onions.
SabdiZ/iStock via Getty Images Plus

You can't charge your iPod using electrolytes. That YouTube video was a hoax; stop asking Yahoo! Answers and plugging your iPod into onions!

29. The Blair Witch Project

A production still from 'The Blair Witch Project.'
Artisan Entertainment/Getty Images

Groundbreaking in fusing advertising with its film, the cinematic tale of a trio going into the woods to find a witch made everyone wonder if the found footage was the real deal.

30. Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity movie audience.
Phillip Massey/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures

It's surprising that a movie could pull it off years after Blair Witch, but a lot of audience members bought it wholesale, which is probably because it's still terrifying even when you know it's fiction.

31. Ghostwatch

A ghost in a haunted house.
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The original horror reality fake-out. Broadcast to unwitting British viewers in 1992 as a live, in-progress investigative report, Ghostwatch borrowed from War of the Worlds and used the news format to trick people into thinking ghosts were very, very real.

32. Youtube is shutting down

YouTube logo on a TV.
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YouTube is not shutting down to select a winner of all-time best video; that was an April Fool's Day prank. Besides, we all know Mental Floss would win.

33. Facebook Is thinking about charging customers

A person scrolling through Facebook.
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Also, Facebook is not considering charging, because who would pay for that?

34. At-Home LASIK Surgery

Optometrist equipment.
Andrei Orlov/ iStock via Getty Images Plus

And lastly, this should really go without saying: Do not trust any website offering to sell you a device for at-home, do-it-yourself LASIK surgery. Maybe don't buy something online that will shoot lasers into your eyes. Just appreciate Lasik@Home as a joke, everybody.

For more hoaxes that fooled the public, check out the full video below.

7 Quick Tips for Disinfecting Your Home the Smart Way

Frequent cleaning of high-traffic areas can reduce the spread of illness in your home.
Frequent cleaning of high-traffic areas can reduce the spread of illness in your home.
BrianAJackson/iStock via Getty Images

With many people spending more time—or virtually all of their time—indoors, it’s natural for thoughts to turn to how to best clean surfaces that might help minimize the risk of spreading illness. Although researchers believe respiratory droplets are the primary way coronavirus is transmitted, preliminary data, which is not yet peer-reviewed, suggests the virus may remain on some surfaces for hours or days.

While scrubbing isn't a complex process, there are nonetheless some areas of your home you might be neglecting. Here’s how to best approach a household scrub, as well as identify and disinfect some common germ hot spots.

1. Pay attention to high-touch surfaces and clean them frequently.

High-touch surfaces are exactly what they sound like: Areas in the home that get handled and touched regularly. Think doorknobs, light switches, appliance handles, toilet handles, faucets, and remotes. And don’t forget laptops, keyboards, desks, and phones.

2. Don't just do a quick wipe down. Get the entire surface.

Taking a disinfecting wipe to the keyhole of a doorknob isn’t going to do you much good—it's important to really scrub all high-touch surfaces. Make sure you get every available surface area, including the plate behind the knob where fingers and hands often brush against it. When cleaning remotes, make sure you don't just scrub the buttons, but the space between them as well.

3. You can use soap and water.

While products claiming to kill 99.9 percent of germs are best in this scenario, there's another option if you're having a hard time tracking down those supplies—simply mix some dish soap in water. It won’t kill organisms, but it can remove them from the surface. (And while soap and water can work for high-touch surfaces throughout the home, you shouldn't use the solution on electronics like your remote or keyboard.)

If you’re looking to kill germs, diluted bleach (four teaspoons to one quart of water) and 70 percent alcohol solutions work well. But it's important to note that bleach and other cleaners can harm certain surfaces. So be sure to do your research and make sure the product you're using won't cause any damage before you start scrubbing.

4. Take laundry precautions.

If you’re trying to be extra-vigilant about the spread of germs in the house, you should consider washing clothes at the highest possible temperature and disinfecting laundry bins. It’s also advisable to use disposable laundry bags.

5. Remove your shoes before entering the house.

This step is more preventative, but it’s a simple way to keep from tracking in contaminants. Remove your shoes before going inside and leave them near the door. It's also a good idea to clean floor surfaces with disinfecting mop cloths, but be sure anything you use is safe for the finished surface. Cleaners like bleach can discolor certain materials.

6. Don't forget to clean your car.

Even people vigilant about cleaning their home can neglect their car interior. Since you’re constantly touching virtually every surface, be sure to wipe everything down regularly, including the steering wheel and door handles. If you have a leather interior, there are auto wipes available for those surfaces. And before you go wipe down any touchscreens, be sure to check your owner’s manual to see if they require any special microfiber cloth.

7. Give your debit cards a wipe.

It’s a good idea to disinfect credit or debit cards that follow you around on shopping excursions. As with all high-touch objects, be sure to wipe them down every day.

[h/t New York Times]

15 Facts About John Brown, the Real-Life Abolitionist at the Center of The Good Lord Bird

John Brown, circa 1846.
John Brown, circa 1846.
Augustus Washington/Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry on October 16, 1859, was meant to start an armed slave revolt, and ultimately end slavery. Though Brown succeeded in taking over the federal armory, the revolt never came to pass—and Brown paid for the escapade with his life.

In the more than 160 years since that raid, John Brown has been called a hero, a madman, a martyr, and a terrorist. Now Showtime is exploring his legacy with an adaption of James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird. Like the novel it’s based on, the miniseries—which stars Ethan Hawke—will cover the exploits of Brown and his allies. Here's what you should know about John Brown before you watch.

1. John Brown was born into an abolitionist family on May 9, 1800.

John Brown was born to Owen and Ruth Mills Brown in Torrington, Connecticut, on May 9, 1800. After his family relocated to Hudson, Ohio (where John was raised), their new home would become an Underground Railroad station. Owen would go on to co-found the Western Reserve Anti-Slavery Society and was a trustee at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute, one of the first American colleges to admit black (and female) students.

2. John Brown declared bankruptcy at age 42.

At 16, Brown went to school with the hope of becoming a minister, but eventually left the school and, like his father, became a tanner. He also dabbled in surveying, canal-building, and the wool trade. In 1835, he bought land in northeastern Ohio. Thanks partly the financial panic of 1837, Brown couldn’t satisfy his creditors and had to declare bankruptcy in 1842. He later tried peddling American wool abroad in Europe, where he was forced to sell it at severely reduced prices. This opened the door for multiple lawsuits when Brown returned to America.

3. John Brown's Pennsylvania home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania
The John Brown Tannery Site in Pennsylvania.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Sometime around 1825, Brown moved himself and his family to Guys Mills, Pennsylvania, where he set up a tannery and built a house and a barn with a hidden room that was used by slaves on the run. Brown reportedly helped 2500 slaves during his time in Pennsylvania; the building was destroyed in 1907 [PDF], but the site, which is now a museum that is open to the public, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Brown moved his family back to Ohio in 1836.

4. After Elijah Lovejoy's murder, John Brown pledged to end slavery.

Elijah Lovejoy was a journalist and the editor of the St. Louis/Alton Observer, a staunchly anti-slavery newspaper. His editorials enraged those who defended slavery, and in 1837, Lovejoy was killed when a mob attacked the newspaper’s headquarters.

The incident lit a fire under Brown. When he was told about Lovejoy’s murder at an abolitionist prayer meeting in Hudson, Brown—a deeply religious man—stood up and raised his right hand, saying “Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery."

5. John Brown moved to the Kansas Territory after the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.

In 1854, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which decreed that it would be the people of Kansas and Nebraska who would decide if their territories would be free states or slave states. New England abolitionists hoping to convert the Kansas Territory into a Free State moved there in droves and founded the city of Lawrence. By the end of 1855, John Brown had also relocated to Kansas, along with six of his sons and his son-in-law. Opposing the newcomers were slavery supporters who had also arrived in large numbers.

6. John Brown’s supporters killed five pro-slavery men at the 1856 Pottawatomie Massacre.

A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry
A John Brown mural by John Steuart Curry.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On May 21, 1856, Lawrence was sacked by pro-slavery forces. The next day, Charles Sumner, an anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, was beaten with a cane by Representative Preston Brooks on the Senate floor until he lost consciousness. (A few days earlier, Sumner had insulted Democratic senators Stephen Douglas and Andrew Butler in his "Crime Against Kansas" speech; Brooks was a representative from Butler’s state of South Carolina.)

In response to those events, Brown led a group of abolitionists into a pro-slavery settlement by the Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24. On Brown’s orders, five slavery sympathizers were forced out of their houses and killed with broadswords.

Newspapers across the country denounced the attack—and John Brown in particular. But that didn't dissuade him: Before his final departure from Kansas in 1859, Brown participated in many other battles across the region. He lost a son, Frederick Brown, in the fighting.

7. John Brown led a party of liberated slaves all the way from Missouri to Michigan.

In December 1858, John Brown crossed the Kansas border and entered the slave state of Missouri. Once there, he and his allies freed 11 slaves and led them all the way to Detroit, Michigan, covering a distance of more than 1000 miles. (One of the liberated women gave birth en route.) Brown’s men had killed a slaveholder during their Missouri raid, so President James Buchanan put a $250 bounty on the famed abolitionist. That didn’t stop Brown, who got to watch the people he’d helped free board a ferry and slip away into Canada.

8. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry was meant to instigate a nationwide slave uprising.

On October 16, 1859, Brown and 18 men—including five African Americans—seized control of a U.S. armory in the Jefferson County, Virginia (today part of West Virginia) town of Harpers Ferry. The facility had around 100,000 weapons stockpiled there by the late 1850s. Brown hoped his actions would inspire a large-scale slave rebellion, with enslaved peoples rushing to collect free guns, but the insurrection never came.

9. Robert E. Lee played a part in John Brown’s arrest.

Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
Artist Thomas Hovenden depicts John Brown after his capture.
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

Shortly after Brown took Harpers Ferry, the area was surrounded by local militias. On the orders of President Buchanan, Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee entered the fray with a detachment of U.S. Marines. The combined might of regional and federal forces proved too much for Brown, who was captured in the Harpers Ferry engine house on October 18, 1859. Ten of Brown's men died, including two more of his sons.

10. John Brown was put on trial a week after his capture.

After his capture, Brown—along with Aaron Stevens, Edwin Coppoc, Shields Green, and John Copeland—was put on trial. When asked if the defendants had counsel, Brown responded:

"Virginians, I did not ask for any quarter at the time I was taken. I did not ask to have my life spared. The Governor of the State of Virginia tendered me his assurance that I should have a fair trial: but, under no circumstances whatever will I be able to have a fair trial. If you seek my blood, you can have it at any moment, without this mockery of a trial. I have had no counsel: I have not been able to advise with anyone ... I am ready for my fate. I do not ask a trial. I beg for no mockery of a trial—no insult—nothing but that which conscience gives, or cowardice would drive you to practice. I ask again to be excused from the mockery of a trial."

Brown would go on to plead not guilty. Just days later, he was found “guilty of treason, and conspiring and advising with slaves and others to rebel, and murder in the first degree” and was sentenced to hang.

11. John Brown made a grim prophecy on the morning of his death.

On the morning of December 2, 1859, Brown passed his jailor a note that read, “I … am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away, but with blood.” He was hanged later that day.

12. Victor Hugo defended John Brown.

Victor Hugo—the author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who was also an abolitionist—penned an open letter on John Brown’s behalf in 1859. Desperate to see him pardoned, Hugo wrote, “I fall on my knees, weeping before the great starry banner of the New World … I implore the illustrious American Republic, sister of the French Republic, to see to the safety of the universal moral law, to save John Brown.” Hugo’s appeals were of no use. The letter was dated December 2—the day Brown was hanged.

13. Abraham Lincoln commented on John Brown's death.

Abraham Lincoln, who was then in Kansas, said, “Old John Brown has been executed for treason against a State. We cannot object, even though he agreed with us in thinking slavery wrong. That cannot excuse violence, bloodshed and treason. It could avail him nothing that he might think himself right.”

14. John Brown was buried in North Elba, New York.

John Brown's gravesite in New York
John Brown's gravesite in New York.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

In 1849, Brown had purchased 244 acres of property from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy abolitionist, in North Elba, New York. The property was near Timbuctoo, a 120,000-acre settlement that Smith had started in 1846 to give African American families the property they needed in order to vote (at that time, state law required black residents to own $250 worth of property to cast a vote). Brown had promised Smith that he would assist his new neighbors in cultivating the mountainous terrain.

When Brown was executed, his family interred the body at their North Elba farm—which is now a New York State Historic Site.

15. The tribute song "John Brown's Body" shares its melody with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It didn’t take long for Brown to become a martyr. Early in the 1860s, the basic melody of “Say Brothers Will You Meet Us,” a popular camp hymn, was fitted with new lyrics about the slain abolitionist. Titled “John Brown’s Body,” the song spread like wildfire in the north—despite having some lines that were deemed unsavory. Julia Ward Howe took the melody and gave it yet another set of lyrics. Thus was born “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union marching anthem that's still widely known today.

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