Napoleon Bonaparte Was Inordinately Short
Napoleon Bonaparte was known during his life as "The Little Corporal." While many people erroneously assume this was a reference to his physical height, it actually began early in his career as a mocking reference to his lack of military accolades and low rank. Napoleon Bonaparte was 5'7" – not a towering giant, but certainly not a dwarf.
Witches Were Burned At the Stake in Salem
There's some evidence suggesting that people accused of Witchcraft in Europe during the Middle Ages were occasionally burned to death as punishment, but this was never the case in America during the late 17th century. The Salem Village Witch panic was definitely real, but although accused witches were killed in a number of creative ways (including being tied up and thrown in the river, and being crushed to death by rocks), none of the techniques used involved fire.
The most common method of executing people convicted of Witchcraft in Puritan New England was hanging.
The Original War of the Worlds Broadcast
People love this one because it makes them feel smug about how much more sophisticated and media-savvy everyone is now than they used to be 80 years ago. Basically, in 1938, Orson Welles had the brilliant idea of creating a radio drama (this was before television, so radio dramas were popular back then) disguised as a fake news broadcast, where the newscasters would start gradually reporting more and more details of what turns out to be an alien invasion. Popular legend claims Middle America was totally unprepared for this groundbreaking storytelling device, and assumed the broadcast was real – arming themselves with shotguns and taking to the streets in fear.
In reality, although some people did get confused or upset by the broadcast, the actual response was greatly exaggerated in the coming weeks by news media eager to cash in on the novelty of the story and make radio (a relatively new technology that many people were still suspicious of) seem irresponsible and dangerous.
Medieval People Believed the Earth Was Flat
Lots of people believe Christopher Columbus was the first person in the history of everything to seriously believe – to the point of foolhardy recklessness! – that the earth was round, as opposed to flat. In fact, the theory of a globe-shaped Earth had been kicking around for many hundreds of years, dating all the way back to the 4th Century B.C.
Although the majority of educated people in 1492 (not just in Europe, but indeed, all over the world) believed the earth was a sphere, Columbus himself, ironically, didn't believe this – he thought the earth was pear-shaped. Go figure.