Winston Churchill is often depicted smoking a cigar. But in reality this was a growth on his lip. Like his American counterpart Franklin Roosevelt, Churchill enjoyed the complicity of the media in hiding his handicap. Roosevelt, for his part, had endured polio as a child and consequently his chin jutted out and his cigarette holder was simply huge.
It is often rumoured that Hitler was part Jewish and secretly ashamed of his heritage, hence the Holocaust. What is not commonly known is that Hitler was also part Gypsy, part gay and part Polish. Also, his moustache was fake, and at staff meetings it would sometimes fall off, and only Goebbels could be trusted to hand it back without cracking up. He would solemnly affix a piece of tape to it, as the other officers turned red in the face and kicked one another under the table. (This is the origin of the German word derholditinorelsenfreud, meaning "the practice of picturing a sad puppy while trying not to laugh at the Führer".)
First world war soldiers did not really wear those flat-looking doughboy helmets. This was just a visual distortion caused by the era's cameras, which flattened anything occurring three-quarters of the way up the frame. This effect is also noticeable in photos of men wearing top hats, which were actually up to 15ft tall, but appear much smaller.
American lore has it that George Washington once threw a dollar across the Delaware river. It was, in fact, Abraham Lincoln who threw not a dollar but George Washington across the Delaware river. But the river at that time was about six inches across. And Washington was just a baby. Why did Lincoln do it? Scholars disagree. Some say it was to preserve the Union. Others say it was to prove he was honest. I doubt the latter interpretation: why would someone named "Honest Abe" have to prove his honesty? All he would have to do is say his name.
Cavemen did not live in caves but in huts. Paradoxically, it was hut men who lived in caves. This caused great confusion at mail time - especially since mail had not yet been invented. During this period, people were considered "hunter-gatherers"- they would go out and gather hunters. They would get all the hunters together in one hut, and then the hunter-gatherers would look at one another, a little confused, a little embarrassed, as in: Now what do we do? Which is how, eventually, agriculture erupted.