There's history, and then there's history legends. Most Americans learned their share of the legendary stuff in grade school. The Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, Abraham Lincoln as a rail-splitter. Sure, there's a grain of truth in these stories somewhere, but over time they've become so well-varnished by successive generations that they just beg to be debunked.
Step up, Betsy Ross. You're next.
Most of us Americans can recite her story: the humble seamstress who sewed the first stars-and-stripes flag for General George Washington, a noble heroine for the cause of freedom. Here in Philadelphia, Betsy's house is one of the most visited tourist attractions in a city filled with them. Only trouble is, Betsy's story probably didn't happen. Seems that most of the "proof" of Betsy and her flag-sewing skills came via a 19th century descendent who claimed to have the scoop. Modern historians doubt it, even as the curators of Betsy's house scramble to defend their woman by saying, "Well, it could have happened."
We NHG do want them to get the history right, especially when telling it to kids on field trips. Really, we do. But we're also in the story-telling biz ourselves, and the Betsy Ross story is a dandy, complete with a strong, resourceful heroine. There aren't many of those in any country's history. So is it worth trashing the legend for the sake of purifying history? Or is a good fictional story loosely based on the truth worth keeping around for its entertainment value alone?
Above: The legend (and more anachronisms per pixel than you can shake a cursor at): The Birth of Old Glory by Percy Moran, c. 1917, Library of Congress.