James W. Loewen (1942-2021)

We mourn the loss of our friend and colleague and remain committed to the work he began.

Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong

Lies My Teacher Told Me shows how Americans get a distorted understanding of their past in their high school years. Unfortunately, when they leave school, their miseducation continues. Lies Across America: What Our Historic Markers and Monuments Get Wrong shows how our shrines of public history suffer from similar omissions, distortions, and outright falsehoods.

Did you know that the automobile was invented in rural Wisconsin? That a Texas preacher beat the Wright brothers by a year, in a plane inspired by the word of God? That four different people in three different states “first” used anesthesia in an operation? That Abraham Lincoln was born in a cabin in Kentucky built 30 years after his death?

Those things never happened, of course, but the landscape commemorates them anyway.

Did you know that the South seceded over states’ rights? That Columbus proved the earth was round? That Indians massacred 295 westbound pioneers in Idaho?

Those things never happened, either, but the landscape commemorates them too.

Conversely, the landscape leaves out what DID happen or get it wrong, often deliberately.

  • The Jefferson Memorial juxtaposes phrases to misrepresent what Jefferson said.
  • War museums prettify war.
  • Plaques put the name of the Spanish-American War on monuments carrying the dates of the much longer and more serious Philippines War.
  • Antebellum homes never mention slaves at all or call them “servants” and emphasize their happy lives.
  • A memorial fountain in Helena, Montana, is “A loving tribute to our Confederate Soldiers,” but Montana never HAD any Confederate Soldiers — in fact, Montana never had any UNION soldiers either, being still Indian country in 1861, as Gen. Custer found out to his sorrow in 1876.

There are even flat denials. President James Buchanan’s historic house site denies that he was gay — but he was. The Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial denies that Nebraska’s most enduring writer was lesbian — but she was. Fort Pillow, Tennessee, denies that Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederates massacred surrendered U.S. troops there — but they did. The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum denies that mining today causes any environmental damage — but it still does.

These misrepresentations on the American landscape help keep us ignorant as a people, less able to understand what really happened in the past, and less able to apply our understanding to issues facing the United States today.

Lies Across America teaches visitors to read between the lines of historical markers and to deconstruct the sculptures on monuments and memorials. Viewed in this way, the lies and omissions across the American countryside suggest times and ways that the United States went astray as a nation. So come along — and see what you’ve been missing! The book covers more than a hundred historic sites in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It includes major sites like Valley Forge, the Jefferson Memorial, and Independence Hall. Readers may be shocked at what they didn’t know about some of these places. It also includes far less well-known events, like the Louisiana site where more than 150 Republicans were executed in 1873.

General readers will enjoy Lies Across America because of its light touch while recommending it to other readers because of its important information.