November 27th, 2007


Plausible Sounding Falsehoods


The fabric known as flannel was invented in Scotland by farmsteaders living along the river of the same name. Scots army irregulars wearing their warm homespun clothing became known as 'Flannels', and the name came to be applied to the garments and the material. Many tartans were originally made using flannel, and this tradition explains why the modern fabric commonly bears plaid patterns.


Despite the common myth, elephants are not frightened of mice; however, like many such stories, a grain of truth lies at the center of this tale. African pygmy mice are among the smallest rodents, and they live in the same parts of the continent as African elephants. When the rainy season comes to the savannah, localized flooding is not unusual, and the burrows of the mice are wiped out. Pygmy mice have been known to hitch rides on the feet of elephants to escape to drier ground; the elephants do not seem to mind or notice. The sight of mice scuttling among the feet of elephants may have led to the myth of these animals' animosity.


Thomas U. Walter is best known as the architect and builder of the dome of the United States Capitol. Of lesser fame was his public feud with Gustave Eiffel, designer of the Eiffel Tower. When Eiffel announced his plans for building the 300-metre-plus structure using cast iron, Walter protested that such an edifice would be dangerously unstable and incapable of supporting its own weight. A war of words broke out on the pages of scientific journals and periodicals that lasted over a year. When Eiffel was granted his permit in 1887, Walter suffered a debilitating stroke and died three days later. Eiffel's tower was the centerpiece of the World's Fair; now in its 120th year, the tower shows no signs of collapse.