Facts I know that are true

February 15, 2006

Before the dawn of the web, I would occasionally be given a piece of information so bizarre that my mind would just file it away and not think of it again.  By the time the fact would come up again months or even years later, I would have completely lost the ability to remember if it was something that had been told to me as truth, or something I saw in a fictional location like a tv show, movie or novel.  In almost every case, it was something true, but very unlikely.  I can only think of three examples now, but they are all exact cases of things I was told and then later doubted my own memories.

Fact #1: Jimmy Carter was attacked by a wild rabbit.  It doesn't seem right.  I mean, I can't think of anyone else who has been attacked by a swamp rabbit, but if I were to imagine such a person, they would be a toothless yokel, most likely one who was out to catch a tasty rabbit dinner but instead caught a vicious bunny comeuppance.  Not, you know, the most powerful man in the free world.  I think this one was helped by the fact that it happened when I was like seven or so.

Fact #2: There is a town in Western Pennsylvania that has been on fire for 45 years.  That town is Centralia, PA, and it is a town made of coal, with an aerated network of underground (and thus hard to reach/extinguish) tunnels throughout, one of which caught fire in 1961.  Only 11 people still live there, but still, 11 people still live there.  WTF people of Centralia?  Your town has been on fire since I was negative 10 years old, property values aren't going to turn a corner.

Fact #3: The city of Seattle burned to the ground in the 1890s and rebuilt itself two stories above the old city, leaving an the remains of an entire city underground.  This one's a bit of an exaggeration, there's nothing underground but ruins, but how and why it happened seem unique to Seattle among all US cities, and fascinating to me.

Now that I have readily available web-access I can check any of these things quite easily; just another way in which my daughter will grow up in a world completely different than the one I grew up in – no more factual uncertainty.  Ironically, one of my father's favorite things to do with me as a child was to make up complete lies when he didn't know the answer to a question.  He told me a large old stone by the roadside in Oxford was a Roman mile marker, and that it dated back 1800 years to when the town was a Roman outpost, and the Romans put them every mile on the major roads, starting in London and spiraling out.  I believed him as he is a famous medieval historian, and also very somber and not prone to hysterics.  Later, my mom told me it was just a random boulder and that my father had improvised the lie for no particular reason. 

One of the things I had been looking forward to in having a child was sharing some of the more unusual, wonderful things in this world with her, like taking her to the waterfall at McWay Falls in Big Sur, or to Mont St Michel on the coast of France, but also, just as much I had looked forward to telling her the elaborate lies my father told me, and making up new ones, turning common boulders into Roman milestone markers.  Lousy internet, de-gullibleifying my 2 month old daughter!


  1. Jonathan…..you are so sweet. It doesn’t matter one whit about the internet, she will believe anything you tell her without fact checking because you are her daddy and as far as she is concerned you know everything. I am told this ends at a certain point, but my oldest is now seven and it hasn’t ended for me yet. Maybe it ends at nine or ten. But anyways, you should feel free to make up all the lies you want to.

  2. Outstanding. Those 11 people would thank you if only they could find their way through the smokey ruins and escape to freedom.

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