Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong

Loewen, James W.

Published by New Press, The, 1999
ISBN 10: 1565843444 / ISBN 13: 9781565843448
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Synopsis: The fabulous sequel to the bestselling, award-winning "Lies My Teacher Told Me." James Loewen's last book, Lies My Teacher Told Me, a debunking of the twelve leading high-school American history textbooks, won the American Book Award, the AESA Critics' Choice Award, and the Oliver Cromwell Cox Award for Anti-Racist Scholarship. It has sold more than a quarter-million copies in its various editions. Now, using the same irrepressibly honest approach and the same subversive take on all things bogus and misinformative, Loewen has identified a whole new arena for his one-of-a-kind inquiries into the way we tell our country's story. Lies Across America looks at more than one hundred sites where history is told on the landscape, including historical markers, monuments, outdoor museums, historic houses, forts, and ships. Loewen uses his investigation of these public versions of history, often literally written in stone, to correct historical interpretations that are profoundly wrong, to tell neglected but important stories about the American past, and, most importantly, to raise questions about what we as a nation choose to commemorate and how. Lies Across America offers startling revelations about sites we think we know: Valley Forge, Abraham Lincoln's log cabin, the Intrepid. It also tells of new sites, events, and individuals that should be commemorated on the landscape but aren't: a tombstone with a story to tell in Mississippi, a spy in the Confederate White House, the unforeseen fallout from the first nuclear missile test, the reverse underground railway, a modern "sundown" town (blacks can work there, but they'd better leave before the sun sets). It asks why, across our landscape, Indians are consistently "savage," tribal names are wrong and derogatory, whites "discover" everything, and the term "massacre" is a one-way street; why war museums have selective memories, guides at FDR's family mansion in Hyde Park are "specifically forbidden" to talk about Roosevelt's mistress, and James Buchanan's house makes no mention of the fact that he was gay. It muses about the Civil War mare in Kentucky who got an extra body part, the Polynesian King made to look like a Roman emperor on monuments in Hawaii, and the statue of a conquistador in New Mexico who lost his foot. This book is a reality check for anyone who has ever sought to learn about America through our public sites and markers. It is destined to change the way we see our country.
Lies Across America includes:
- Sites from all fifty states plus the District of Columbia, organized geographically, west to east
- Introductory essays on: the role that monuments, markers, and other historic sites play in our society; how historic markers get on the landscape in the first place; what historic markers say about the era they commemorate versus the era in which they were erected; the visual symbolism of monuments and memorials; the way historical markers are revised over time (including natural forces, spray paint, and dynamite)
- A list of twenty candidates for "toppling"--markers so distorting or inaccurate they should be removed or rewritten immediately
-Forty black-and-white photos of notably interesting and/or awful markers

Review: Little seems to delight historian James W. Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me, more than picking apart the cherished myths of American history. Few Americans study history after high school--instead, Loewen writes, they turn to novels and Oliver Stone movies to learn about the past. And they turn to the landscape, to roadside historical markers, guidebooks, museums, and tours of battlefields, childhood homes, and massacre sites. If you were to trust those sources, Loewen suggests, you would learn, erroneously, that the first airplane flight took place not at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, but at Pittsburg, Texas. "It must be true--an impressive-looking Texas state historical marker says so!" Loewen chortles.

In these entertaining pages, Loewen takes a region-by-region tour of the United States, pointing out historical oddments as he travels. For example, a massacre of white pioneers by Indians commemorated in Almo, Idaho, never took place, Loewen continues; neither did many other such events. Indeed, he insists, "throughout the entire West between 1842 and 1859, of more than 400,000 pioneers crossing the plains, fewer than 400, or less than .1 percent, were killed by American Indians." And if you were to visit Helen Keller's Georgia birthplace, over which a Confederate flag flies, you would get the impression that Keller had been an unreconstructed daughter of the Old South, whereas she was in fact an early supporter of the NAACP. And so on.

After finishing Loewen's alternately angry and bemused exposé, readers will likely never trust a roadside historical marker or tour guide again--which may prompt them to turn to history books to check things out for themselves. As well they should. --Gregory McNamee

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites...
Publisher: New Press, The
Publication Date: 1999
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Acceptable

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