The song “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”: Not originally from Ireland Songwriters Chauncey Olcott (a native of Buffalo, N.Y., whose mother had emigrated from Ireland as a child) and George Graff Jr. (an American of German descent) never even visited the Emerald Isle. But they did write the lyrics to “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” in New York City in 1912. Composer Ernest Ball (a native of Cleveland with no Irish ancestry) set the lyrics to music for the 1913 off-Broadway musical The Isle o’ Dreams, which closed after only 32 performances. Olcott’s 1913 recording of the song became one of the best-selling records of that decade, making “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” synonymous with Ireland—along with potatoes (which originated in Ecuador and Peru), St. Patrick’s Day parades (started in New York City in 1762) and the tradition of dyeing rivers green (begun in Chicago in 1962).
Jamestown, VA.: Not the oldest city in North America On May 14, 1607 (13 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Mass.), roughly 100 English colonists landed on a small peninsula in present-day Virginia and established the first permanent English colony, naming it Jamestown in honor of King James I. They weren’t the first European colonists to set up shop in North America, however. On Sept. 8, 1565, Spanish explorer Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés claimed Florida for Spain and founded St. Augustine on the central coast of Florida, which, I might add, serves much better tropical drinks than Jamestown.
San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge: Not the world’s longest suspension bridge When it opened in 1937, the bridge was 4,200 feet and was the longest suspension bridge in the world. In 1964, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City, with a center span of 4,260 feet, surpassed the Golden Gate Bridge. Today, Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, built in 1998 to connect the Japanese island of Awaji to the mainland city of Kobe, is the world’s longest suspension bridge, with a main span of 6,532 feet.
Mount Rushmore: Not the largest sculpture carved into a mountain The impressive sculpted heads of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota stand approximately 60 feet tall and 185 feet wide (for a total of 11,100 square feet). But the Confederate Memorial at Stone Mountain, Ga., with carved figures of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson on horseback, is 90 feet tall by 190 feet wide (for a total of 17,100 square feet). When finished, the sculpture of Chief Crazy Horse, 17 miles southwest of Mount Rushmore, will stand 563 feet high and stretch 641 feet long, making it the world’s largest mountain carving.