‘Fake news’ often more enticing, entertaining than reality

There has been significant discussion recently regarding “fake news.” Much of what is being touted as fake news would, in the past, simply have been labeled as the propaganda it is. On the other hand, some so-called fake news is simply mistaken reporting. Neither are new trends.

Take the latter: 95 years ago newspapers across the Carolinas ran a story detailing how workers toiling in a rural Saluda County church cemetery on July 2, 1922, had uncovered a macabre secret:

Grave diggers, while digging a grave at Dry Creek church, dug into a grave that seemed to have been dug in the wrong place and unearthed a skeleton, finding a rope around the neck with a large knot in the rope under the right ear. The condition of the skeleton showed that it had apparently been buried some 50 years. Parts of the coffin remained and the plate with the words, ‘Rest in Peace,’ could easily be read. There seems to be some mystery concerning the identification of the body. The grave itself was where no grave was supposed to be, and the oldest inhabitant of the community knows nothing of anyone who had been hanged being buried in the cemetery.

While the article itself didn’t suggest it, 50 years prior to 1922 would have been during the height of Reconstruction, a turbulent period when extralegal justice was meted out on a regular basis. To uncover a skeleton in an unmarked grave with a rope around its neck would suggest someone had met with an untoward end.

Of course, few lynching victims were sent off to their eternal reward in coffins with a plate inscribed “Rest in Peace.”

Initially, the unidentified skeleton was quickly reburied, but a short time later two men decided to inspect it more closely, according to a second story, which appeared in the Edgefield Advertiser on July 12, 1922. Edgefield is about 12 miles from Dry Creek Baptist Church Cemetery.

The skeleton was discovered to be that of a woman, and the “rope” was actually a long plait of hair that “had been coiled around her head coronet fashion, after the times,” according to the Advertiser.

With time and decomposition, the hair had come detached from the scalp and slipped down around the neck, giving it the appearance of a rope, it added.

But while the first story, with its mysterious insinuations, ran in papers in both South Carolina and North Carolina, the follow-up article only appears to have been printed in the Edgefield publication.

As a result, even today the tale of the unidentified hanging victim still has credence, despite the mystery having been cleared up within a couple of weeks of its discovery.

Even today, many love a good conspiracy story; reality, though, is often much less interesting and, as a result, fails to gain the same coverage.

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11 thoughts on “‘Fake news’ often more enticing, entertaining than reality

  1. Nothing like a good conspiracy story…it doesn’t even have to be on the national level.
    Leo’s uncle was a judge who took early retirement and never left his house again…that has fuelled conspiracy theories for over fifty years!

  2. Macabre story. Even before the recent advent of fake news the big problem is that too many people believe things that are not true. Reconstruction is a good example because of the lies told about the freedmen which many people still believe.

    • I think much of Reconstruction is a hazy period. It actually benefited whites who were trying to intimidate blacks to have their efforts at intimidation embellished, as it further enhanced their attempts to keep freedmen “in line.” Of course, there was plenty of material to work with. It was a very politicized time and both Southern Democrats and Radical Republicans made hay out of criminal actions for their own benefit. Adding to the problem is that information was disseminated so much more slowly, and often by word of mouth, making it easier for stories to be passed on.

      If we today can’t get to the bottom of malicious political activities – or worse – you can only imagine how hard it was in the period when there were no automatic cameras, tape recorders or forensic tools.

  3. The old stories tend to be passed down generation to generation and often are “juicedup” a bit along tthe way.

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