The Myth Buster

You’ve been the target of a rumor. At some point in your life, you’ve had to dispel a falsehood. Wanton romance … crooked business … nasty habits.

It’s happened to us all. And one thing you know for sure: If you let a rumor fester, it grows legs and jumps the threshold from myth to fact.

Columbia has allowed its fair share of rumors to become legends. Some of these myths stroke our collective ego. Some myths make us smile or shake our heads. Some are surprising.

Tiger Tales
Who knew that one of Mizzou’s most-cherished fight songs is about brothels? I didn’t, until I hosted an Irish publicist hired to promote Missouri in Great Britain. I took her to observe the Saturday afternoon gridiron pageantry at Faurot Field. When the band launched into “It’s a Long Long Way to Tipperary,” she instantly recognized the tune, and blurted, “That song is about whorehouses! Do you want the British to think Missouri promotes whorehouses?”

Not sure how to respond, I held my tongue and turned to Google. The song is about British soldiers in France yearning to go home during the War to End All Wars. My Irish guest got confused by rumors of a London bordello named Tipperary, near Piccadilly. But it has nothing to do with the song.

So quash that rumor before it ruins your great-grandfather’s marriage.

Other rumors are harder to stop.

For decades, we’ve heard that there’s a column on Francis Quadrangle honoring every virgin who graduates from Mizzou. Nothing could be further from the truth and at least six blocks further, four columns stand on the grounds of the old Boone County Courthouse. Combine all of these columns, and you’re at least four virgins closer to the truth.

While we’re at it, Mizzou has never been ranked as one of the nation’s Top 10 party schools, according to Mizzou’s Wellness Resource Center. In studies by America’s most prominent pair of P’s —Princeton University and Playboy magazine — Mizzou is nowhere in sight. Oh, a website called Fiesta Frog ranks Mizzou 33rd among America’s best party schools, good for sixth in the Southeastern Conference.

Undeterred, diehard Mizzou partiers insist that Mizzou doesn’t score higher on these party lists because “You don’t rank the professionals with the amateurs.” Wrong again. That’s an urban myth, repeated on also-ran campuses nationwide, perpetuated by sore campus studs who feel jilted that their party prowess fell short.

Movie Meme
Well, then, Mizzou’s toga tuggers can always bask in “Animal House” fame, right?

Not so fast, frat boy. The “Animal House” antics are based on composites: One writer recalled his experiences at Dartmouth. But some Mizzou lovers want it to be true. One alum blogs a whole litany of local fraternity pranks, claiming that “Animal House” moviemakers learned this behavior at Ol’ Mizzou. But the pranks are universal, mostly: food fights, toga parties.

According to IMDb, the University of Missouri actually rebuffed the ultimate “Animal House” connection: “The movie was set to be filmed at the University of Missouri until the president of the school read the script and refused permission. It was filmed at and around the University of Oregon in Eugene instead. The University of Oregon reluctantly allowed its campus to be used and gave the crew 30 days to complete filming. This meant that the cast and crew faced six-day workweeks and completed shooting with only two days to spare.”

Also from IMDb: “Harold Ramis, who co-wrote the film, based some of the pranks on his college experiences at Washington University in St. Louis, specifically when Otter and Boone are hitting golf balls at the ROTC.”

Still, old legends die hard. One local alum reasons that prestigious Washington University lacked the base instincts of frat party behavior. So he thinks Ramis must have traveled to Columbia for weekend lessons in debauchery.

Imbibing Imbroglio
True or not, one party rumor after another persists. Case in point: After a Wayne’s World cover band finished a wild concert at The Blue Note, the shouts of “Party on, Garth!” sent a stampede down West Broadway.

One last booze myth to bust: It has never been true that Missouri has the nation’s highest beer consumption per capita. Despite heroic imbibing by some proud folks in and around the state Capitol, this crown never rested on the temples of the Show-Me State.

It’s not for lack of trying. According to Associated Press archives, Missourians consumed 14 gallons of beer per capita in 1936. Today, that amount has more than doubled and the average Missourian drinks 33.4 gallons of brew per year. Yet the Beer Institute ranks Missouri way down the list when it comes to beer consumption per capita. By this measure, Missouri falls to seventh among states in the SEC. And when we learn that U.S. beer consumption per capita is only 13th in the world, we realize the futility of ranking amateurs with professionals.

By the way, Missouri’s official state exercise is not 12-ounce curls. It’s jumping jacks.

The Real Story
Other CoMo myths and legends have more basis in fact:

  • Columbians helped designate the mudbug as the Missouri state crustacean. Well, this is true, sort of. Back in the ’80s, a local band called the Mudbugs toured the state, touting the tasty little critter, which lives in every Missouri county. But it wasn’t until 2007 that Mrs. Jenna Elfrink’s elementary-school class in Reeds Spring nominated the crayfish as our state invertebrate. Only three other states even have a state crustacean. Louisiana also lays claim to the crayfish.
  • The “Organizer of the Heavens” is from Columbia. True. But it’s not your wedding planner. Harlow Shapleigh, also called the Modern Day Copernicus, graduated from Mizzou, and went on to prove that Columbia is nowhere near the center of the universe. Bummer.
  • William Howard Taft taught history at Mizzou. True. But not that William Howard Taft, America’s most rotund chief executive this side of Chris Christie. For eons, Mizzou’s William Howard Taft taught History and Principles of Journalism to an estimated 100,000 aspiring reporters at the first and best J-School in the world.
  • Columbia is a liberal island in a sea of conservatism. Maybe this was true, once upon a time. But the city’s complexion has changed. Gone is the bottle deposit, which tattooed our city’s name on beer cans, alongside OR and CA. Further, among Columbia’s six delegates in the halls of federal and state governments, only two are Democrats. Some Columbians see this as progress. Others see it as yet another reason to increase per capita beer consumption.
  • Columbians drop an estimated $240,000 in coins on city streets and sidewalks every year. This appears to be true, based on my own scientific study. Last year, I found almost $3 in coins on the ground. Using conservative estimates, if every CoMo citizen finds a similar amount, we could pool the money to finance a bus that runs from downtown to that party on Garth.
  • Columbia’s biggest industries are insurance and health care. In terms of gross receipts, this may be a safe bet. But for pure enjoyment, Columbia’s main industry is gossip. Or pizza. Or maybe finding after-bars parties.

Regardless of the truth to these rumors and legends, only one argument burns my butt. When people ask me whether I say Missouree or Missouruh, I reply, “Neither. It’s Mizzou Rah!”

Spread it.

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