Mrs. O'Leary's Arsonist Cow
The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 killed hundreds of people and decimated several square miles of the Windy City. Eager for a scapegoat, the public focused on a cow—a scapecow, if you will. Soon after the fire, a Chicago Tribune reporter named Michael Ahern made up a story that the disaster had started when a cow belonging to the O'Leary family had kicked over a lantern. It didn't mention Mrs. O'Leary by name, but she was soon identified since the fire did start in her barn. Anti-Irish sentiment buoyed this story on despite its fabrication, and the incident has since become a popular reminder of why it's important to fact-check before you pick up your pitchfork.