The problem I'm having is that these Famous UU lists take on an urban legend quality. If I decide to add somebody ridiculous -- Confucius, say -- to my list of Famous UUs, then my list starts showing up on Google and people copy it. Before long there are twenty web sites claiming that Confucius was a UU, and it's impossible to track down who first made that claim or what they were thinking.
So anyway, I've been hacking through these lists trying to figure out what the basis for the claims are, and it occurred to me that we need to start putting negative results out there, so that a "Confucius was not a UU" article will show up when people google "confucius UU".
Let me start with Carl Sandburg. I know why people want to claim him: Not only was he the kind of guy who would fit in well in a UU congregation, but he went to Lombard College, which was started by the Universalists. In the 1961 biography by Harry Golden (the first one I pulled off the shelf at my local library) it says that Sandburg read a lot of Universalism at Lombard and "to this day he is perfect in all the arguments that God is good and will not send us to hell."
But Golden goes on to say: "Since his confirmation at age thirteen in the Lutheran Church of Galesburg, however, Sandburg has not been on the membership rolls of any established church or religious institution." Golden mentions that various denominations, including the Unitarians, sometimes claim Sandburg, and so he asked Sandburg "the direct question" of what religion he held. He got this answer:
I am a Christian, a Quaker, a Moslem, a Buddhist, a Shintoist, a Confucian, and maybe a Catholic pantheist or a Joan of Arc who hears voices. I am all of these and more. Definitely I have more religions than I have time or zeal to practice in true faith.Now, that's a great answer for a UU to give. But given the chance to label his religion, Sandburg listed almost everything except Unitarian and Universalist. I think we've got to accept that.
Another name that shows up on a lot of lists is Alexander Graham Bell. Even the not-specifically-UU site adherents.com has him listed as a UU. (The fact that they have him as a UU and not a Unitarian or Universalist probably means that they just copied his name from one of our lists.) But I can't find any evidence to support that claim. On the contrary, the National Presbyterian Church lists Bell as one of the worshippers at its predecessor, the Covenant Presbyterian Church. That's a lot more specific than anything I can find connecting him to Unitarianism or Universalism.
I'll try to post more negative results as I get them. Feel free to add your own (positive or negative) research to the comments. Anybody have anything definite about Ray Bradbury or Paul Newman?