Futility Closet-logo

Futility Closet

History Podcasts

Forgotten stories from the pages of history. Join us for surprising and curious tales from the past and challenge yourself with our lateral thinking puzzles.

Forgotten stories from the pages of history. Join us for surprising and curious tales from the past and challenge yourself with our lateral thinking puzzles.

Location:

United States

Description:

Forgotten stories from the pages of history. Join us for surprising and curious tales from the past and challenge yourself with our lateral thinking puzzles.

Language:

English

Contact:

919-389-3086


Episodes

342-A Slave Sues for Freedom

5/10/2021
In 1844 New Orleans was riveted by a dramatic trial: A slave claimed that she was really a free immigrant who had been pressed into bondage as a young girl. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Sally Miller's fight for freedom, which challenged notions of race and social hierarchy in antebellum Louisiana. We'll also try to pronounce some drug names and puzzle over some cheated tram drivers. Intro: In 1992, a Florida bankruptcy judge held a computer in...

Duration:00:33:00

341-An Overlooked Bacteriologist

5/3/2021
In the 1890s, Waldemar Haffkine worked valiantly to develop vaccines against both cholera and bubonic plague. Then an unjust accusation derailed his career. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Haffkine's momentous work in India, which has been largely overlooked by history. We'll also consider some museum cats and puzzle over an endlessly energetic vehicle. Intro: The Galveston hurricane of 1915 carried 21,000-pound buoy 10 miles. Lillian Russell designed...

Duration:00:30:52

340-A Vanished Physicist

4/26/2021
In 1938, Italian physicist Ettore Majorana vanished after taking a sudden sea journey. At first it was feared that he'd ended his life, but the perplexing circumstances left the truth uncertain. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll review the facts of Majorana's disappearance, its meaning for physics, and a surprising modern postscript. We'll also dither over pronunciation and puzzle over why it will take three days to catch a murderer. Intro: By design, no...

Duration:00:33:08

339-The Baron of Arizona

4/19/2021
In 1883, Missouri real estate broker James Reavis announced that he held title to a huge tract of land in the Arizona Territory. If certified, the claim would threaten the livelihoods of thousands of residents. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Baron of Arizona, one of the most audacious frauds in American history. We'll also scrutinize British statues and puzzle over some curious floor numbers. Intro: In 1891, Charles Dodgson wrote a...

Duration:00:32:15

338-A Point of Law

4/5/2021
One dark night in 1804, a London excise officer mistook a bricklayer for a ghost and shot him. This raised a difficult question: Was he guilty of murder? In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll consider the case of the Hammersmith ghost, which has been called "one of the greatest curiosities in English criminal law." We'll also worry about British spiders and puzzle over some duplicative dog names. Intro: In 1850, an English doctor claimed to have given first aid to...

Duration:00:29:47

337-Lost in a Daydream

3/29/2021
In 1901, two English academics met a succession of strange characters during a visit to Versailles. They came to believe that they had strayed somehow into the mind of Marie Antoinette in the year before her execution. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the Moberly-Jourdain affair, a historical puzzle wrapped in a dream. We'll also revisit Christmas birthdays and puzzle over a presidential term. Intro: In 1936, Evelyn Waugh asked Laura Herbert whether...

Duration:00:31:17

336-A Gruesome Cure for Consumption

3/22/2021
In the 19th century, some New England communities grew so desperate to help victims of tuberculosis that they resorted to a macabre practice: digging up dead relatives and ritually burning their organs. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll examine the causes of this bizarre belief and review some unsettling examples. We'll also consider some fighting cyclists and puzzle over Freddie Mercury's stamp. Intro: Residents of Sydney and London could take a train to the...

Duration:00:33:13

335-Transporting Obelisks

3/15/2021
In the 19th century, France, England, and the United States each set out to bring home an Egyptian obelisk. But each obelisk weighed hundreds of tons, and the techniques of moving them had long been forgotten. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the struggles of each nation to transport these massive monoliths using the technology of the 1800s. We'll also go on an Australian quest and puzzle over a cooling fire. Intro: Science fiction writer Albert Robida...

Duration:00:32:13

334-Eugene Bullard

3/8/2021
Eugene Bullard ran away from home in 1907 to seek his fortune in a more racially accepting Europe. There he led a life of staggering accomplishment, becoming by turns a prizefighter, a combat pilot, a nightclub impresario, and a spy. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell Bullard's impressive story, which won him resounding praise in his adopted France. We'll also accidentally go to Canada and puzzle over a deadly omission. Intro: The melody of Peter Cornelius'...

Duration:00:33:16

333-Stranded in the Kimberley

2/22/2021
Crossing the world in 1932, two German airmen ran out of fuel in a remote region of northwestern Australia. With no food and little water, they struggled to find their way to safety while rescuers fought to locate them. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the airmen's ordeal, a dramatic story of perseverance and chance. We'll also survey some escalators and puzzle over a consequential crash. Intro: Winston Churchill had a confusing namesake in the United...

Duration:00:32:59

332-Princess Caraboo

2/15/2021
In 1817 a young woman appeared in the English village of Almondsbury, speaking a strange language and seeking food and shelter. She revealed herself to be an Eastern princess, kidnapped by pirates from an exotic island. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of Princess Caraboo, who was both more and less than she seemed. We'll also discover a June Christmas and puzzle over some monster soup. Intro: In 1988, Martine Tischer proposed wrapping gifts in...

Duration:00:30:01

331-The Starvation Doctor

2/8/2021
In 1911 English sisters Claire and Dora Williamson began consulting a Seattle "fasting specialist" named Linda Burfield Hazzard. As they underwent her brutal treatments, the sisters found themselves caught in a web of manipulation and deceit. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Williamsons' ordeal and the scheme it brought to light. We'll also catch a criminal by the ear and puzzle over a prohibited pig. Intro: During World War II, the United...

Duration:00:31:38

330-The Abernathy Boys

2/1/2021
In 1909, Oklahoma brothers Bud and Temple Abernathy rode alone to New Mexico and back, though they were just 9 and 5 years old. In the years that followed they would become famous for cross-country trips totaling 10,000 miles. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll trace the journeys of the Abernathy brothers across a rapidly evolving nation. We'll also try to figure out whether we're in Belgium or the Netherlands and puzzle over an outstretched hand. Intro: Lytton...

Duration:00:33:22

329-The Cock Lane Ghost

1/25/2021
In 1759, ghostly rappings started up in the house of a parish clerk in London. In the months that followed they would incite a scandal against one man, an accusation from beyond the grave. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Cock Lane ghost, an enduring portrait of superstition and justice. We'll also see what you can get hit with at a sporting event and puzzle over some portentous soccer fields. Intro: In 1967 British artists Terry Atkinson...

Duration:00:30:46

328-A Canine Prisoner of War

1/18/2021
In 1944, British captives of the Japanese in Sumatra drew morale from an unlikely source: a purebred English pointer who cheered the men, challenged the guards, and served as a model of patient fortitude. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of Judy, the canine POW of World War II. We'll also consider the frequency of different birthdays and puzzle over a little sun. Intro: Sherlock Holmes wrote 20 monographs. In 1863, Charles Dickens' hall clock...

Duration:00:30:46

327-The Misplaced Tourist

1/11/2021
In 1977, West German tourist Erwin Kreuz spent three days enjoying the sights, sounds, and hospitality of Bangor, Maine. Unfortunately, he thought he was in San Francisco, on the other side of the continent. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we'll describe Kreuz's unlikely adventure, which made him a local hero in his adopted city. We'll also consider an invisible killer and puzzle over a momentous measurement. Intro: In 1712, Sweden observed a February 30. In 1898,...

Duration:00:29:18

326-The Recluse of Herald Square

1/4/2021
In 1931, a 93-year-old widow was discovered to be hoarding great wealth in New York's Herald Square Hotel. Her death touched off an inquiry that revealed a glittering past -- and a great secret. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we'll tell the story of Ida Wood, which has been called "one of the most sensational inheritance cases in American history." We'll also revisit the Candy Bomber and puzzle over some excessive travel. Intro: Lyndon Johnson's family shared...

Duration:00:31:12

325-Lateral Thinking Puzzles

12/28/2020
Here are eight new lateral thinking puzzles -- play along with us as we try to untangle some perplexing situations using yes-or-no questions. Intro: In 1940, the Venezuelan post office was said to deliver love letters at half price. In 1890 Mark Twain composed a holiday message for the New York World. The sources for this week's puzzles are below. In a few places we've included links to further information -- these contain spoilers, so don't click until you've listened to the...

Duration:00:31:51

324-The Bizarre Death of Alfred Loewenstein

12/21/2020
In 1928, Belgian financier Alfred Loewenstein fell to his death from a private plane over the English Channel. How it happened has never been explained. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we'll describe the bizarre incident, which has been called "one of the strangest fatalities in the history of commercial aviation." We'll also consider whether people can be eaten by pythons and puzzle over an enigmatic horseman. Intro: Philosopher Robin Le Poidevin offers a...

Duration:00:31:52

323-The Blind Traveler

12/14/2020
When a mysterious illness blinded him at age 25, British naval officer James Holman took up a new pursuit: travel. For the next 40 years he roamed the world alone, describing his adventures in a series of popular books. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we'll describe Holman's remarkable career and his unique perspective on his experiences. We'll also remember some separating trains and puzzle over an oddly drawn battle plan. Intro: David Tennant's 2008 turn as Hamlet...

Duration:00:30:05