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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

352-A Victorian Hippopotamus

7/26/2021
In 1850, England received a distinguished guest: A baby hippopotamus arrived at the London Zoo. Obaysch was an instant celebrity, attracting throngs of visitors while confounding his inexperienced keepers. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe his long tenure at the zoo, more than 4,000 miles from his Egyptian home. We'll also remark on a disappearing signature and puzzle over a hazardous hand sign. Intro: In 1969 Rolling Stone invented a fake album with a...

Duration:00:31:43

351-Notes and Queries

7/19/2021
In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll explore some curiosities and unanswered questions from Greg's research, including a novelist's ashes, some bathing fairies, the mists of Dartmoor, and a ballooning leopard. We'll also revisit the Somerton man and puzzle over an armed traveler. Intro: Amanda McKittrick Ros is widely considered the worst novelist of all time. John Cummings swallowed 30 knives. Sources for our notes and queries: The Pony Express ad is quoted in...

Duration:00:33:20

350-Symmes' Hole

7/12/2021
In 1818, Army veteran John Cleves Symmes Jr. declared that the earth was hollow and proposed to lead an expedition to its interior. He promoted the theory in lectures and even won support on Capitol Hill. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Symmes' strange project and its surprising consequences. We'll also revisit age fraud in sports and puzzle over a curious customer. Intro: Grazing cattle align their bodies with magnetic north. The Conrad Cantzen Shoe...

Duration:00:32:18

349-The National Hotel Disease

7/5/2021
In 1857 guests at Washington D.C.'s National Hotel began to come down with a mysterious illness. One of them was James Buchanan, who was preparing to assume the presidency of the United States. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the deadly outbreak and the many theories that were offered to explain it. We'll also contemplate timpani and puzzle over an Old West astronaut. Intro: The words overnervousnesses and overnumerousnesses are vertically...

Duration:00:32:14

348-Who Killed the Red Baron?

6/28/2021
In 1918, German flying ace Manfred von Richthofen chased an inexperienced Canadian pilot out of a dogfight and up the Somme valley. It would be the last chase of his life. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the last moments of the Red Baron and the enduring controversy over who ended his career. We'll also consider some unwanted name changes and puzzle over an embarrassing Oscar speech. Intro: In the early 1970s, AI researcher James Meehan tried to teach...

Duration:00:32:57

347-The Cottingley Fairies

6/21/2021
In 1917, two young cousins carried a camera into an English dell and returned with a photo of fairies. When Arthur Conan Doyle took up the story it became a worldwide sensation. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Cottingley Fairies, a curiosity that would remain unexplained for most of the 20th century. We'll also remember a ferocious fire and puzzle over a troublesome gnome. Intro: Poet Harry Graham found "a simple plan / Which makes the...

Duration:00:30:24

346-A Desperate Winter in Antarctica

6/14/2021
In 1898 a Belgian ship on a scientific expedition was frozen into the sea off the coast of Antarctica. During the long polar night, its 18 men would confront fear, death, illness, and despair. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe life aboard the Belgica during its long, dark southern winter. We'll also consider a devaluing signature and puzzle over some missing music. Intro: George S. Kaufman was uninterested in Eddie Fisher's dating problems. The Hatter...

Duration:00:33:16

345-Climbing Mont Blanc

6/7/2021
In 1838, Frenchwoman Henriette d'Angeville set out to climb Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, against the advice of nearly everyone she knew. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow d'Angeville up the mountain to fulfill what she called "a monomania of the heart." We'll also escape Australia in a box and puzzle over a fixed game. Intro: In 1986, Florida bankruptcy judge A. Jay Cristol issued an order inspired by "a little old ebony bird." Puzzling...

Duration:00:32:14

344-Martin Couney's Incubator Babies

5/24/2021
For more than 40 years in the early 20th century, Martin Couney ran a sideshow in which premature babies were displayed in incubators. With this odd practice he offered a valuable service in an era when many hospitals couldn't. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Couney's unusual enterprise, which earned both criticism and praise. We'll also marvel over an Amazonian survival and puzzle over a pleasing refusal. Intro: The inventor of the Dewey Decimal...

Duration:00:30:25

343-Operation Cowboy

5/17/2021
In April 1945, a group of American soldiers learned that hundreds of Lipizzaner horses were being held on a farm in western Czechoslovakia -- and set out to rescue them before the Red Army could reach them. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of Operation Cowboy, one of the strangest episodes of World War II. We'll also learn about an NBA brawl and puzzle over a technology's link to cancer deaths. Intro: What's wrong with these Martian census...

Duration:00:31:15

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