Podcast Episode 82: Stealing Abe Lincoln

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Abraham_Lincoln.jpg

In 1876, a gang of inept Chicago counterfeiters launched an absurd plot to steal the body of Abraham Lincoln and hold it for ransom. In today’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll follow their comical attempts to carry out the bizarre scheme, and uncover the secret society that was formed afterward to protect Lincoln’s corpse.

We’ll also puzzle over an overlooked way to reduce the odds of dying of a heart attack.

Sources for our feature on Lincoln’s bodysnatchers:

Thomas J. Craughwell, Stealing Lincoln’s Body, 2007.

Bonnie Stahlman Speer, The Great Abraham Lincoln Hijack, 1997.

John Carroll Power, History of an Attempt to Steal the Body of Abraham Lincoln, 1890.

Thomas J. Craughwell, “A Plot to Steal Lincoln’s Body,” U.S. News, June 24, 2007.

David B. Williams, “The Odd Reburials of Abraham Lincoln,” Seattle Times, April 13, 2007.

Ray Bendici, “Thomas J. Craughwell Discusses the Odd Plot to Steal Lincoln’s Body,” Connecticut Magazine, Nov. 12, 2013.

Don Babwin, “Presidential Heist,” Associated Press, May 13, 2007.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle is adapted from a puzzle in Edward J. Harshman’s 1996 book Fantastic Lateral Thinking Puzzles.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

The Thought That Counts

A Mississippi soldier’s incoherent letter to his fiancée, quoted in Bell Irvin Wiley’s The Life of Johnny Reb, 1943:

I can bare the Storms of the wintery Blast for thy sake oh Miss S.J.H be thou ever Bless as Butiful as thou art and idol to my throbbing hart oh had I the mind of the poet So that I could penetrate the verry depts of my hart but I can but express my Simple thoughts I am hear but my heart is Theire, we are in four miles of the yankees … could we not enjoy ourselves better if was at home with the girles … vainley I alas thou woulds soothe the pangs I feel, fond love betrayed what hopes I can poses Death alone my greaf may heal then farewell for ever more welth I have none they Farthers care thearefore I love one on Earth that I adore my only wealth is the love I bare then farewel perhaps for ever more never forsake me I Still will faithfull be Still on thy hand every bliss I will imploy Hence duty calls me they first my only love farewell perhaps for ever more but my hopes if far different I think will again meet if nothing happens more then I expect one thought from you would cheer my dropping mind I have more in my hart then ten thousand toungs can express if I had wings of and Eagle to the I would fly me thinks I can hear in my midnight drams thy Soft and gentle voice but alas when I awake I am in a Soldier tent

He adds, “I have nothing of importance to write you at this time but I will write soon and let you know all that happens.”

Podcast Episode 81: The Typhus Hoax

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In 1939, as Germany was sending the people of Poland to labor and death camps, two doctors found a unique way to save their countrymen — by faking an epidemic. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll learn about their clever plan, which ultimately saved 8,000 people.

We’ll also consider four schemes involving tiny plots of land and puzzle over why a library would waive its fees for a lost book.

Sources for our feature on Eugene Lazowski:

Damon Adams, “2 Doctors Used Typhus to Save Thousands in Wartime,” American Medical News, July 5, 2004.

Yoav Goor, “When the Test Tube Was Mightier Than the Gun: A Polish Doctor Out-Frightens the Nazis,” Israel Medical Association Journal, 15:4 (April 2013), 198.

Bernard Dixon, “Mimicry and More,” British Medical Journal, Nov. 24, 1990.

Mohammad Mooty and Larry I Lutwick, “Epidemic Typhus Fever,” in Larry I. Lutwick and Suzanne M. Lutwick, Beyond Anthrax: The Weaponization of Infectious Diseases, 2009.

Trevor Jensen, “Dr. Eugene Lazowski: 1913-2006,” Chicago Tribune, Dec. 22, 2006.

Listener mail:

J. Craig Anderson, “Cards Against Humanity Buys Remote Maine Island, Calls It ‘Hawaii 2’,” Portland Press Herald, December 24, 2014.

Sarah Hulett, “Inchvesting In Detroit: A Virtual Realty,” NPR, March 4, 2010.

Wikipedia, The Good Earth (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band album).

Weekend Telegraph, “Sitting on a Slice of the Good Earth,” Sept. 23, 1995.

Patrick Barkham, “What Greenpeace Could Learn From Manfred Mann About Saving the Environment,” Guardian, July 5, 2015.

Paul Evans, “Diversionary Tactics — The Imaginative Campaigns Protecting the Countryside From Developers,” Guardian, March 31, 2009.

Wikipedia, “Alice’s Meadow.”

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Lawrence Miller.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Have Gun

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Henry_M_Stanley_1872.jpg

Welshman Henry Morton Stanley — famous for seeking explorer David Livingstone in Africa — fought on both sides in the American Civil War.

In April 1862, when just 21 years old, he fought in the Confederate Army’s 6th Arkansas infantry regiment at the Battle of Shiloh. Captured, he swore allegiance to the United States and joined the Union Army in June. He was discharged after two weeks’ service due to severe illness, but recovered and went on to join the U.S. Navy in 1864.

In The Galvanized Yankees, Dee Brown writes, Stanley “probably became the only man ever to serve in the Confederate Army, the Union Army, and the Union Navy.”

Podcast Episode 80: ‘Black Like Me’: Race Realities Under Jim Crow

john howard griffin

In 1959, Texas journalist John Howard Griffin darkened his skin and lived for six weeks as a black man in the segregated South. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe his harrowing experience and what it taught him about the true state of race relations in America.

We’ll also ponder crescent moons, German submarines, and griffins in India and puzzle over why a man would be arrested for winning a prize at a county fair.

Sources for our feature on John Howard Griffin:

John Howard Griffin, Black Like Me, 1961.

Robert Bonazzi, Man in the Mirror: John Howard Griffin and the Story of Black Like Me, 2010.

Maurice Dolbier, “Blinding Disguise in South,” Miami News, Oct. 15, 1961.

Jerome Weeks, “‘Black Like Me’ Just One of Many Roles for John Howard Griffin,” Dallas Morning News, Sept. 19, 1997.

H.W. Quick, “He Finds Bias Blighting North, South,” Milwaukee Sentinel, Jan. 16, 1964.

Karen De Witt, “Oppressor Shown What Being Oppressed Is Like,” Ottawa Citizen, Nov. 1, 1977.

Ray Sprigle, In the Land of Jim Crow, 1949.

Lucile Torkelson, “Writer Crosses the Race Barrier,” Milwaukee Sentinel, Oct. 29, 1969.

Research questions:

Here’s the image of the star and crescent:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Star_and_Crescent.svg

And here are the sources I’ve found that describe the German submarine rescue:

Wolfgang Frank, The Sea Wolves, 1955.

Arch Whitehouse, Subs and Submariners, 1961.

Jacques Yves Cousteau, Captain Cousteau’s Underwater Treasury, 1959.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Lawrence Miller.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

Enter coupon code CLOSET at Harry’s and get $5 off their starter set of high-quality razors!

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

The Last Prisoner

http://www.nps.gov/apco/learn/education/upload/Surrender%201a.pdf

After Robert E. Lee formally surrendered to Ulysses Grant in the parlor of Virginia grocer Wilmer McLean, relic hunters descended on the house. “Large sums were offered Major Wilmer S. McLean for the chairs in which the generals sat during the meeting — for the tables on which the writing was done — for substantially every article of furniture,” wrote correspondent Sylvanus Cadwallader. Many souvenirs were taken without McLean’s permission — including the rag doll belonging to his 8-year-old daughter, Lula, “which the younger officers tossed from one to the other, and called the ‘silent witness.'”

In a 1951 Saturday Evening Post article, “The Lost Rag Doll of Appomattox,” Dorothy Kunhardt wrote, “Eighty-six years ago a little girl lost her rag doll. It was a very much hugged and slept with and beloved rag doll, homemade; no china head and kid-glove fingers and lacy dress, but stumpy burlap arms and legs, clothes assembled from the family rag bag and a small, potato-shaped head with not much stuffing on it.”

Philip Sheridan’s aide-de-camp Thomas William Channing Moore took the doll home with him to New York, and it was passed down within his family for 128 years. Finally, in 1993, when Moore’s grandson Richard died, his wife called the Appomattox park authorities to say that they were ready to return it. “The men in our family never wanted to give her up,” Marjorie Moore said. “The women thought Appomattox would be the best place for her.”

The doll resides today in the Appomattox visitors’ center, but perhaps that’s too late to redress the harm. Years earlier, after ranger Cynda Carpenter had told the story to one group of visitors, an older woman approached her and identified herself as Lula McLean’s great-granddaughter. “She said that Lula never got over the hurt caused by the loss of her doll,” she said. “She said that Lula told her, ‘The Yankees stole my doll.'”

The Battle of the Reed Rules

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Until 1890, the minority party in the U.S. House of Representatives could block a vote by “disappearing”; they’d demand a roll call, remain silent when called upon, and then declare that too few members were “present” for the House to conduct its business.

To incoming speaker Thomas Brackett Reed this was a “tyranny of the minority,” and on Jan. 28 he resolved to break it. When Democrats demanded a roll call and refused to answer to their names, Reed marked them present anyway; when Kentucky representative James B. McCreary objected, Reed said sweetly, “The Chair is making a statement of fact that the gentleman from Kentucky is present. Does he deny it?”

There followed a sort of ontological shooting gallery. Democrats hid under their desks and behind screens to avoid being observed to exist. When they tried to flee the chamber entirely, Reed ordered the doors locked, which started a scramble to get out before the next vote. Representative Kilgore of Texas had to kick open a locked door to escape. Amid the howled objections, Confederate general “Fighting Joe” Wheeler came down from the rear “leaping from desk to desk as an ibex leaps from crag to crag,” and one unnamed Texas Democrat “sat in his seat significantly whetting a bowie knife on his boot.” Finally the Republicans mustered a majority even with the Democrats entirely absent, and the battle was over: Reed’s new rules were adopted on February 14.

Throughout all this Reed had seemed imperturbable, “serene as a summer morning.” He told a friend later that he had made up his mind what he would do if the House did not support him. “I would simply have left the Chair and resigned the Speakership and my seat in Congress,” he said. “I had made up my mind that if political life consisted in sitting helplessly in the Speaker’s Chair and seeing the majority helpless to pass legislation, I had had enough of it and was ready to step down and out.”

(From Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower.) (Thanks, Zach.)

Podcast Episode 75: The Sea Devil

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Felix von Luckner was a romantic hero of World War I, a dashing nobleman who commanded one of the last sailing ships to fight in war. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Luckner’s uniquely civilized approach to warfare, which won admiration even from his enemies.

We’ll also puzzle over how a product intended to prevent drug abuse ends up encouraging it.

Sources for our feature on Felix von Luckner:

Lowell Thomas, Count Luckner, The Sea Devil, 1928.

Edwin P. Hoyt, Count von Luckner: Knight of the Sea, 1969.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Auxiliary_Cruiser_Seeadler_1916-17.png
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In all, Seeadler captured 16 ships totaling 30,099 tons between Dec. 21, 1916, and Sept. 8, 1917.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener David White, who sent these corroborating links (warning — these spoil the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

In a Word

battailous
adj. ready for battle; warlike

scious
adj. possessing knowledge

didascalic
adj. pertaining to a teacher

Among Union Army regiments, the 33rd Illinois became known as the “brains” regiment because it contained so many teachers. “It was stated derisively that the men would not obey orders which were not absolutely correct in syntax and orthography and that men who were discharged from it for mental incapacity, at once secured positions as officers in other regiments.” Many of them came from Illinois State Normal University; of the 97 teachers and pupils on the university’s rolls in 1860-1861, 53 entered the army.

(Charles A. Harper, Development of the Teachers College in the United States, With Special Reference to the Illinois State Normal University, 1935.)