Podcast Episode 5: Mailing People, Alien Shorthand, and Benjamin Franklin

Henry Brown found a unique way to escape slavery: He mailed himself to Pennsylvania. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll accompany Brown on his perilous 1849 journey from Richmond to Philadelphia, follow a 5-year-old Idaho girl who was mailed to her grandparents in 1914, and delve deeper into a mysterious lion sighting in Illinois in 1917.

We’ll also decode a 200-year-old message enciphered by Benjamin Franklin, examine an engraved ball reputed to have fallen out of the Georgia sky in 1887, and present the next Futility Closet Challenge.

The story about Dr. Seyers’ alien ball appeared in the Chicago Tribune in 1887 — here’s a reprint from the American Stationer.

Our posts on Henry Box Brown and May Pierstorff appeared on Feb. 2, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2008.

Here’s Samuel Rowse’s 1850 lithograph The Resurrection of Henry Box Brown at Philadelphia, depicting Brown’s climactic emergence from his box on March 24, 1849:


And our post about Benjamin Franklin’s cipher appeared originally on July 23, 2008. Satoshi Tomokiyo’s description of the solution is here.

Thanks again to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

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. The show notes are on the blog, where you can also enter your submissions in this week’s Challenge. Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

Next week we plan to recount the story of the U.S. Camel Corps, an enterprising attempt to use camels as pack animals in the American West in the 1850s. If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!