Podcast Episode 311: A Disputed Russian Princess


In 1920, a young woman was pulled from a canal in Berlin. When her identity couldn’t be established, speculation started that she was a Russian princess who had escaped the execution of the imperial family. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the strange life of Anna Anderson and her disputed identity as Grand Duchess Anastasia.

We’ll also revisit French roosters and puzzle over not using headlights.


In 1899, English engineer E.W. Barton-Wright introduced his own martial art.

One early American locomotive was driven by a horse walking on a belt.

Photo: The Russian royal family at Livadiya, Crimea, 1913, five years before the execution. Left to right: Olga, Maria, Nicholas II, Alexandra Fyodorovna, Anastasia, Alexei, and Tatiana. Sources for our feature on Anna Anderson:

Greg King and Penny Wilson, The Resurrection of the Romanovs: Anastasia, Anna Anderson, and the World’s Greatest Royal Mystery, 2010.

John Klier and Helen Mingay, The Quest for Anastasia: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Romanovs, 1999.

James B. Lovell, Anastasia: The Lost Princess, 1995.

Frances Welch, A Romanov Fantasy: Life at the Court of Anna Anderson, 2007.

Toby Saul, “Death of a Dynasty: How the Romanovs Met Their End,” National Geographic, July 20, 2018.

Alan Cooperman, “An Anastasia Verdict,” U.S. News & World Report 117:11 (Sept. 19, 1994), 20.

“What Really Happened to Russia’s Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov,” Haaretz, Dec. 27, 2018.

Nancy Bilyeau, “Will the Real Anastasia Romanov Please Stand Up?”, Town & Country, April 25, 2017.

“Is This Princess Alive?”, Life 38:7 (Feb. 14, 1955), 31-35.

Martin Sieff, “Romanov Mystery Finally Solved,” UPI, May 1, 2008.

“Amateurs Unravel Russia’s Last Royal Mystery,” New York Times, Nov. 24, 2007.

Lena Williams, “Chronicle,” New York Times, Oct. 6, 1994, D.24.

“Topics of The Times; Anastasia Lives,” New York Times, Sept. 11, 1994.

John Darnton, “Scientists Confirm Identification of Bones as Czar’s,” New York Times, July 10, 1993.

“Appeal in Anastasia Case Rejected in West Germany,” New York Times, Feb. 18, 1970.

“Appeal in Anastasia Mystery Is Rejected by Hamburg Court,” New York Times, March 1, 1967.

Arthur J. Olsenbonn, “Anastasia: Grand Duchess or Grand Hoax?”, New York Times, Aug. 24, 1958.


Left: Franziska Schanzkowska in 1913. Right: Anna Anderson in 1920.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, “Lynmouth Flood” (accessed Sept. 2, 2020).

Wikipedia, “Project Cumulus” (accessed Sept. 2, 2020).

Wikipedia, “Philip Eden” (accessed Sept. 2, 2020).

John Vidal and Helen Weinstein, “RAF Rainmakers ‘Caused 1952 Flood,'” Guardian, Aug. 30, 2001.

Susan Borowski, “Despite Past Failures, Weather Modification Endures,” AAAS.org, Dec. 31, 2012.

“Rain-Making Link to Killer Floods,” BBC News, Aug. 30, 2001.

Laura Joint, “Lynmouth Flood Disaster,” BBC, Jan. 25, 2008.

Philip Eden, “The Day They Made It Rain,” Weather Online.

Locust Watch.

Sam Harrison, “The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Rural France May Soon Be Protected by Law,” Atlas Obscura, July 28, 2020.

“Proposition de loi nº 2211 visant à définir et protéger le patrimoine sensoriel des campagnes françaises,” French National Assembly, Sept. 11, 2019.

“France: 74,000 Sign Petition Calling for Justice for Murdered Rooster,” Euronews, Aug. 17, 2020.

Agence France-Presse, “Justice Sought for Marcel, French Rooster Shot for Crowing,” Courthouse News Service, Aug. 17, 2020.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Jule Ann Wakeman.

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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!