Podcast Episode 277: The Mad Trapper of Rat River

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

In the winter of 1931, a dramatic manhunt unfolded in northern Canada when a reclusive trapper shot a constable and fled across the frigid landscape. In the chase that followed the mysterious fugitive amazed his pursuers with his almost superhuman abilities. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the hunt for the “Mad Trapper of Rat River.”

We’ll also visit a forgotten windbreak and puzzle over a father’s age.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 276: An Unlikely Confederate Spy

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rose_O%27Neal_Greenhow.jpg

As the Civil War fractured Washington D.C., socialite Rose O’Neal Greenhow coordinated a vital spy ring to funnel information to the Confederates. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe one of the war’s most unlikely spies, and her determination to aid the South.

We’ll also fragment the queen’s birthday and puzzle over a paid game of pinball.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 275: A Kidnapped Painting

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Francisco_Goya_-_Portrait_of_the_Duke_of_Wellington.jpg

In 1961, Goya’s famous portrait of the Duke of Wellington went missing from London’s National Gallery. The case went unsolved for four years before someone unexpectedly came forward to confess to the heist. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe one of the greatest art thefts in British history and the surprising twists that followed.

We’ll also discover Seward’s real folly and puzzle over a man’s motherhood.

See full show notes …

The Meigs Elevated Railway

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Joe_Meigs%27_test_train_posed_with_its_crew_for_the_photographer_circa_1886.png

In 1873, Captain J.V. Meigs patented a surprisingly advanced steam-powered monorail that he hoped could serve Boston. It followed a pair of rails set one above the other, thus requiring only a single line of supports, and it burned anthracite, to reduce smoke in city streets.

Each cylindrical car, shaped to reduce wind resistance, contained 52 revolving seats and was completely upholstered. Engineer Francis Galloupe wrote, “If it were ever desirable, one would become more easily reconciled to rolling down an embankment in one of these cars than in that of any other known form, for the entire absence of sharp corners and salient points is noticeable.”

A 227-foot demonstration line in East Cambridge carried thousands of curious riders 14 feet above Bridge Street at up to 20 mph, but in 1887 a fire, possibly started by a competing streetcar business, destroyed most of Meigs’ car shed. He wrote, “‘the most magnificent car ever built’ was melted down by the furnace into which it was thrust. Its metal plates were melted down and the little wood and upholstering burned out.” He fought on for a few more years, ran out of money, and quit.

Here’s his 1887 description of the project.

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

Podcast Episode 274: Death in a Nutshell

https://www.flickr.com/photos/number7cloud/33248017896/in/album-72157681016980066/
Image: Flickr

In the 1940s, Frances Glessner Lee brought new rigor to crime scene analysis with a curiously quaint tool: She designed 20 miniature scenes of puzzling deaths and challenged her students to investigate them analytically. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death and their importance to modern investigations.

We’ll also appreciate an overlooked sled dog and puzzle over a shrunken state.

See full show notes …

A Ghost Village

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oradour-sur-Glane-Hardware-1342.jpg

On June 10, 1944, a German Waffen-SS company massacred the inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane in Nazi-occupied France. The men were shot with machine guns, and the women and children were locked in a church that was set afire. In all, 642 residents were killed.

After the war, Charles de Gaulle ordered that the village not be rebuilt but serve as a memorial to the horrors of the Nazi occupation. A new village was built nearby, but the ruins of the “martyred village” have stood unchanged for 75 years.

Order

https://www.reddit.com/r/MapPorn/comments/a2naxk/the_way_france_was_almost_divided_after_the/

From the MapPorn subreddit:

In 1789 political theorist Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès proposed dividing France into an egalitarian checkerboard of departments, cantons, and communes, following a plan conceived in 1780 by royal cartographer Robert de Hesseln.

The assembly rejected the proposal and adopted one that more closely followed the natural boundaries formed by geography and established by historical precedent.

Riposte

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:David_at_the_entrance_to_the_Palazzo_Vecchio_(67945932)_(5).jpg
Images: Wikimedia Commons

When Michelangelo’s David was unveiled in 1504, it was seen to symbolize the civil liberties of the Republic of Florence in the face of the surrounding city-states and the powerful Medici.

A Medici duke commissioned Cellini’s Perseus With the Head of Medusa, which was unveiled 50 years later. Composed of bronze, it was situated opposite the David — so that Medusa’s gaze seemed to turn it to stone.

Podcast Episode 273: Alice Ramsey’s Historic Drive

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alice_Ramsey_ggbain.03065.jpg

In 1909, 22-year-old Alice Huyler Ramsey set out to become the first woman to drive across the United States. In an era of imperfect cars and atrocious roads, she would have to find her own way and undertake her own repairs across 3,800 miles of rugged, poorly mapped terrain. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Ramsey on her historic journey.

We’ll also ponder the limits of free speech and puzzle over some banned candy.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 272: The Cannibal Convict

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

In 1822, Irish thief Alexander Pearce joined seven convicts fleeing a penal colony in western Tasmania. As they struggled eastward through some of the most inhospitable terrain on Earth, starvation pressed the party into a series of grim sacrifices. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the prisoners on their nightmarish bid for freedom.

We’ll also unearth another giant and puzzle over an eagle’s itinerary.

See full show notes …