Podcast Episode 199: The Mystery of the Carroll A. Deering

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In 1921 a schooner ran aground on the treacherous shoals off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. When rescuers climbed aboard, they found signs of a strange drama in the ship’s last moments — and no trace of the 11-man crew. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll examine the curious case of the Carroll A. Deering, which has been called “one of the enduring mysteries of maritime history.”

We’ll also experiment with yellow fever and puzzle over a disputed time of death.

See full show notes …

Last Words

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Hit by shrapnel on April 16, 1917, French infantryman Jean-Louis Cros managed to scribble this message before dying:

My dear wife, my dear parents and all I love, I have been wounded. I hope it will be nothing. Care well for the children, my dear Lucie; Leopold will help you if I don’t get out of this. I have a crushed thigh and am all alone in a shell hole. I hope they will soon come to fetch me. My last thought is of you.

The card was sent to his family.

In August 1918 the Rev. Arthur Boyce found this letter on the battlefield near Rheims. The writer had asked the finder to forward it to his family:

My dear wife, I am dying on the battlefield. With my last strength God bless you and the kiddies. I am glad to give my life for my country. Don’t grieve over me — be proud of this fact. Goodbye and God bless you. Fred

When the kiddies get older tell them how I died.

He had written a similar note to his mother. His identity could not be discovered.

(From Peter Hart’s The Great War, 2013, and Richard van Emden’s The Quick and the Dead, 2012.)

A Bad Plan

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The HMS Effingham was sunk with a pencil. On May 18, 1940, the Royal Navy cruiser was escorting a troop convoy near Bodø, Norway, when she struck a large rock and had to be scuttled. The rock was well known and appeared on the ship’s chart, but the navigator had obscured it with a pencil line in drawing the ship’s passage on the map, and she ran directly onto it.

No one was killed; the crew were evacuated and an accompanying destroyer finished her with a torpedo.

(Thanks, Alex.)

Podcast Episode 198: The Man Who Wouldn’t Die

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In 1932 a quartet of Bronx gangsters set out to murder a friend of theirs in order to collect his life insurance. But Michael Malloy proved to be almost comically difficult to kill. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review what one observer called “the most clumsily executed insurance scam in New York City history.”

We’ll also burrow into hoarding and puzzle over the value of silence.

See full show notes …

An Oldie

In the 1950s, archaeologists unearthed a cuneiform tablet from an ancient palace in northern Syria. Dating to 1400 BC, it contained lyrics for a hymn to Nikkal, a Semitic goddess of orchards, as well as instructions for a singer accompanied by a nine-stringed lyre.

That makes the “Hurrian hymn” the oldest surviving example of a written song.

Podcast Episode 196: The Long Way Home

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When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the crew of an American seaplane were caught off guard near New Zealand. Unable to return across the Pacific, they were forced to fly home “the long way” — all the way around the world. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the adventures of the Pacific Clipper on its 30,000-mile journey through a world engulfed in war.

We’ll also delve into the drug industry and puzzle over a curious case of skin lesions.

See full show notes …

In a Word

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diremption
n. a forcible separation; a tearing asunder

phronesis
n. practical judgment; the faculty of conducting oneself wisely

obsecrate
v. to entreat (a person) earnestly

rescribe
v. to write back; to write in reply

From Betty’s Weekly, Feb. 19, 1916:

Dear Betty — My boy has been in the trenches for six months, and expects to get furlough any moment. What I want to ask is that, if you were me, would you meet him at the station, or would you wait for him at home?

You ask me a difficult question, little girl, and I find it hard to advise you. Were I you I’d want with all my heart and soul to be the first woman my boy would see when he arrived. And yet, dear, the meeting him after all he’s been through would mean so much to me and to him, too, that I don’t think I could bear to see him in public. Really and truly, were I you, I’d wait for him alone somewhere — at home, if possible. Somehow, such a meeting is too sacred to be witnessed by anybody. But be sure you go to see him off when he leaves for the Front again, and be as brave as you can, dear.

The Ripon Hornblower

Every night at 9 p.m. a horn is blown at the four corners of the market obelisk in Ripon, North Yorkshire. The tradition dates back to 886, when Alfred the Great granted a charter to the settlement and offered them a symbolic horn. At the king’s advice the townspeople appointed a wakeman to patrol the settlement throughout the night; he would sound the horn at the four corners of the market to inform the people that the watch was set and he was now on patrol.

In 1604 James I granted the city a second charter, and the hornblower was now appointed by the democratically elected mayor, who gave him an extra duty: After setting the watch at the market cross he must find the mayor, wherever he may be in the city, sound the horn three times before him, raise his hat, bow his head, and tell him, “Mr. Mayor, the watch is set.” That tradition is still carried out today.

Podcast Episode 194: The Double Life of Clarence King

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American geologist Clarence King led a strange double life in the late 1800s: He invented a second identity as a black railroad porter so he could marry the woman he loved, and then spent 13 years living separate lives in both white and black America. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll consider the extraordinary lengths that King went to in order to be with the woman he loved.

We’ll also contemplate the dangers of water and puzzle over a policeman’s strange behavior.

See full show notes …