History

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

“It is conceivable that Alexander the Great — for all the military successes of his youth, for all the excellence of the army he trained, for all the desire he felt in himself to change the world — might have stopped at the Hellespont, and never crossed it, and not out of fear, not out of indecisiveness, not out of weakness of will, but from heavy legs.” — Kafka

Podcast Episode 226: The Great Match Race

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:American_Eclipse_(USA).jpg

America’s first national sports spectacle took place in 1823, when the North and South sent their best horses for a single dramatic race that came to symbolize the regional tensions of a changing nation. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Great Match Race, which laid the foundations of modern American thoroughbred racing.

We’ll also ponder a parasite’s contribution to culture and puzzle over a misinformed criminal.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 225: The Great Stork Derby

https://pxhere.com/en/photo/855019

When Toronto attorney Charles Vance Millar died in 1926, he left behind a mischievous will that promised a fortune to the woman who gave birth to the most children in the next 10 years. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the Great Stork Derby and the hope and controversy it brought to Toronto’s largest families during the Great Depression.

We’ll also visit some Portuguese bats and puzzle over a suspicious work crew.

See full show notes …

Kindred Spirits

https://www.geograph.ie/photo/5448194
Image: geograph

Cork, Ireland, displays a sculpture dedicated to the Choctaw Indian Nation. Moved by reports of the Great Hunger of 1845-1851, and recalling their own deprivation as they were removed from their ancestral lands, a group of Oklahoma Choctaw raised $170 in 1847 and forwarded it toward relief of the famine.

In 1995, Irish president Mary Robinson visited the Choctaw to thank them for supporting the Irish people, to whom they had no link but “a common humanity, a common sense of another people suffering.” In 1992 22 Irish men and women walked the 600-mile Trail of Tears, raising $1,000 for every dollar that the Choctaw had given in 1847, and passed the money on to relieve suffering in Somalia.

The Choctaw have donated to New York’s Firefighters Fund after the 2001 terrorist attacks; to Save the Children and the Red Cross in 2004 for tsunami relief; to Hurricane Katrina relief in 2005; to victims of the Haiti earthquake in 2018; and to people affected by hurricanes in Houston, Puerto Rico, and Florida. In 2008 the Choctaw Nation received the United States National Freedom Award for its efforts supporting the National Guard and Reserve and their families.

Podcast Episode 224: Lady Death

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pavlichenko_in_the_US_with_two_other_delegates,_1942_(cropped).jpg

Lyudmila Pavlichenko was training for a career as a history teacher when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. She suspended her studies to enlist as a sniper in the Red Army, where she discovered a remarkable talent for shooting enemy soldiers. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll trace the career of “Lady Death,” the deadliest female sniper in history.

We’ll also learn where in the world futility.closet.podcast is and puzzle over Air Force One.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 223: The Prince of Forgers

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Denis_Vrain-Lucas.jpg

Denis Vrain-Lucas was an undistinguished forger until he met gullible collector Michel Chasles. Through the 1860s Lucas sold Chasles thousands of phony letters by everyone from Plato to Louis the 14th, earning thousands of francs and touching off a firestorm among confused scholars. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll trace the career of the world’s most prolific forger.

We’ll also count Queen Elizabeth’s eggs and puzzle over a destroyed car.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 222: The Year Without a Summer

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1816_summer.png
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 was a disaster for the Dutch East Indies, but its astonishing consequences were felt around the world, blocking the sun and bringing cold, famine, and disease to millions of people from China to the United States. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review the volcano’s devastating effects and surprising legacy.

We’ll also appreciate an inverted aircraft and puzzle over a resourceful barber.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 220: The Old Hero of Gettysburg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_Burns_statue.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1863, on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, a 69-year-old shoemaker took down his ancient musket and set out to shoot some rebels. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow John Burns’ adventures in that historic battle, which made him famous across the nation and won the praise of Abraham Lincoln.

We’ll also survey some wallabies and puzzle over some underlined 7s.

See full show notes …

The Sincerest Form

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tu4.jpg

The Soviet Tupolev Tu-4 strategic bomber of the 1950s was a reverse-engineered copy of the American Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Stalin wanted a strategic bomber, so when three B-29s were forced to land in Soviet territory in 1944, he ordered clones made, and 20 were ready by 1947, despite the engineering challenges caused by non-metric American specifications.

The Soviets revealed their coup during a Moscow parade in August 1947. When three aircraft flew overhead, Western analysts assumed they were the three captured B-29s. Then a fourth appeared.

(Thanks, Kevin.)

Podcast Episode 219: The Greenbrier Ghost

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

In 1897, shortly after Zona Shue was found dead in her West Virginia home, her mother went to the county prosecutor with a bizarre story. She said that her daughter had been murdered — and that her ghost had revealed the killer’s identity. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Greenbrier Ghost, one of the strangest courtroom dramas of the 19th century.

We’ll also consider whether cats are controlling us and puzzle over a delightful oblivion.

See full show notes …