Podcast Episode 273: Alice Ramsey’s Historic Drive


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.


Journalist Henri de Blowitz received the Treaty of Berlin in the lining of a hat.

In 1895 John Haberle painted a slate so realistic that viewers were tempted to use it.

Sources for our feature on Alice Ramsey:

Alice Ramsey and Gregory M. Franzwa, Alice’s Drive: Republishing Veil, Duster, and Tire Iron, 2005.

Curt McConnell, A Reliable Car and a Woman Who Knows It: The First Coast-to-Coast Auto Trips by Women, 1899-1916, 2000.

Women’s Project of New Jersey, Past and Promise: Lives of New Jersey Women, 1997.

Catherine Gourley, Gibson Girls and Suffragists: Perceptions of Women from 1900 to 1918, 2008.

Christina E. Dando, Women and Cartography in the Progressive Era, 2017.

David Holmstrom, “On the Road With Alice,” American History 29:3 (July/August 1994).

Don Brown and Evan Rothman, “Queen of the Road,” Biography 1:2 (February 1997), 48-52.

Marina Koestler Ruben, “Alice Ramsey’s Historic Cross-Country Drive,” Smithsonian.com, June 4, 2009.

Katherine Parkin, “Alice Ramsey: Driving in New Directions,” New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 4:2 (2018), 160-178.

Carla Rose Lesh, “‘What a Woman Can Do With an Auto’: American Women in the Early Automotive Era,” dissertation, State University of New York at Albany, 2010.

Brandon Dye, “Girls on the Road,” Autoweek 56:36 (Sept. 4, 2006), 34.

Jay Levin, “Daughter of Motoring Pioneer Dies,” [Bergen County, N.J.] Record, Nov. 18, 2015, L.6.

Joe Blackstock, “Alice Ramsey First Woman to Cross U.S. by Car,” Inland Valley [Calif.] Daily Bulletin, March 28, 2011.

Robert Peele, “History That’s More Than the Sum of Its Parts,” New York Times, March 26, 2010.

“Preservation Society Honors Historic Drive,” Reno Gazette-Journal, Oct. 9, 2009.

Robert Peele, “New York to San Francisco in a 1909 Maxwell DA,” New York Times, July 12, 2009.

Robert Peele, “Recreating a 100-Year-Old Road Trip,” New York Times, June 20, 2009.

Jane Palmer, “Driving Along Like It’s 1909,” McClatchy-Tribune Business News, June 18, 2009.

Jay Levin, “The Same Trip, 100 Years Later: N.J. Mother’s 1909 Milestone,” [Bergen County, N.J.] Record, June 10, 2009, L.3.

“Re-enacting a Ground-Breaking Journey,” New York Times, June 5, 2009.

Jay Levin, “Trailblazing Ride Made History: 1909 Road Trip First for a Woman,” [Bergen County, N.J.] Record, March 22, 2009, L.1.

“Women Transcontinentalists Nearing Chicago,” Automobile Topics 8:11 (June 19, 1909), 742.

David Conwill, “Alice Ramsey,” Hemmings Classic Car 164 (May 2018).

“Alice Ramsey,” Automotive Hall of Fame (accessed Nov. 3, 2019).

Guide to the Alice Huyler Ramsey Papers, 1905-1989, Vassar College (accessed Nov. 3, 2019).

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, Rage (King novel),” (accessed Nov. 6, 2019).

Corey Adwar, “This Stephen King Novel Will Never Be Printed Again After It Was Tied to School Shootings,” Business Insider, April 1, 2014.

“Vermont Library Conference/VEMA Annual Meeting: The Bogeyboys,” StephenKing.com (accessed Nov. 6, 2019).

Wikipedia, “Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors” (accessed Nov. 6, 2019).

Wikipedia, “Paladin Press” (accessed Nov. 10, 2019).

“Killer of Three Gets Reduced Sentence,” Washington Times, May 17, 2001.

Emilie S. Kraft, “Hit Man Manual,” First Amendment Encyclopedia, Middle Tennessee State University (accessed Nov. 10, 2019).

Calvin Reid, “Paladin Press Pays Millions to Settle ‘Hit Man’ Case,” Publishers Weekly, May 31, 1999.

David G. Savage, “Publisher of ‘Hit Man’ Manual Agrees to Settle Suit Over Triple Slaying,” Los Angeles Times, May 22, 1999.

Rice v. Paladin Enterprises, Inc., 128 F. 3d 233 – Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit 1997.

David Montgomery, “If Books Could Kill,” Washington Post, July 26, 1998.

Robert W. Welkos, “Judge Throws Out Lawsuit Against Oliver Stone,” Los Angeles Times, March 13, 2001.

“Natural Born Killers Lawsuit Finally Thrown Out,” Guardian, March 13, 2001.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Simone and her father. Here’s a corroborating link (warning — this spoils the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at https://futilitycloset.libsyn.com/rss.

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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!

Podcast Episode 272: The Cannibal Convict


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 …

Podcast Episode 271: The Fraudulent Life of Cassie Chadwick


In 1902, scam artist Cassie Chadwick convinced an Ohio lawyer that she was the illegitimate daughter of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. She parlayed this reputation into a life of unthinkable extravagance — until her debts came due. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Chadwick’s efforts to maintain the ruse — and how she hoped to get away with it.

We’ll also encounter a haunted tomb and puzzle over an exonerated merchant.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 270: Kidnapped by North Korea

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1978, two luminaries of South Korean cinema were abducted by Kim Jong-Il and forced to make films in North Korea in an outlandish plan to improve his country’s fortunes. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Choi Eun-Hee and Shin Sang-Ok and their dramatic efforts to escape their captors.

We’ll also examine Napoleon’s wallpaper and puzzle over an abandoned construction.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 269: The Sack of Baltimore


One night in 1631, pirates from the Barbary coast stole ashore at the little Irish village of Baltimore and abducted 107 people to a life of slavery in Algiers — a rare instance of African raiders seizing white slaves from the British Isles. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the sack of Baltimore and the new life that awaited the captives in North Africa.

We’ll also save the Tower of London and puzzle over a controversial number.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 268: The Great Impostor


Ferdinand Demara earned his reputation as the Great Impostor: For over 22 years he criss-crossed the country, posing as everything from an auditor to a zoologist and stealing a succession of identities to fool his employers. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review Demara’s motivation, morality, and techniques — and the charismatic spell he seemed to cast over others.

We’ll also make Big Ben strike 13 and puzzle over a movie watcher’s cat.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 267: The Murchison Murders


In 1929, detective novelist Arthur Upfield wanted to devise the perfect murder, so he started a discussion among his friends in Western Australia. He was pleased with their solution — until local workers began disappearing, as if the book were coming true. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the Murchison murders, a disturbing case of life imitating art.

We’ll also incite a revolution and puzzle over a perplexing purchase.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 265: The Great Hedge of India

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In the 19th century, an enormous hedge ran for more than a thousand miles across India, installed by the British to enforce a tax on salt. Though it took a Herculean effort to build, today it’s been almost completely forgotten. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe this strange project and reflect on its disappearance from history.

We’ll also exonerate a rooster and puzzle over a racing murderer.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 264: Jack Renton and the Saltwater People


In 1868, Scottish sailor Jack Renton found himself the captive of a native people in the Solomon Islands, but through luck and skill he rose to become a respected warrior among them. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Renton’s life among the saltwater people and his return to the Western world.

We’ll also catch some more speeders and puzzle over a regrettable book.

See full show notes …