Image: Wikimedia Commons

Below the Japanese village of Aneyoshi, a 4-foot stone has stood since 1933. “Do not build your homes below this point!” it reads. “High dwellings ensure the peace and happiness of our descendants.” The village had already been devastated by a tsunami in 1896, and after a second blow the residents erected a permanent warning to those who would follow them.

It worked. A record-setting tsunami in 2011 destroyed hundreds of miles of the coast but stopped 300 feet below the Aneyoshi stone. “They knew the horrors of tsunamis,” village leader Tamishige Kimura told the New York Times, “so they erected that stone to warn us.”

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.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — you can choose the amount you want to pledge, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

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!

Code of Conduct

For his 1933 novel A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks, Dano-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose devised the Law of Jante, a list of 10 rules that summarize common attitudes in Nordic countries:

  1. You’re not to think you are anything special.
  2. You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
  3. You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
  4. You’re not to imagine yourself better than we are.
  5. You’re not to think you know more than we do.
  6. You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
  7. You’re not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You’re not to laugh at us.
  9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything.

Sandemose intended this as satire, but it’s entered colloquial speech (Janteloven) to describe a general disapproval of individualism and unseemly ambition in Denmark and Norway. An 11th rule, “the penal code of Jante,” says, “Perhaps you don’t think we know a few things about you?”

Everyday Heroes

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In Postman’s Park in the City of London, an array of ceramic tiles honor ordinary people who died saving the lives of others:

Elizabeth Boxall
Aged 17 of Bethnal Green
Who died of injuries received in trying to save a child from a runaway horse
June 20, 1888

David Selves aged 12
Off Woolwich supported his drowning playfellow and sank with him clasped in his arms.
September 12, 1886

James Hewers
On Sept 24 1878
Was killed by a train at Richmond in the endeavour to save another man

The Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice was conceived by painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts in 1887, but only four tiles were in place at his death in 1904, and even today two of the five planned rows remain empty. The most recent tile, the 54th, was added in 2009. The full list is here.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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 …

The Slave Bible

In 1807, three years after the Haitian Revolution, someone decided to edit the Bible that was provided to Caribbean slaves to omit any inducements to rebel. The result was Select Parts of the Holy Bible, for the Use of the Negro Slaves in the British West-India Islands, a heavily redacted version that includes Joseph’s enslavement in Egypt but omits Moses leading the Israelites to freedom.

The anonymous editors were “really highlighting portions that would instill obedience,” Museum of the Bible curator Anthony Schmidt told History.com. Also cut were Galatians 3:28 (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus”) and the Book of Revelation, which tells of a new world in which evil will be punished.

But they retained Ephesians 6:5: “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.”

Here’s a copy.

“Let Liking Last”

Inscriptions found in 17th-century English wedding rings, from William Jones’ Finger-Ring Lore, 1898:

  • Let reason rule affection.
  • A token of good-will.
  • Live in Loue.
  • As I expect so let me find, A faithfull ❤ and constant mind.
  • Time lesseneth not my love.
  • Love the truth.
  • In loving wife spend all thy life.

A diamond ring bore the inscription “This sparke will grow.”

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 …

Equal Opportunity


Antebellum social theorist George Fitzhugh argued that slavery should be extended to whites. “It is a libel on white men to say they are unfit for slavery,” he wrote. “Catch them young, train, domesticate, and civilize them, and they would make as faithful and valuable servants as those indentured servants which our colonial ancestors bought in such large numbers from England.”

He thought that capitalism inevitably creates social inequality, and that those whom it oppresses can best be helped by subjugating them. “The whole war against slavery, has grown out of the hatred of the white to the black,” he wrote. “Nobody ever proposed to abolish white slavery, or the white slave trade. … Nobody ever proposed to abolish any other than negro slavery, and if we could buy Yankees for house-servants, and confine the negroes to field work, all this abolition strife would cease.”