The Futility Closet podcast is a weekly show featuring forgotten stories from the pages of history. Join us each Monday for surprising and curious tales from the past and to challenge yourself with our lateral thinking puzzles.
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.
Roy Moxham, “The Great Hedge of India,” in Jantine Schroeder, Radu Botez, and Marine Formentini, Radioactive Waste Management and Constructing Memory for Future Generations: Proceedings of the International Conference and Debate, September 15-17, 2014, Verdun, France, Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, 2015.
Maurice Chittenden, “Great Hedge of India Defended the Empire,” Sunday Times, Dec. 10, 2000, 7.
Aneesh Gokhale, “Why British Built the Great Hedge of India,” DNA, Aug. 12 2018.
Roy Moxham, “The Great Hedge of India,” Sunday Telegraph, Jan. 7, 2001, 4.
Annabelle Quince, “Border Walls Around the World,” Rear Vision, ABC Premium News, May 17, 2017.
“Have You Heard of the Salt Hedge?” New Indian Express, March 16, 2015.
Roy Moxham, “Magnificent Obsession,” Weekend Australian, Oct. 5, 2002, B.26.
Matthew Wilson, “In the Thicket of It,” Financial Times, Nov. 12, 2016, 20.
Moxham writes, “My GPS reading at Pali Ghar was 26° 32.2’ N, 79° 09.2’ E. If this reading is put into Google Earth, the embankment of the Hedge is clearly visible – but only if you already know it is there.”
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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.
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.
Confined in a Soviet prison camp in 1941, Polish painter Józef Czapski chose a unique way to cope: He lectured to the other prisoners on Marcel Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Time. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Czapski’s ambitious project and the surprising importance of literature to the prisoners of oppressive regimes.
We’ll also race some lemons and puzzle over a woman’s birthdays.
In 1968, Richard Proenneke left his career as a heavy equipment operator and took up an entirely new existence. He flew to a remote Alaskan lake, built a log cabin by hand, and began a life of quiet self-reliance. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll hear Proenneke’s reflections on a simple life lived in harmony with nature.
We’ll also put a rooster on trial and puzzle over a curious purchase.
In May 1840 London was scandalized by the murder of Lord William Russell, who’d been found in his bed with his throat cut. The evidence seemed to point to an intruder, but suspicion soon fell on Russell’s valet. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the investigation and trial, and the late revelation that decided the case.
We’ll also marvel at Ireland’s greenery and puzzle over a foiled kidnapping.
In 1934, two Englishwomen set out to do what no one had ever done before: travel the length of Africa on a motorcycle. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Theresa Wallach and Florence Blenkiron from Algiers to Cape Town on a 14,000-mile adventure that many had told them was impossible.
We’ll also anticipate some earthquakes and puzzle over a daughter’s age.
The second-bloodiest riot in the history of New York was touched off by a dispute between two Shakespearean actors. Their supporters started a brawl that killed as many as 30 people and changed the institution of theater in American society. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Astor Place riot, “one of the strangest episodes in dramatic history.”
We’ll also fertilize a forest and puzzle over some left-handed light bulbs.
In 1855 a band of London thieves set their sights on a new target: the South Eastern Railway, which carried gold bullion to the English coast. The payoff could be enormous, but the heist would require meticulous planning. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the first great train robbery, one of the most audacious crimes of the 19th century.
We’ll also jump into the record books and puzzle over a changing citizen.
In 1943 an isolated sledge patrol came upon a secret German weather station in northeastern Greenland. The discovery set off a series of dramatic incidents that unfolded across 400 miles of desolate coast. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow this arctic struggle, an often overlooked drama of World War II.
We’ll also catch some speeders and puzzle over a disastrous remedy.
In 1930 Harold Lasseter claimed he’d discovered an enormous deposit of gold in the remote interior of Australia, and a small group of men set off into the punishing desert in search of a fortune estimated at 66 million pounds. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Lasseter’s reef, one of the most enduring legends of the Australian outback.
We’ll also reconsider the mortality rates of presidents and puzzle over an unlocked door.