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 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.
Paul Bergman, “Rumpole’s Ethics,”Berkeley Journal of Entertainment and Sports Law 1:2 (April 2012), 117-124.
Abigail Droge, “‘Always Called Jack’: A Brief History of the Transferable Skill,” Victorian Periodicals Review 50:1 (Spring 2017) 39-65, 266.
Albert D. Pionke, “Navigating ‘Those Terrible Meshes of the Law’: Legal Realism in Anthony Trollope’s Orley Farm and The Eustace Diamonds,” ELH: Journal of English Literary History 77:1 (2010), 129-157.
Matthew S. Buckley, “Sensations of Celebrity: Jack Sheppard and the Mass Audience,” Victorian Studies 44:3 (2002), 423-463.
Elizabeth Stearns, “A ‘Darling of the Mob’: The Antidisciplinarity of the Jack Sheppard Texts,” Victorian Literature and Culture 41:3 (2013), 435-461.
Ellen L. O’Brien, “‘Every Man Who Is Hanged Leaves a Poem’: Criminal Poets in Victorian Street Ballads,” Victorian Poetry 39:2 (Summer 2001), 319-342.
Matthew Buckley, “Sensations of Celebrity: Jack Sheppard and the Mass Audience,” Victorian Studies 44:3 (Spring 2002), 423-463.
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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.
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.
In 1914, 132 sealers found themselves stranded on a North Atlantic icefield as a bitter blizzard approached. Thinly dressed and with little food, they faced a harrowing night on the ice. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Newfoundland sealing disaster, one of the most dramatic chapters in Canadian maritime history.
We’ll also meet another battlefield dog and puzzle over a rejected necklace.
In 1947 actress Gay Gibson disappeared from her cabin on an ocean liner off the coast of West Africa. The deck steward, James Camb, admitted to pushing her body out a porthole, but insisted she had died of natural causes and not in a sexual assault. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review the curious case of the porthole murder, which is still raising doubts today.
We’ll also explore another fraudulent utopia and puzzle over a pedestrian’s victory.
In June 1940, German forces took the Channel Islands, a small British dependency off the coast of France. They expected the occupation to go easily, but they hadn’t reckoned on the island of Sark, ruled by an iron-willed noblewoman with a disdain for Nazis. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Sibyl Hathaway and her indomitable stand against the Germans.
We’ll also overtake an earthquake and puzzle over an inscrutable water pipe.
In 1800 a 12-year-old boy emerged from a forest in southern France, where he had apparently lived alone for seven years. His case was taken up by a young Paris doctor who set out to see if the boy could be civilized. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll explore the strange, sad story of Victor of Aveyron and the mysteries of child development.
We’ll also consider the nature of art and puzzle over the relationship between salmon and trees.