Podcast

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.

You can listen using the streaming players below, or subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Android, or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at https://futilitycloset.libsyn.com/rss.

Support us on Patreon to get post-show discussions, outtakes, extra lateral thinking puzzles, and more.

If you have any questions or comments, please write to us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 320: John Hornby and the Barren Lands

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hornby_1924.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

John Hornby left a privileged background in England to roam the vast subarctic tundra of northern Canada. There he became known as “the hermit of the north,” famous for staying alive in a land with very few resources. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll spend a winter with Hornby, who’s been called “one of the most colorful adventurers in modern history.”

We’ll also consider an anthropologist’s reputation and puzzle over an unreachable safe.

Intro:

In 1902, Ambrose Bierce proposed that we learn to sever our social ties.

Can it make sense to pray for a change in the past?

Sources for our feature on John Hornby:

Malcolm Waldron, Snow Man: John Hornby in the Barren Lands, 1931.

Pierre Berton, Prisoners of the North, 2011.

David F. Pelly, Thelon: A River Sanctuary, 1996.

Morten Asfeldt and Bob Henderson, eds., Pike’s Portage: Stories of a Distinguished Place, 2010.

Misao Dean, Inheriting a Canoe Paddle: The Canoe in Discourses of English-Canadian Nationalism, 2013.

Michael D. Pitt, Beyond the End of the Road: A Winter of Contentment North of the Arctic Circle, 2009.

Mckay Jenkins, Bloody Falls of the Coppermine: Madness and Murder in the Arctic Barren Lands, 2007.

Clive Powell-Williams, Cold Burial: A True Story of Endurance and Disaster, 2003.

Brook Sutton, “Long Before McCandless, John Hornby Tested Himself in Northern Canada — and Failed,” Adventure Journal, Oct. 27, 2016.

C.B. Sikstrom, “Hjalmar Nelson Hamar (1894–1967),” Arctic 67:3 (2014), 407-409.

Alex M. Hall, “Pike’s Portage: Stories of a Distinguised Place, Edited by Morten Asfeldt and Bob Henderson,” Arctic 63:3 (2010), 364-365.

David F. Pelly, “Snow Man: John Hornby in the Barren Lands,” Arctic 53:1 (March 2000), 81-82.

Hugh Stewart, “Arctic Profiles: John Hornby,” Arctic 37:2 (June 1984), 184-185.

M.T. Kelly, “Snow Man: John Hornby in the Barren Lands,” Books in Canada 27:7 (October 1998), 29.

Thomas H. Hill, “John Hornby: Legend or Fool,” Torch Magazine 89:2 (Winter 2016), 6-9.

Martin Zeilig, “Touring Canada’s Untouched North a Treat,” [Regina, Sask.] Leader Post, Oct. 27, 2006, F2.

“Privation and Death in ‘the Barrens,'” Toronto Star, Aug. 9, 1987, A8.

Anne Ross, “John Hornby,” Globe and Mail, March 21, 1978, P.6.

George J. Lustre, “Hornby’s Adventures,” Globe and Mail, March 10, 1978, P.7.

Allan Irving, “John Hornby,” Globe and Mail, March 9, 1978, P.6.

“Last Hours of John Hornby Are Pictured by Christian,” [Washington D.C.] Evening Star, Dec. 31, 1929, 2.

“Bodies of Three Explorers Found,” [Washington D.C.] Evening Star, Sept. 6, 1928, 29.

“Identity of Bodies Not Entirely Clear,” New Britain [Conn.] Herald, Aug. 15, 1928, 10.

“Musk-Ox Sanctuary,” Montreal Gazette, Aug. 26, 1927.

James Charles Critchell Bullock Archive, Sherborne School, June 1, 2015.

John Ferns, “Hornby, John,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography (accessed Nov. 8, 2020).

Listener mail:

“Building Name Review: Kroeber Hall,” Berkeley: Office of the Chancellor (accessed Nov. 7, 2020).

“Proposal to Un-Name Kroeber Hall,” UC Berkeley Building Name Review Committee, July 1, 2020.

Karl Kroeber and Clifton B. Kroeber, Ishi in Three Centuries, 2003.

Vicky Baker, “Last Survivor: The Story of the ‘World’s Loneliest Man,'” BBC News, July 20, 2018.

Dom Phillips, “Footage of Sole Survivor of Amazon Tribe Emerges,” Guardian, July 19, 2018.

Monte Reel, “The Most Isolated Man on the Planet,” Slate, Aug. 20, 2010.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was devised by Greg. Here are two corroborating links (warning — these spoil 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!

Podcast Episode 319: Friedrich Kellner’s Opposition

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Friedrich_and_Pauline_Kellner_in_1914.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In the 1930s, German civil servant Friedrich Kellner was outraged by the increasing brutality of the Nazi party and the complicity of his fellow citizens. He began to keep a secret diary to record the crimes of the Third Reich and his condemnations of his countrymen. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll tell the story of Friedrich’s diary and his outspoken warnings to future generations.

We’ll also ponder the problem with tardigrades and puzzle over a seemingly foolish choice.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 318: Peace Pilgrim

peace pilgrim

In 1953 Mildred Norman renounced “an empty life of money and things” and dedicated herself to promoting peace. She spent the next three decades walking through the United States to spread a message of simplicity and harmony. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe her unusual life as a peace pilgrim.

We’ll also admire Wellington’s Mittens and puzzle over a barren Christmas.

Intro:

In 1956, Navy pilot Tom Attridge overtook his own rounds in a supersonic jet.

Flemish artist Cornelius Gijsbrechts painted a rendering of the back of a painting.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 316: A Malaysian Mystery

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

In 1967, Jim Thompson left his silk business in Thailand for a Malaysian holiday with three friends. On the last day, he disappeared from the cottage in which they were staying. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review the many theories behind Thompson’s disappearance, which has never been explained.

We’ll also borrow John Barrymore’s corpse and puzzle over a teddy bear’s significance.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 315: Beryl Markham’s Unconventional Life

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Beryl Markham managed to fit three extraordinary careers into one lifetime: She was a champion racehorse trainer, a pioneering bush pilot, and a best-selling author. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review her eventful life, including her historic solo flight across the Atlantic in 1936.

We’ll also portray some Canadian snakes and puzzle over a deadly car.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 314: The Taliesin Murders

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

By 1914 Frank Lloyd Wright had become one of America’s most influential architects. But that August a violent tragedy unfolded at his Midwestern residence and studio. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the shocking attack of Julian Carlton, which has been called “the most horrific single act of mass murder in Wisconsin history.”

We’ll also admire some helpful dogs and puzzle over some freezing heat.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 313: The Santa Claus Association

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In 1913, New York publicist John Duval Gluck founded an association to answer Santa’s mail. For 15 years its volunteers fulfilled children’s Christmas wishes, until Gluck’s motivation began to shift. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the rise and fall of “Santa’s Secretary” in New York City.

We’ll also survey some splitting trains and puzzle over a difference between twins.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 312: The Last of the Yahi

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In 1911 an exhausted man emerged from the wilderness north of Oroville, California. He was discovered to be the last of the Yahi, a people who had once flourished in the area but had been decimated by white settlers. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Ishi’s sad history and his new life in San Francisco.

We’ll also consider the surprising dangers of baseball and puzzle over a forceful blackout.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 311: A Disputed Russian Princess

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In 1920, a young woman was pulled from a canal in Berlin. When her identity couldn’t be established, speculation started that she was a Russian princess who had escaped the execution of the imperial family. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the strange life of Anna Anderson and her disputed identity as Grand Duchess Anastasia.

We’ll also revisit French roosters and puzzle over not using headlights.

See full show notes …