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 225: The Great Stork Derby

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When Toronto attorney Charles Vance Millar died in 1926, he left behind a mischievous will that promised a fortune to the woman who gave birth to the most children in the next 10 years. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the Great Stork Derby and the hope and controversy it brought to Toronto’s largest families during the Great Depression.

We’ll also visit some Portuguese bats and puzzle over a suspicious work crew.

Intro:

The programming language Shakespeare produces code that reads like a stage play.

In a qualification round for the 1994 Caribbean Cup, Barbados and Grenada seemed to switch sides.

Sources for our feature on the Great Stork Derby:

Mark M. Orkin, The Great Stork Derby, 1982.

In Re Estate of Charles Millar (1937), [1938] 1 D.L.R. 65 (Supreme Court of Canada).

Chris Bateman, “Historicist: The Great Stork Derby,” Torontoist, Oct. 29, 2016.

David Goldenberg, “How a Dead Millionaire Convinced Dozens of Women to Have as Many Babies as Possible,” Five Thirty Eight, Dec. 11, 2015.

Adam Bunch, “The Great Toronto Stork Derby — Why the City Went Baby Crazy During the Great Depression,” Spacing Magazine, July 23, 2013.

Steuart Henderson Britt, “The Significance of the Last Will and Testament,” Journal of Social Psychology 8:3 (August 1937), 347-353.

Peter Edwards, “1926 Will Sparked Toronto’s Great ‘Stork Derby,'” Toronto Star, Sept. 9, 2006.

“Big Family, Big Prize,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, Jan. 17, 2002.

Douglas J. Johnston, “Will Power,” The Beaver 81:4 (August/September 2001), 37-39.

Marty Gervais, “Stork Derby of ’26 Meant to Tweak Beaks of Clergy,” Windsor Star, June 23, 2000.

Craig Zawada, “Dumb Moments in Legal History,” Saskatchewan Business 20:6 (Nov. 1, 1999), 7.

Pat MacAdam, “The Mischievous Will: Toronto the Good Left Shaken by Staid Lawyer’s Quirky Last Wishes,” Ottawa Citizen, Aug. 2, 1999.

John Picton, “Lawyer’s Will Started Baby Boom,” Toronto Star, Feb. 26, 1989.

Kathleen Walker, “Stork Derby Strangest of Lawyer’s Bequests,” Ottawa Citizen, Dec. 14, 1981.

Susan Schwartz, “Prim Toronto Was Site of Baby Race,” Montreal Gazette, Dec. 9, 1981.

“Mrs. Annie Smith,” New York Times, Jan. 21, 1948.

“Toronto Bequest Provides for Second ‘Stork Derby,'” New York Times, March 12, 1946.

“Stork Derby Victors Lonely for Children,” New York Times, July 6, 1938.

“Topics of the Times,” New York Times, June 1, 1938.

“Last of ‘Stork Derby’?”, Ottawa Evening Citizen, May 31, 1938.

“‘Stork Derby’ Winners Paid,” New York Times, May 30, 1938.

“Stork Derby’ Prize Awarded 4 Women,” New York Times, March 20, 1938.

“Justice ‘Troubled’ in Baby Derby Plea,” New York Times, Feb. 27, 1938.

“Four Mothers of Nine Win Shares in $500,000 Stork Derby Cash,” New York Times, Feb. 13, 1938.

“Has Her 12th Baby,” New York Times, Jan. 6, 1938.

“Stork Derby’ Will Upheld on Appeal,” New York Times, Dec. 23, 1937.

“Toronto Baby Race Upheld on Appeal,” New York Times, Feb. 24, 1937.

“Lady Astor Declares Stork Derby ‘Horror,'” New York Times, Nov. 29, 1936.

“Stork Derby Will Upheld by Court,” New York Times, Nov. 21, 1936.

“‘Baby Clause’ Held Valid in Millar Will,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 19, 1936.

“Ruling on Stork Promised in Week,” New York Times, Nov. 17, 1936.

“Dr. Hayne Thinks Toronto Mothers in ‘Piker’ Class,” [Spartanburg, S.C.] Herald-Journal, Nov. 4, 1936.

“Stork Derby ‘Winner’ Offers to Split Prize,” New York Times, Nov. 2, 1936.

“Birth Derby Ends; 6 Mothers in ‘Tie,'” New York Times, Nov. 1, 1936.

“Reaper at Finish Line in Baby Race,” [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star, Oct. 30, 1936.

“‘Stork Derby’ Will Is Attacked by Kin,” New York Times, Oct. 29, 1936.

“Foul Is Claimed in Baby Derby,” [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star, Oct. 27, 1936.

“Stork Derby Rule Taken by Premier,” New York Times, Oct. 24, 1936.

“To Fight Baby Derby Fund,” New York Times, Oct. 16, 1936.

“Threats in ‘Baby Derby,'” New York Times, Aug. 30, 1936.

“Another Baby Enters $500,000 Stork Derby,” New York Times, Aug. 18, 1936.

“12 in Toronto Stork Race, Parents of 89, Join Party,” New York Times, Aug. 1, 1936.

“Mrs. Kenny Leads in Stork Derby,” Nashua [N.H.] Telegraph, Feb. 6, 1936.

“‘Dark Horse’ in ‘Stork Derby’ Now Believes in Birth Control,” Milwaukee Journal, Nov. 29, 1935.

Phillis Griffiths, “Stork Derby Field Scorns Split Prize,” New York Times, Sept. 15, 1935.

“$500,000 Carried by Toronto Stork,” New York Times, Sept. 8, 1935.

“Toronto ‘Baby’ Will Safe,” New York Times, Sept. 7, 1935.

“12 in Toronto Stork Race, Parents of 89, Join Party,” New York Times, Aug. 1, 1936.

“The Commonwealth: Birth Race,” Time, Dec. 20, 1926.

Listener mail:

“I Met a Celebrity at the London Openhouse!! Lord Palmerston, The Fuzzy,” Reddit London, Sept. 24, 2018.

Rachel Nuwer, “Bats Act As Pest Control at Two Old Portuguese Libraries,” Smithsonian.com, Sept. 19, 2013.

Julie H. Case, “These Portuguese Libraries Are Infested With Bats — and They Like It That Way,” Smithsonian.com, June 7, 2018.

Patricia Kowsmann, “The Bats Help Preserve Old Books But They Drive Librarians, Well, Batty,” Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2018.

Universidade de Coimbra Library.

Christina Caron, “Zanesville Animal Massacre Included 18 Rare Bengal Tigers,” ABC News, Oct. 19, 2011.

Kathy Thompson, “Ohio Exotic Animal Owner Speaks Out 1st Time Since Ordeal,” [Zanesville, Ohio] Times Recorder, Oct. 18, 2012.

“William Walker: Diver Who Saved Winchester Cathedral Remembered,” BBC News, Oct. 6, 2018.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listeners Wil, Cassidy, and Sydney, inspired by an item on 99 Percent Invisible (warning — this link 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!

Podcast Episode 224: Lady Death

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Lyudmila Pavlichenko was training for a career as a history teacher when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. She suspended her studies to enlist as a sniper in the Red Army, where she discovered a remarkable talent for shooting enemy soldiers. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll trace the career of “Lady Death,” the deadliest female sniper in history.

We’ll also learn where in the world futility.closet.podcast is and puzzle over Air Force One.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 223: The Prince of Forgers

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Denis Vrain-Lucas was an undistinguished forger until he met gullible collector Michel Chasles. Through the 1860s Lucas sold Chasles thousands of phony letters by everyone from Plato to Louis the 14th, earning thousands of francs and touching off a firestorm among confused scholars. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll trace the career of the world’s most prolific forger.

We’ll also count Queen Elizabeth’s eggs and puzzle over a destroyed car.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 222: The Year Without a Summer

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

The eruption of Mount Tambora in 1815 was a disaster for the Dutch East Indies, but its astonishing consequences were felt around the world, blocking the sun and bringing cold, famine, and disease to millions of people from China to the United States. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review the volcano’s devastating effects and surprising legacy.

We’ll also appreciate an inverted aircraft and puzzle over a resourceful barber.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 221: The Mystery Man of Essex County

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In 1882, a mysterious man using a false name married and murdered a well-to-do widow in Essex County, New York. While awaiting the gallows he composed poems, an autobiography, and six enigmatic cryptograms that have never been solved. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll examine the strange case of Henry Debosnys, whose true identity remains a mystery.

We’ll also consider children’s food choices and puzzle over a surprising footrace.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 220: The Old Hero of Gettysburg

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1863, on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, a 69-year-old shoemaker took down his ancient musket and set out to shoot some rebels. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow John Burns’ adventures in that historic battle, which made him famous across the nation and won the praise of Abraham Lincoln.

We’ll also survey some wallabies and puzzle over some underlined 7s.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 219: The Greenbrier Ghost

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In 1897, shortly after Zona Shue was found dead in her West Virginia home, her mother went to the county prosecutor with a bizarre story. She said that her daughter had been murdered — and that her ghost had revealed the killer’s identity. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Greenbrier Ghost, one of the strangest courtroom dramas of the 19th century.

We’ll also consider whether cats are controlling us and puzzle over a delightful oblivion.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 218: Lost in the Amazon

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In 1769, a Peruvian noblewoman set out with 41 companions to join her husband in French Guiana. But a series of terrible misfortunes left her alone in the Amazon jungle. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Isabel Godin des Odonais on her harrowing adventure in the rain forest.

We’ll also learn where in the world “prices slippery traps” is and puzzle over an airport’s ingenuity.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 217: The Bone Wars

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The end of the Civil War opened a new era of fossil hunting in the American West — and a bitter feud between two rival paleontologists, who spent 20 years sabotaging one another in a constant struggle for supremacy. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Bone Wars, the greatest scientific feud of the 19th century.

We’ll also sympathize with Scunthorpe and puzzle over why a driver can’t drive.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 216: The Tromelin Island Castaways

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1761 a French schooner was shipwrecked in the Indian Ocean, leaving more than 200 people stranded on a tiny island. The crew departed in a makeshift boat, leaving 60 Malagasy slaves to fend for themselves and wait for rescue. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Tromelin Island castaways, which one observer calls “arguably the most extraordinary story of survival ever documented.”

We’ll also admire some hardworking cats and puzzle over a racer’s death.

See full show notes …