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 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.
Anis Ramli, “Jim Thompson Found, 40 Years On,” Malaysian Business, May 1, 2009, 58.
“Thailand: Jim Thompson’s Legacy Lives On,” Asia News Monitor, Feb. 8, 2010.
Peter A. Jackson, “An American Death in Bangkok: The Murder of Darrell Berrigan and the Hybrid Origins of Gay Identity in 1960s Thailand,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 5:3 (1999), 361-411.
Mohd Haikal Mohd Isa, “Documentary Claims CPM Responsible for Jim Thompson’s Disappearance in Cameron Highland,” Malaysian National News Agency, Dec. 10, 2017.
Barry Broman, “Jim Thompson Was Killed by Malay Communists, Sources Say,” The Nation [Bangkok], Dec. 4, 2017.
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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 1912, 4-year-old Bobby Dunbar went missing during a family fishing trip in Louisiana. Eight months later, a boy matching his description appeared in Mississippi. But was it Bobby Dunbar? In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the dispute over the boy’s identity.
We’ll also contemplate a scholarship for idlers and puzzle over an ignorant army.
Sometimes in our research we come across stories that are regarded as true but that we can’t fully verify. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll share two such stories from the 1920s, about a pair of New York fruit dealers and a mythologized bank robber, and discuss the strength of the evidence behind them.
We’ll also salute a retiring cat and puzzle over a heartless spouse.
In 1939, as the shadow of war spread over Europe, British stockbroker Nicholas Winton helped to spirit hundreds of threatened children out of Czechoslovakia. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Winton’s struggle to save the children and the world’s eventual recognition of his achievements.
We’ll also consider some ghostly marriages and puzzle over a ship’s speed.
In 1829 a group of convicts commandeered a brig in Tasmania and set off across the Pacific, hoping to elude their pursuers and win their freedom. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the mutineers of the Cyprus and a striking new perspective on their adventure.
We’ll also consider a Flemish dog and puzzle over a multiplied Oscar.