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 311: A Disputed Russian Princess

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Russian_Imperial_Family_1913.jpg

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.

Intro:

In 1899, English engineer E.W. Barton-Wright introduced his own martial art.

One early American locomotive was driven by a horse walking on a belt.

Photo: The Russian royal family at Livadiya, Crimea, 1913, five years before the execution. Left to right: Olga, Maria, Nicholas II, Alexandra Fyodorovna, Anastasia, Alexei, and Tatiana. Sources for our feature on Anna Anderson:

Greg King and Penny Wilson, The Resurrection of the Romanovs: Anastasia, Anna Anderson, and the World’s Greatest Royal Mystery, 2010.

John Klier and Helen Mingay, The Quest for Anastasia: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Romanovs, 1999.

James B. Lovell, Anastasia: The Lost Princess, 1995.

Frances Welch, A Romanov Fantasy: Life at the Court of Anna Anderson, 2007.

Toby Saul, “Death of a Dynasty: How the Romanovs Met Their End,” National Geographic, July 20, 2018.

Alan Cooperman, “An Anastasia Verdict,” U.S. News & World Report 117:11 (Sept. 19, 1994), 20.

“What Really Happened to Russia’s Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov,” Haaretz, Dec. 27, 2018.

Nancy Bilyeau, “Will the Real Anastasia Romanov Please Stand Up?”, Town & Country, April 25, 2017.

“Is This Princess Alive?”, Life 38:7 (Feb. 14, 1955), 31-35.

Martin Sieff, “Romanov Mystery Finally Solved,” UPI, May 1, 2008.

“Amateurs Unravel Russia’s Last Royal Mystery,” New York Times, Nov. 24, 2007.

Lena Williams, “Chronicle,” New York Times, Oct. 6, 1994, D.24.

“Topics of The Times; Anastasia Lives,” New York Times, Sept. 11, 1994.

John Darnton, “Scientists Confirm Identification of Bones as Czar’s,” New York Times, July 10, 1993.

“Appeal in Anastasia Case Rejected in West Germany,” New York Times, Feb. 18, 1970.

“Appeal in Anastasia Mystery Is Rejected by Hamburg Court,” New York Times, March 1, 1967.

Arthur J. Olsenbonn, “Anastasia: Grand Duchess or Grand Hoax?”, New York Times, Aug. 24, 1958.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Franziska_schanzkowska_1913.jpg

Left: Franziska Schanzkowska in 1913. Right: Anna Anderson in 1920.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, “Lynmouth Flood” (accessed Sept. 2, 2020).

Wikipedia, “Project Cumulus” (accessed Sept. 2, 2020).

Wikipedia, “Philip Eden” (accessed Sept. 2, 2020).

John Vidal and Helen Weinstein, “RAF Rainmakers ‘Caused 1952 Flood,'” Guardian, Aug. 30, 2001.

Susan Borowski, “Despite Past Failures, Weather Modification Endures,” AAAS.org, Dec. 31, 2012.

“Rain-Making Link to Killer Floods,” BBC News, Aug. 30, 2001.

Laura Joint, “Lynmouth Flood Disaster,” BBC, Jan. 25, 2008.

Philip Eden, “The Day They Made It Rain,” Weather Online.

Locust Watch.

Sam Harrison, “The Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Rural France May Soon Be Protected by Law,” Atlas Obscura, July 28, 2020.

“Proposition de loi nº 2211 visant à définir et protéger le patrimoine sensoriel des campagnes françaises,” French National Assembly, Sept. 11, 2019.

“France: 74,000 Sign Petition Calling for Justice for Murdered Rooster,” Euronews, Aug. 17, 2020.

Agence France-Presse, “Justice Sought for Marcel, French Rooster Shot for Crowing,” Courthouse News Service, Aug. 17, 2020.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Jule Ann Wakeman.

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 310: The Case of Bobby Dunbar

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bobby_Dunbar_(1913).jpg

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.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 309: The ‘Grain of Salt’ Episode

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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.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 308: Nicholas Winton and the Czech Kindertransport

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

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.

Intro:

There’s a “technical version” of “A Visit From St. Nicholas.”

Critic A.E. Wilson translated Hamlet’s nunnery soliloquy into “Americanese.”

Sources for our feature on Nicholas Winton:

Barbara Winton, If It’s Not Impossible–: The Life of Sir Nicholas Winton, 2014.

William Chadwick, The Rescue of the Prague Refugees 1938-39, 2010.

Andrea Hammel and Bea Lewkowicz, The Kindertransport to Britain 1938/39: New Perspectives, 2012.

Rod Gragg, My Brother’s Keeper: Christians Who Risked All to Protect Jewish Targets of the Nazi Holocaust, 2016.

Ivan A. Backer, My Train to Freedom: A Jewish Boy’s Journey From Nazi Europe to a Life of Activism, 2016.

Laura E. Brade and Rose Holmes, “Troublesome Sainthood: Nicholas Winton and the Contested History of Child Rescue in Prague, 1938-1940,” History & Memory 29:1 (Spring/Summer 2017), 3-40.

Anna Hájková, “Marie Schmolka and the Group Effort,” History Today 68:12 (December 2018), 36-49.

Sona Patel, “Winton’s Children Share Their Stories,” New York Times, July 13, 2015.

“A Job Well Done; Nicholas Winton,” Economist 416:8946 (July 11, 2015), 82.

“Train Tribute to Holocaust ‘Hero’ Sir Nicholas Winton,” BBC News, July 9, 2015.

Alasdair Steven, “Sir Nicholas Winton,” Scotsman, July 7, 2015, 34.

Sarah Sedghi, “Sir Nicholas Winton, the Man Who Saved 669 Children From the Holocaust,” Australian Broadcasting Corporation, July 2, 2015.

“Sir Nicholas Winton,” Scotsman, July 2, 2015, 42.

Raymond Johnston, “Sir Nicholas Winton to Be Honored in US,” Prague Post, Sept. 25, 2013.

Robert D. McFadden, “Nicholas Winton, Rescuer of 669 Children From Holocaust, Dies at 106,” New York Times, July 1, 2015.

“Holocaust ‘Hero’ Sir Nicholas Winton Dies Aged 106,” BBC News, July 1, 2015.

Stephen Bates, “Sir Nicholas Winton Obituary,” Guardian, July 1, 2015.

Daniel Victor, “Nicholas Winton’s ‘Most Emotional Moment,'” New York Times, July 1, 2015.

Jake Flanagin, “Britain’s Schindler, a Reluctant Hero,” New York Times, July 10, 2014.

Caroline Sharples, “Winton [formerly Wertheim], Sir Nicholas George (Nicky),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Jan. 10, 2019.

“Sir Nicholas Winton,” Biography, July 16, 2015.

“Nicholas Winton and the Rescue of Children From Czechoslovakia, 1938–1939,” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (accessed Aug. 9, 2020).

Winton appeared twice on the BBC1 television series That’s Life!, on Feb. 27 and March 6, 1988. This video combines both appearances:

Listener mail:

“Did You Know Why Marrying Dead People Is Possible in France?”, The Local, Jan. 28, 2019.

Lizzy Davies, “French Woman Marries Dead Partner,” Guardian, Nov. 17, 2009.

Wikipedia, “Posthumous Marriage” (accessed Aug. 7, 2020).

Vicky Xiuzhong Xu and Bang Xiao, “Ghost Marriages: A 3,000-Year-Old Tradition of Wedding the Dead Is Still Thriving in Rural China,” ABC News, April 6, 2018.

Grace Tsoi, “China’s Ghost Weddings and Why They Can Be Deadly,” BBC News, Aug. 24, 2016.

Wikipedia, “Chinese Ghost Marriage” (accessed Aug. 7, 2020).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Ken Somolinos, who sent this corroborating link (warning — this 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 307: The Cyprus Mutiny

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Watercolour_of_the_brig_Cyprus_(1830).jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

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.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 306: The Inventor Who Disappeared

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Louis_Le_Prince,_1880s.jpg

In 1890, French inventor Louis Le Prince vanished just as he was preparing to debut his early motion pictures. He was never seen again. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll consider the possible causes of Le Prince’s disappearance and his place in the history of cinema.

We’ll also reflect on a murderous lawyer and puzzle over the vagaries of snake milking.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 305: Cast Away in the New World

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:New_Colorado_and_the_Santa_F%C3%A9_trail_(1881)_(14593961700).jpg

Marooned in Florida in 1528, four Spanish colonists made an extraordinary journey across the unexplored continent. Their experiences changed their conception of the New World and its people. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the remarkable odyssey of Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and his reformed perspective on the Spanish conquest.

We’ll also copy the Mona Lisa and puzzle over a deficient pinball machine.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 304: The Dog Who Joined the Navy

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Justnuisance.png

The only dog ever enlisted in the Royal Navy was a Great Dane who befriended the sailors of Cape Town in the 1930s. Given the rank of able seaman, he boosted the morale of British sailors around the world. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Just Nuisance and his adventures among the sailors who loved him.

We’ll also examine early concentration camps and puzzle over a weighty fashion.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 303: Camp Stark

https://pxhere.com/en/photo/621463

In 1943, the U.S. established a camp for German prisoners of war near the village of Stark in northern New Hampshire. After a rocky start, the relations between the prisoners and guards underwent a surprising change. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Camp Stark and the transforming power of human decency.

We’ll also check out some Canadian snakes and puzzle over some curious signs.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 302: The Galápagos Affair

https://www.si.edu/object/siris_arc_380988
Image: Smithsonian Institution Archives

In 1929 a German couple fled civilization to live on an uninhabited island in the Eastern Pacific. But other settlers soon followed, leading to strife, suspicion, and possibly murder. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Galápagos affair, a bizarre mystery that remains unsolved.

We’ll also meet another deadly doctor and puzzle over a posthumous marriage.

See full show notes …