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 1880, freethinking attorney George Walser tried a new experiment in the American heartland — a community dedicated against Christianity, “the only town of its size in the world without a priest, preacher, saloon, God or hell.” In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast, we’ll tell the story of Liberal, Missouri — its founding, its confrontations with its Christian neighbors, and its ironic downfall.
We’ll also puzzle over how a woman can suddenly be 120 miles away in just a few minutes.
In 1820, the Nantucket whaleship Essex was attacked and sunk by an 85-foot sperm whale in the South Pacific, a thousand miles from land. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the attack, which left 20 men to undertake an impossible journey to South America in three small whaleboats.
We’ll also learn about an Australian athlete who shipped himself across the world in a box in 1964 and puzzle over an international traveler’s impressive feat of navigation.
After taking part in the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese fighter pilot Shigenori Nishikaichi crash-landed on the isolated Hawaiian island of Niihau. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll recount the six days of escalating drama that unfolded between the desperate pilot and the terrified islanders.
We’ll also hear a list of open questions from Greg’s research and puzzle over why a man can’t sell a solid gold letter opener.
In 1933, violinist Jelly d’Aranyi declared that the spirit of Robert Schumann was urging her to find a concerto that he’d written shortly before his death in 1856. In this episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the discovery of Schumann’s lost violin concerto, as well as a similar case in which a London widow claimed to receive new compositions from 12 dead composers.
We’ll also puzzle over how a man earns $250,000 for going on two cruises.
In 1972, Air Force navigator Gene Hambleton was shot down over enemy territory in Vietnam, and a ferocious offensive beat back every attempt to rescue him. In today’s show we’ll learn how his lifelong passion for golf became the key to his escape.
We’ll also learn about a videogame based on the Dyatlov Pass incident and puzzle over why a military force drops bombs on its friends.
Edmond Rostand’s hit play Cyrano de Bergerac met an unexpected obstacle in 1898 — a Chicago real estate developer who claimed that it plagiarized his own play. In this week’s podcast we’ll review the strange controversy and the surprising outcome of the lawsuit that followed.
We’ll also hear an update on the German author who popularized an American West that he had never seen and puzzle over a Civil War private who refuses to fight.
In 1876 London was riveted by the dramatic poisoning of a young barrister and the sordid revelations that emerged about his household. In today’s show we’ll review the baffling case of Charles Bravo’s murder, which Agatha Christie called “one of the most mysterious poisoning cases ever recorded.”
We’ll also get an update on career possibilities for garden hermits and puzzle over how the police know that a shooting death is not a homicide.
In 1915 San Diego hired “rainmaker” Charles Hatfield to relieve a four-year drought. After he set to work with his 23 secret chemicals, the skies opened and torrential rains caused some of the most extreme flooding in the city’s history. In this week’s podcast we’ll discuss the effects of “Hatfield’s flood” and ponder how to assign the credit or blame.
We’ll also puzzle over why a flagrant housebreaker doesn’t get prosecuted.
The discovery of the gruesome remains of a human body buried in a doctor’s cellar shocked London in 1910. In this week’s podcast we’ll recount the dramatic use of the recently invented wireless telegraph in capturing the main suspect in the crime.
We’ll also hear a letter that Winston Churchill wrote to Winston Churchill and puzzle over why a sober man is denied a second beer.