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 this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll take a tour through some oddities and unanswered questions from our research, including whether a spider saved Frederick the Great’s life, a statue with the wrong face, and a spectacularly disaster-prone oil tanker.
We’ll also revisit the lost soldiers of World War I and puzzle over some curiously lethal ship cargo.
Seemingly safe in northern New England, the residents of St. Albans, Vermont, were astonished in October 1864 when a group of Confederate soldiers appeared in their midst, terrorizing residents, robbing banks, and stealing horses. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the St. Albans raid, the northernmost land action of the Civil War.
We’ll also learn about Charles Darwin’s misadventures at the equator and puzzle over a groundskeeper’s strange method of tending grass.
Early one morning in 1912, the residents of Villisca, Iowa, discovered a horrible scene: An entire family had been brutally murdered in their sleep. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the gruesome crime, which has baffled investigators for a hundred years.
We’ll also follow the further adventures of German sea ace Felix von Luckner and puzzle over some fickle bodyguards.
On June 23, 1858, the Catholic Church removed 6-year-old Edgardo Mortara from his family in Bologna. The reason they gave was surprising: The Mortaras were Jewish, and Edgardo had been secretly baptized. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of little Edgardo and learn how his family’s plight shaped the course of Italian history.
We’ll also hear Ben Franklin’s musings on cultural bigotry and puzzle over an unexpected soccer riot.
In 1862, slave Robert Smalls was working as a pilot aboard a Confederate transport ship in Charleston, S.C., when he siezed a unique chance to escape. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow his daring predawn journey, which rescued 17 people from slavery and changed the course of South Carolina history.
We’ll also reflect on justice for bears and puzzle over a hijacker’s surprising request.
A quarter million Frenchmen vanished in World War I, leaving their families no clue whether they were still alive. During these anxious years, a lone man appeared on a Lyon railway platform without memory, possessions, or identification. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the strange story of Anthelme Mangin, whose enigmatic case attracted hundreds of desperate families.
We’ll also consider some further oddities of constitutional history and puzzle over an unpopular baseball victory.
In the early days of English aviation, journalist C.C. Turner seemed to be everywhere, witnessing bold new feats and going on some harrowing adventures of his own. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll sample Turner’s record of Edwardian aviation, including his own clumsy first attempt to fly an airplane and a record-setting balloon voyage to Sweden.
We’ll also ponder the nuances of attempted murder and puzzle over a motel guest’s noisemaking.
In 1982, college sophomore Gregory Watson got a C on a term paper arguing that a long-forgotten constitutional amendment could still be ratified. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow his 10-year mission to prove his professor wrong and get the amendment added to the Constitution.
We’ll also learn an underhanded way to win a poetry contest and puzzle over how someone can murder a corpse.
In 1939, an ocean liner carrying 900 Jewish refugees left Nazi Germany seeking sanctuary in North America, but it was turned away by every nation it appealed to. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the so-called “voyage of the damned” and the plight of its increasingly desperate passengers.
We’ll also discuss the employment prospects for hermits in Seattle and puzzle over the contentment of a condemned woman.
In 1947, the price of a candy bar in British Columbia rose from 5 to 8 cents, and the local teenagers organized a surprisingly effective “strike” that soon spread across the country. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Canada’s unlikely “candy bar war,” which gripped the nation for 10 days before ending with a surprising twist.
We’ll also take a grueling automobile ride across 1903 America and puzzle over the intentions of a masked man.