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Futility Closet

Greg Ross

Forgotten stories from the pages of history. Join us for surprising and curious tales from the past and challenge yourself with our lateral thinking puzzles.


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12/09/19 • 30 min

As the Civil War fractured Washington D.C., socialite Rose O'Neal Greenhow coordinated a vital spy ring to funnel information to the Confederates. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe one of the war's most unlikely spies, and her determination to aid the South.

We'll also fragment the queen's birthday and puzzle over a paid game of pinball.


German officer Ernst Jünger likened the sounds of World War I shelling to "being menaced by a man swinging a heavy hammer."

Bowdoin College compiled a list of odd how-to titles.

NOTE: After this episode was originally released, some listeners objected to our handling of Greenhow's story, saying that we were treating her too sympathetically when she was defending the institution of slavery. They're entirely right about that -- I had focused on her personal story without being sensitive to its larger implications. I'm very sorry for that oversight. We're presenting the story here as it originally ran, and we'll discuss listeners' reactions to it in Episode 279. -- Greg

Sources for our feature:

Ann Blackman, Wild Rose: Rose O'Neale Greenhow, Civil War Spy, 2006.

Ishbel Ross, Rebel Rose: Life of Rose O'Neal Greenhow, Confederate Spy, 1954.

Karen Abbott, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War, 2014.

Rose O'Neal Greenhow, My Imprisonment and the First Year of Abolition Rule at Washington, 1863.

H. Donald Winkler, Stealing Secrets: How a Few Daring Women Deceived Generals, Impacted Battles, and Altered the Course of the Civil War, 2010.

Michael J. Sulick, Spying in America: Espionage from the Revolutionary War to the Dawn of the Cold War, 2014.

Allan Pinkerton, The Spy of the Rebellion, 1886.

John Bakeless, Spies of the Confederacy, 2011.

Ernest B. Furgurson, "The End of Illusions," Smithsonian 42:4 (July/August 2011), 56-64.

Jack Finnegan, "Professional Results for an Amateur," Military History, suppl. "Spies and Secret Missions: A History of American Espionage" (2002), 34-35.

Nancy B. Samuelson, "Employment of Female Spies in the American Civil War," Minerva 7:3 (Dec. 31, 1989), 57.

"Seized Correspondence of Rose O'Neal Greenhow," U.S. National Archives (accessed Nov. 24, 2019).

Rose O'Neal Greenhow Papers, Special Collections Library, Duke University.

"The Wild Rose of Washington," New York Times, Aug. 22, 2011.

"Spy Loved, Died in Line of Duty," [Wilmington, N.C] Morning Star, Dec. 31, 1999, 23.

"Civil War Day by Day," Washington [D.C.] Herald, Sept. 30, 1914, 4.

"Fair Southern Spies," [Savannah, Ga.] Morning News, Sept. 29, 1896, 5.

"Blockade Running," [Winston, N.C.] Western Sentinel, Jan. 14, 1886.

"A Rich New Year's Gift," Yorkville [S.C.] Enquirer, Feb. 6, 1862, 1.

"The Female Traitors in Washington," New York Herald, Jan. 22, 1862, 2.

"Mrs. Greenhow's Indignant Letter to Mr. Seward," New York Herald, Dec. 16, 1861, 4.

Phyllis F. Field, "Greenhow, Rose O'Neal," American National Biography, February 2000.

Listener mail:

"Public Holidays in Western Australia," Government of Western Australia Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (accessed Nov. 27, 2019).

Wikipedia, "Oscar Wilde" (accessed Nov. 27, 2019).

Howard Markel,


12/09/19 • 30 min

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12/30/19 • 29 min

Here are six new lateral thinking puzzles -- play along with us as we try to untangle some perplexing situations using yes-or-no questions.


Ixonia, Wisconsin, was named at random.

Ben Franklin harnessed the power of long-term interest to make large gifts to Boston and Philadelphia.

The sources for this week's puzzles are below. In two places we've included links to further information -- these contain spoilers, so don't click until you've listened to the episode:

Puzzle #1 is from listener Gabriel Bizcarra.

Puzzle #2 is adapted from Paul Sloane and Des MacHale's 2014 book Remarkable Lateral Thinking Puzzles.

Puzzle #3 is from Greg.

Puzzle #4 is from listener Peter Quinn.

Puzzle #5 is from Greg. Here are two links.

Puzzle #6 is from Sharon. Two links.

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

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 [email protected]. Thanks for listening!


12/30/19 • 29 min

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11/04/19 • 32 min

In 1902, scam artist Cassie Chadwick convinced an Ohio lawyer that she was the illegitimate daughter of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. She parlayed this reputation into a life of unthinkable extravagance -- until her debts came due. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Chadwick's efforts to maintain the ruse -- and how she hoped to get away with it.

We'll also encounter a haunted tomb and puzzle over an exonerated merchant.


Inventor Otis L. Boucher offered a steel suit for soldiers during World War I.

The tippe top leaps up onto its stem when spun.

Sources for our feature on Cassie Chadwick:

Kerry Segrave, Women Swindlers in America, 1860-1920, 2014.

Alan F. Dutka, Misfortune on Cleveland's Millionaires' Row, 2015.

George C. Kohn, The New Encyclopedia of American Scandal, 2001.

William Henry Theobald, Defrauding the Government: True Tales of Smuggling, From the Note-book of a Confidential Agent of the United States Treasury, 1908.

Karen Abbott, "The High Priestess of Fraudulent Finance,", June 27, 2012.

"Chadwick, Cassie L.," Encyclopedia of Cleveland History (accessed Oct. 20, 2019).

Lindsay Kernohan, "Cassie Chadwick: A Very Double Life," Strathroy [Ontario] Age Dispatch, May 17, 2018, A7.

Sadie Stein, "Impostors Among Us," Town and Country, February 2017.

"Top 10 Imposters," Time, May 26, 2009.

"Mrs. Chadwick Measured," Poughkeepsie Journal, Dec. 30, 2004, C.1.

"Femme Fatale," D&B Reports 40:4 (July/August 1992), 47.

"Cassie Chadwick's Jewels," The Bankers Magazine 106:3 (March 1923), 551.

Arthur B. Reeve, "New and Old South Sea Bubbles," World's Work 41:1 (November 1920), 31-35.

C.P. Connolly, "Marvelous Cassie Chadwick," McClure's Magazine 48:1 (November 1916), 9-11, 65-71.

Walter Prichard Eaton, "The Gullible Rich," Munsey's Magazine 46:3 (December 1911), 335-340.

"Cassie Chadwick Fretted Life Away in Ohio Prison," Cañon City [Colo.] Record 30:42 (October 17, 1907), 12.

"Cassie Chadwick Dies in Prison," New York Times, Oct. 11, 1907.

"Mrs. Chadwick Broken Down," Chickasha [Indian Territory] Daily Express, Feb. 19, 1907.

"Mrs. Chadwick's Sentence," New York Times, March 28, 1905.

"Carnegie Sees Note; Laughs at Bad Spelling of Chadwick Trust Agreement," New York Times, March 6, 1905.

"Mr. Carnegie on Hand for Chadwick Trial," New York Times, March 5, 1905.

"Chadwick Indictments," New York Times, Feb. 22, 1905.

"Motion to Quash," St. John Daily Sun


11/04/19 • 32 min

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255-Death on the Ice

Futility Closet


07/01/19 • 34 min

In 1914, 132 sealers found themselves stranded on a North Atlantic icefield as a bitter blizzard approached. Thinly dressed and with little food, they faced a harrowing night on the ice. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Newfoundland sealing disaster, one of the most dramatic chapters in Canadian maritime history.

We'll also meet another battlefield dog and puzzle over a rejected necklace.


England has seen some curious cricket matches.

In 1940 two Australian planes collided in midair and landed as one.

Above: Crewmembers carry bodies aboard the Bellaventure. Sources for our feature on the 1914 sealing disaster:

Cassie Brown, Death on the Ice: The Great Newfoundland Sealing Disaster of 1914, 2015.

Melvin Baker, "The Struggle for Influence and Power: William Coaker, Abram Kean, and the Newfoundland Sealing Industry, 1908–1915," Newfoundland and Labrador Studies 28:1 (2013).

Willeen Keough, "(Re-) Telling Newfoundland Sealing Masculinity: Narrative and Counter-Narrative," Journal of the Canadian Historical Association/Revue de la Société historique du Canada 21:1 (2010), 131-150.

R.M. Kennedy, "National Dreams and Inconsolable Losses: The Burden of Melancholia in Newfoundland Culture," in Despite This Loss: Essays on Culture, Memory, and Identity in Newfoundland and Labrador, 2010, 103-116.

Kjell-G. Kjær, "Where Have All the Barque Rigged Sealers Gone?", Polar Record 44:3 (July 2008), 265-275.

Helen Peters, "Shannon Ryan, The Ice Hunters: A History of Newfoundland Sealing to 1914, Newfoundland History Series 8 [review]," Newfoundland and Labrador Studies 12:1 (1996).

Raymond Blake, "Sean Cadigan, Death on Two Fronts: National Tragedies and the Fate of Democracy in Newfoundland, 1914–34 [review]," Newfoundland and Labrador Studies 30:1 (2015).

Michael Harrington and Barbara Moon, "Tragedy on Ice: One of the Most Dramatic Disasters in Canadian History Occurred on the Newfoundland Ice Floes in 1914," Maclean's 113:48 (Nov. 27, 2000), 76.

"Disaster on the Ice," [Winnipeg] Beaver 89:3 (June/July 2009), 22-23.

Guy Ray, "Seal Wars," Canadian Geographic 120:2 (January/February 2000), 36-48.

Jenny Higgins, "1914 Sealing Disaster," The [Newfoundland and Labrador] Independent, April 1, 2011.

Sue Bailey, "Newfoundland Marks 1914 Sealing Disaster With Father and Son's Frozen Embrace," Guelph Mercury, March 30, 2014.

"Frozen Embrace to Mark 1914 Tragedy at Sea," Prince George [B.C.] Citizen, March 31, 2014, A.13.

"The 1914 Sealing Disaster: 100 Years Later," CBC News, March 30, 2014.

Francine Kopun, "Gale of 1914 Proved Deadly," Toronto Star, April 24, 2007, A8.

Tim B. Rogers, "The Sinking of the Southern Cross," [Winnipeg] Beaver 89:3 (June/July 2009), 16-22.

Alison Auld and Michael MacDonald, "Questions Raised About Coast Guard's Actions in Fatal Sealing Accident," Canadian Press, March 29, 2008.

Joanna Dawson, "Newfoundland's 1914 Sealing Disaster," Canada's History, March 31, 2014.

Sean T. Cadigan, "Tuff, George," Dictionary of Canadian Biography (accessed June 16, 2019).

"The 1914 Sealing Disaster," Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage (accessed June 16, 2019).

Wes Kean and the S.S. Newfoundland.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, "Rin Tin Tin" (accessed June 19, 2019).

Michael Schaub, "'Rin Tin Tin': The Dog Who Never Died," National Public Radio, Sept. 29, 2011.

Linda Holmes,


07/01/19 • 34 min

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296-The Little Giants

Futility Closet


05/18/20 • 32 min

In 1957, 14 boys from Monterrey, Mexico, walked into Texas to take part in a game of Little League baseball. What followed surprised and inspired two nations. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the Monterrey Industrials and their unlikely path into baseball history.

We'll also have dinner for one in Germany and puzzle over a deadly stick.


In a poetry contest, Mark Twain offered an entry of undeniable value.

Lewis Carroll composed a bewildering puzzle about a pig.

Sources for our feature on the Monterrey Industrials:

W. William Winokur, The Perfect Game, 2008.

Robin Van Auken, The Little League Baseball World Series, 2002.

Lance Van Auken, Play Ball!: The Story of Little League Baseball, 2001.

Jorge Iber, "Mexico: Baseball's Humble Beginnings to Budding Competitor," in George Gmelch and Daniel A. Nathan, eds., Baseball Beyond Our Borders: An International Pastime, 2017, 75–84.

Jim Morrison, "The Little League World Series' Only Perfect Game,", April 5, 2010.

Ramona Shelburne, "Giant Steps: A 12-Mile Walk to a Small Texas Town Started a Little League Championship Run for a Team From Monterrey, Mexico. Fifty Years Later, Its Story Is Retold," Los Angeles Daily News, Aug. 26, 2007, S.1.

Pablo Jaime Sáinz, "1957 Little League Champions Treated Like Heroes in San Diego," La Prensa San Diego, Nov. 24, 2010, 3.

Ben Brigandi, "Macias Returns to LLWS for Ceremony," Williamsport [Pa.] Sun-Gazette, Aug. 24, 2017.

"Reynosa Little Leaguers Inspired by 1957 Mexico Champions," Associated Press, Aug. 26, 2017.

Steve Wulf, "As Williamsport Opened Its Arms to Mexico's Team, Its Players Embraced the Legacy of Their Predecessors From Monterrey," ESPN, Aug 18, 2016.

"Cinderella Club Wins LL Crown," United Press, Aug. 24, 1957.

Michael Strauss, "88-Pounder Hope of Monterrey in Little League Series Today; Angel Macias, Ambidextrous, Is Team's No. 1 Pitcher, Batter and Fielder," New York Times, Aug. 22, 1957.

"Little League World Series Opens With Big-Time Pomp," [Kittanning, Pa.] Simpson's Leader-Times, Aug. 21, 1957, 13.

Michael Strauss, "Macias Hurls Perfect No-Hitter As Monterrey Captures Series," New York Times, Aug. 24, 1957.

Elaine Ayala, "Movie, Book Look Back at 'Perfect' Little League Game," My San Antonio, Sept. 2, 2009.

Reed Johnson, "'The Perfect Game' Dodged Many Curveballs En Route to Big Screen," Los Angeles Times, April 20, 2010.

"Pitcher Has Perfect Game As Taiwan Advances, 18-0," New York Times, Aug. 24, 1979.

Edward Wong, "Baseball: Bronx Team Wins Opener On Almonte's Perfect Game," New York Times, Aug. 19, 2001.

David Falkner, "Boys' Baseball and Men's Memories," New York Times, Aug. 20, 1986.

Marshall G. Most and Robert Rudd, "A Less Than Perfect Game, in a Less Than Perfect Place: The Critical Turn in Baseball Film," Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and A...


05/18/20 • 32 min

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05/11/20 • 33 min

In 1932, Yorkshireman Maurice Wilson chose a startling way to promote his mystical beliefs: He would fly to Mount Everest and climb it alone. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow Wilson's misguided adventure, which one writer called "the most incredible story in all the eventful history of Mount Everest."

Well also explore an enigmatic musician and puzzle over a mighty cola.


The Sanskrit epic poem Shishupala Vadha contains a palindrome that can be read in any of four directions.

Type designer Matthew Carter offered a typeface for public buildings that comes with its own graffiti.

Sources for our feature on Maurice Wilson:

Dennis Roberts, I'll Climb Mount Everest Alone: The Story of Maurice Wilson, 2013.

Scott Ellsworth, The World Beneath Their Feet: Mountaineering, Madness, and the Deadly Race to Summit the Himalayas, 2020.

Geoff Powter, Strange and Dangerous Dreams: The Fine Line Between Adventure and Madness, 2006.

Sherry B. Ortner, Life and Death on Mt. Everest: Sherpas and Himalayan Mountaineering, 2001.

Maurice Isserman, Stewart Angas Weaver, and Dee Molenaar, Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering From the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes, 2010.

Conrad Anker, The Call of Everest: The History, Science, and Future of the World's Tallest Peak, 2013.

Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air, 1998.

Eric Shipton, Upon That Mountain, 1943.

Martin Gutmann, "Wing and a Prayer," Climbing, Dec. 6, 2010.

Robert M. Kaplan, "Maurice Wilson’s Everest Quest," Quadrant, June 18, 2016.

T.S. Blakeney, "Maurice Wilson and Everest, 1934," Alpine Journal 70 (1965), 269-272.

John Cottrell, "The Madman of Everest," Sports Illustrated, April 30, 1973.

Audrey Salkeld, "The Struggle for Everest," Climbing 188 (Sept. 15, 1999), 108-116.

Colin Wells, "Everest the Mad Way," Climbing 224 (Sept. 15, 2003), 40-44.

Troy Lennon, "Deadly Lure of Being on Top of the World," [Surry Hills, N.S.W.] Daily Telegraph, May 26, 2006, 74.

Ed Douglas, "Rivals Race to Solve Everest Body Mystery," Guardian, May 15, 2004.

Graham Hoyland, "The Complete Guide to: Mount Everest," Independent, May 10, 2003.

Nick Ravo, "Charles Warren, 92; Introduced Top Sherpa to Everest Climbers," New York Times, May 3, 1999.

Eric E. Shipton, "Body of Climber Found on Everest," New York Times, March 23, 1936.

"Perishes in Effort to Scale Everest," [Hendersonville, N.C.] Times-News, July 27, 1934, 4.

"Briton Perishes High on Everest," New York Times, July 20, 1934.

"The Eccentric Everest Adventurer," Inside Out, BBC One, Sept. 24, 2014.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, "Sixto Rodriguez" (accessed April 27, 2020).

David Malitz, "'Searching for Sugar Man' Documentary Rediscovers Musician Sixto Rodriguez," Washington Post, July 26, 2012.

Alexis Petridis, "The Singer Who Came Back From the Dead," Guardian, Oct. 6, 2005.

Greg Myre, "In Tragic Twist to Poignant Tale, Oscar-Wi...


05/11/20 • 33 min

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06/15/20 • 30 min

In 1937, Englishwoman Ursula Graham Bower became fascinated by the Naga people of northeastern India. She was living among them when World War II broke out and Japan threatened to invade their land. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Bower's efforts to organize the Nagas against an unprecedented foe.

We'll also consider a self-censoring font and puzzle over some perplexing spacecraft.


In 1822 the Yorkshire Observer published the schedule of a bachelor's life.

In 1988 philosopher Edward J. Gracely offered a dilemma regarding a flight from hell.

Sources for our feature on Ursula Graham Bower:

Vicky Thomas, Naga Queen: Ursula Graham Bower and Her Jungle Warriors 1939-45, 2011.

Ursula Graham Bower, Naga Path, 1950.

Christopher Alan Bayly and Timothy Norman Harper, Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia, 1941-1945, 2005.

Nicholas van der Bijl, Sharing the Secret: The History of the Intelligence Corps 1940–2010, 2013.

Montgomery McFate, Military Anthropology: Soldiers, Scholars and Subjects at the Margins of Empire, 2018.

Annamaria Motrescu-Mayes and Heather Norris Nicholson, British Women Amateur Filmmakers, 2018.

Alex Lubin, Romance and Rights: The Politics of Interracial Intimacy, 1945-1954, 2009.

Margaret MacMillan, History's People: Personalities and the Past, 2015.

Andrew Jackson Waskey, "Bower, Ursula Graham," in Bernard A. Cook, ed., Women and War: A Historical Encyclopedia From Antiquity to the Present, 2006.

Paul Cheeseright, "Queen Without a Throne: Ursula Graham Bower and the Burma Campaign," Asian Affairs 45:2 (June 2014), 289-299.

Ajailiu Niumai, "Rani Gaidinliu: The Iconic Woman of Northeast India," Indian Journal of Gender Studies 25:3 (August 2018), 351-367.

Stuart Blackburn, "Colonial Contact in the 'Hidden Land': Oral History Among the Apatanis of Arunachal Pradesh," Indian Economic & Social History Review 40:3 (October 2003), 335-365.

Charles Allen, "Spirit of Roedean," Spectator, April 14, 2012.

dipanita nath, "Woman Who Came in From the Wild," Indian Express, Aug. 12, 2017.

Esha Roy, "My Mother, The Naga Warrior," Indian Express, Oct. 27, 2013.

Ved Mohendra, "A Bloody Battle to Remember," [Kuala Lumpur] New Straits Times, June 28, 2014, 16.

"Rays of a New Dawn in Nagaland," Assam Tribune, Nov. 26, 2012.

Mary Johnson Tweedy, "A Troubled, Far-Off Land," New York Times, Oct. 18, 1953.

"Blond Englishwoman, Naga Queen, Helped Fight Japs," Wilmington [N.C.] Morning Star, Dec. 8, 1944, 14.

Melissa van der Klugt, "Warrior Queen Ursula Graham Bower's Is Staged for Her Tribal Comrades," Sunday Times, Dec. 30, 2017.

Neha Kirpal, "Ursula the 'Jungle Queen': The Extraordinary Story of the Englishwoman Who Led Naga Soldiers in WWII," Scroll, Jan. 10, 2018.

"The Nagas: Hill Peoples of Northeast India," Cambridge Experimental Videodisc Project.

Martin Gienke, "Film Interviews With Leading Thinkers: Ursula Graham Bower," University of Cambridge, Nov. 4, 1985.

"Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood," Supplement to the London Gazette, April 20, 1945, 2166.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, "Sydney Harbour Bridge" (accessed June 4, 2020).

Sydney Harbour Bridge coat hanger.

"A Short History of the Sydney Harbour Bridge," New South Wales Government (accessed June 4, 2020).

Damien Mu...


06/15/20 • 30 min

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04/20/20 • 32 min

In 1927, Henry Ford decided to build a plantation in the Amazon to supply rubber for his auto company. The result was Fordlandia, an incongruous Midwestern-style town in the tropical rainforest. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the checkered history of Ford's curious project -- and what it revealed about his vision of society.

We'll also consider some lifesaving seagulls and puzzle over a false alarm.


In 1891, the Strand tried to notate the songs of English birds.

The third line of Gray’s Elegy can be rearranged in 11 different ways while retaining its sense.

Sources for our feature on Fordlandia:

Greg Grandin, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City, 2010.

Elizabeth D. Esch, The Color Line and the Assembly Line: Managing Race in the Ford Empire, 2018.

Stephen L. Nugent, The Rise and Fall of the Amazon Rubber Industry: An Historical Anthropology, 2017.

Tom W. Bell, Your Next Government?: From the Nation State to Stateless Nations, 2018.

Ralf Barkemeyer and Frank Figge, "Fordlândia: Corporate Citizenship or Corporate Colonialism," Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management 19:2 (2012), 69-78.

John Galey, "Industrialist in the Wilderness: Henry Ford's Amazon Venture," Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 21:2 (May 1979), 261-289.

Joseph A. Russell, "Fordlandia and Belterra, Rubber Plantations on the Tapajos River, Brazil," Economic Geography 18:2 (April 1942), 125-145.

Mary A. Dempsey, "Henry Ford's Amazonian Suburbia," Americas 48:2 (March/April 1996), 44.

Nathan J. Citino, "The Global Frontier: Comparative History and the Frontier-Borderlands Approach in American Foreign Relations," Diplomatic History 25:4 (Fall 2001), 677.

Anna Tsing, "Earth Stalked by Man," Cambridge Journal of Anthropology 34:1 (Spring 2016), 2-16.

Bill Nasson, "Fording the Amazon," South African Journal of Science 106:5-6 (2010), 1-2.

Simon Romero, "Deep in Brazil's Amazon, Exploring the Ruins of Ford's Fantasyland," New York Times, Feb. 20, 2017.

Drew Reed, "Lost Cities #10: Fordlandia – The Failure of Henry Ford's Utopian City in the Amazon," Guardian, Aug. 19, 2016.

Greg Grandin, "Henry Ford's Jungle Folly," Sunday Telegraph, Jan. 31, 2010, 14.

Ben Macintyre, "Dearborn-on-Amazon," New York Times, July 16, 2009.

Mary A. Dempsey, "Trailing Henry Ford in Amazon Forest," Globe and Mail, Aug. 20, 1994, F.7.

"Brazil to Take Over Ford Rubber Lands," Associated Press, Dec. 26, 1945.

"Brazil May Grow Rubber for U.S.," Wilmington [N.C.] Morning Star, Feb. 19, 1942.

Thomas R. Henry, "Of Stars, Men, and Atoms," [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star, Feb. 7, 1942.

"Fordlandia to Get Labor; Brazil Prepares to Send Men to Rubber Plantation," New York Times, Aug. 22, 1940.

"Fordlandia Built in Brazil's...


04/20/20 • 32 min

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05/25/20 • 32 min

In the 1930s, Sinto boxer Johann Trollmann was reaching the peak of his career when the Nazis declared his ethnic inferiority. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Trollmann's stand against an intolerant ideology and the price he paid for his fame.

We'll also consider a British concentration camp and puzzle over some mysterious towers.


In 1872 Edward Lear offered a recipe for "Gosky Patties."

In 1927, engineer Edward R. Armstrong proposed a string of floating airports to link Europe and America.

Sources for our feature on Johann Trollmann:

Jud Nirenberg, Johann Trollmann and Romani Resistance to the Nazis, 2016.

Andrea Pitzer, One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps, 2017.

Susan Tebbutt, "Piecing Together the Jigsaw: The History of the Sinti and Roma in Germany," in Susan Tebbutt, ed., Sinti and Roma: Gypsies in German-Speaking Society and Literature, 1998.

Theodoros Alexandridis, "Let's See Action," Roma Rights Quarterly 4 (2007), 95-97.

Linde Apel, "Stumbling Blocks in Germany," Rethinking History 18:2 (June 2014), 181-194.

Sybil Milton, "Sinti and Roma in Twentieth-Century Austria and Germany," German Studies Review 23:2 (May 2000), 317-331.

Paweł Wolski, "Excessive Masculinity: Boxer Narratives in Holocaust Literature," Teksty Drugie 2 (2017), 209-229.

Michaela Grobbel, "Crossing Borders of Different Kinds: Roma Theater in Vienna," Journal of Austrian Studies 48:1 (Spring 2015), 1-26.

Rainer Schulze, "Johann 'Rukeli' Trollmann," Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (accessed May 10, 2020).

Christina Newland, "Gypsy in the Ring: The Brave Life of Johann 'Rukeli' Trollmann," Fightland, Vice, July 25, 2016.

Rainer Schulze, "Punching Above Its Weight," Times Higher Education 2232 (Dec. 3, 2015).

Carol Sanders, "Boxers Have Long History of Fighting for Human Rights," Winnipeg Free Press, May 25, 2015, A.10.

A.J. Goldmann, "Memorials: Remembering the Resistance," Wall Street Journal, Aug. 26, 2014, D.5.

Alexandra Hudson, "Germany Finally Commemorates Roma Victims of Holocaust," Reuters, Oct. 23, 2012.

Von Siobhán Dowling, "Monument Honors Sinti Boxer Murdered by the Nazis," Spiegel, June 30, 2010.

Trollmann's professional boxing record.

Listener mail:

Megan Gannon, "'Forgotten' Nazi Camp on British Soil Revealed by Archaeologists," National Geographic, March 30, 2020.

Mindy Weisberger, "Hidden Atrocities of Nazis at Concentration Camp on British Island Finally Come to Light," Live Science, April 1, 2020.

Amy Brunskill, "Alderney's Concentration Camp Uncovered," Current Archaeology, May 12, 2020.

"Only Nazi Concentration Camp on British Soil May Be Protected," BBC News, March 10, 2015.

Alex Fox, "Archaeologists Reveal the Hidden Horrors of Only Nazi SS Camp on British Soil,", April 1, 2020.

Caroline Sturdy Colls, Janos Kerti, and Kevin Colls, "Tormented Alderney: Archaeological Investigations of the Nazi Labour and Concentration Camp of Sylt," Antiquity 94:374 (2020), 512-532.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was devised by Greg, based on an item in Rebecca Zurier's 1991 book The Firehouse: An Architectural and Social History.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on


05/25/20 • 32 min

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293-Lennie Gwyther

Futility Closet


04/27/20 • 30 min

In 1932, 9-year-old Lennie Gwyther set out to ride a thousand kilometers to see the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Along the way he became a symbol of Australian grit and determination. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of Lennie's journey, and what it meant to a struggling nation.

We'll also recall a Moscow hostage crisis and puzzle over a surprising attack.


Japanese detective novelist Edogawa Rampo's name is a phonetic homage.

Samuel Barber decided his future at age 9.

Sources for our feature on Lennie Gwyther:

Peter Lalor, The Bridge: The Epic Story of an Australian Icon -- The Sydney Harbour Bridge, 2006.

Stephanie Owen Reeder, Lennie the Legend: Solo to Sydney by Pony, 2015.

Susan Carson, "Spun From Four Horizons: Re-Writing the Sydney Harbour Bridge," Journal of Australian Studies 33:4 (2009), 417-429.

Paul Genoni, "The Sydney Harbour Bridge: From Modernity to Post-Modernity in Australian Fiction," Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature 12 (2012), 1-12.

"Lennie's Sister Thanks the Community in a Book," South Gippsland Sentinel-Times, Dec. 13, 2018.

Rachael Lucas, "Leongatha's Legendary 9yo Lennie Gwyther Garners a Statue for Epic Sydney Harbour Bridge Pony Ride," ABC Gippsland, Oct. 18, 2017.

Peter Lalor, "Salute for Bridge Boy Who Rode Into History," Weekend Australian, Oct. 14, 2017, 5.

Alexandra Laskie, "Lennie Gwyther's Solo Ride From Leongatha to Sydney Remembered," [Melbourne] Weekly Times, Oct. 13, 2017.

Jessica Anstice, "Lennie's Statue to Be Revealed," Great Southern Star, Oct. 10, 2017.

Yvonne Gardiner, "Lennie's Famous Ride Adds a New Bronzed Chapter," Queensland Times, June 15, 2017.

"Immortalising Lennie," South Gippsland Sentinel-Times, March 1, 2016.

Carolyn Webb, "The Nine-Year-Old Who Rode a Pony 1000km to Sydney," Sydney Morning Herald, Jan. 22, 2015.

Neil Kearney, "Little Lennie the Toast of a Nation," [Melbourne] Herald Sun, March 17, 2007, 33.

Michelle Cazzulino, "The Boy Who Rode 1400km to See Our Bridge," [Surry Hills, N.S.W.] Daily Telegraph, March 12, 2007, 11.

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"A Ride Into History," [Surry Hills, N.S.W.] Sunday Telegraph, Oct. 16, 2005, 91.

"Lennie Gwyther's Long Ride Ended," Bombala [N.S.W.] Times, June 17, 1932, 1.

"Lennie Gwyther Home," Lockhart [N.S.W.] Review and Oaklands Advertiser, June 14, 1932, 2.

"Lennie Gwyther," Sydney Morning Herald, June 11, 1932, 18.

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04/27/20 • 30 min

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How many episodes does Futility Closet have?

Futility Closet currently has 365 episodes available.

What topics does Futility Closet cover?

The podcast is about History and Podcasts.

What is the most popular episode on Futility Closet?

The episode title '276-An Unlikely Confederate Spy' is the most popular.

What is the average episode length on Futility Closet?

The average episode length on Futility Closet is 33 minutes.

How often are episodes of Futility Closet released?

Episodes of Futility Closet are typically released every 7 days.

When was the first episode of Futility Closet?

The first episode of Futility Closet was released on Mar 14, 2014.

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