The Sea Devil: the gentleman pirate who made friends of his enemies in World War I


Felix von Luckner was a romantic hero in the Great War, a dashing nobleman who commanded an old-style sailing ship. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Luckner's uniquely civilized approach to warfare, which won admiration even from his enemies.

We'll also puzzle over how a product intended to prevent drug abuse ends up encouraging it.

Show notes

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LISTEN: Charley Parkhurst's Secret

drawing of face

One of the most fearless and admired stagecoach drivers of the Wild West was discovered after death to be a woman.

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LISTEN: Back From the Dead?

Was an Australian butcher really a long-lost English aristocrat?

The Strange Misadventures of Famous Corpses

Being well known can make it harder to rest in peace.

LISTEN: Godless in Missouri

What happens to a town founded explicitly to reject Christianity?

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LISTEN: Sunk by a Whale

Follow the desperate journey of 20 surviving seamen stranded a thousand miles from land.

LISTEN: Lateral Thinking Puzzles


Here are four new lateral thinking puzzles to test your wits! Read the rest

LISTEN: The Niihau Incident

What happens when a Japanese fighter pilot crash-lands on a remote Hawaiian island after the attack on Pearl Harbor?

LISTEN: Composing Beyond the Grave


Did the spirits of dead composers contact British medium Rosemary Brown to dictate new music?

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LISTEN: How the U.S. Air Force rescued a downed navigator

When the largest rescue operation of the Vietnam War failed to reach downed navigator Gene Hambleton, how did his lifelong passion for golf become the key to his rescue?

LISTEN: Was Cyrano de Bergerac plagiarized from a Chicago real estate developer?

That being the highly successful French play.

LISTEN: Murder at the Priory

Can you solve "the prize puzzle of British criminal jurisprudence"?

LISTEN: Was "rainmaker" Charles Hatfield responsible for San Diego's calamitous flood of 1916?

Coincidence, correlation, or something else?

LISTEN: Marconi Catches a Murderer

Dew and Crippen

In 1910 Scotland Yard exploited a new invention, the wireless telegraph, to capture the main suspect in a gruesome murder. Read the rest

LISTEN: The Strange Custom of Garden Hermits

We explore an odd custom: how, in the 1700s, English landowners would pay people to live in primitive isolation on their estates.

LISTEN: The Day They Hanged an Elephant

In 1916 an American circus elephant named Mary was hanged from a railroad crane before a crowd of 3,000 onlookers. Read the rest

LISTEN: The Wizard of Mauritius: The Man Who Could See Beyond the Horizon

In 1764 a French engineer on a tiny African island claimed that he could see ships beyond the horizon. Read the rest

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