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Futility Closet

Nov 27, 2017

Everett Ruess and Barbara Newhall Follett were born in March 1914 at opposite ends of the U.S. Both followed distinctly unusual lives as they pursued a love of writing. And both disappeared in their 20s, leaving no trace of their whereabouts. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the brief lives of two promising young authors and the mystery that lingers behind them.

We'll also patrol 10 Downing Street and puzzle over when a pigeon isn't a pigeon.


In the 1890s, tree-sized corkscrews were unearthed in Nebraska.

Pyrex vanishes when immersed in oil.

Sources for our feature on Everett Ruess and Barbara Newhall Follett:

W.L. Rusho, Everett Ruess: A Vagabond for Beauty, 1983.

Philip L. Fradkin, Everett Ruess: His Short Life, Mysterious Death, and Astonishing Afterlife, 2011.

David Roberts, "Finding Everett Ruess," National Geographic Adventure 11:3 (April/May 2009), 75-81,101-104.

Howard Berkes, "Mystery Endures: Remains Found Not Those of Artist," Weekend Edition Saturday, National Public Radio, Oct. 24, 2009.

Susan Spano, "Not Finding the Lost Explorer Everett Ruess," Smithsonian, Nov. 4, 2011.

Thomas H. Maugh II, "The Mystery of Everett Ruess' Disappearance Is Solved," Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2009.

Jodi Peterson, "Everett Ruess Redux," High Country News, April 30, 2013.

Peter Fish, "The Legend of Everett Ruess," Sunset 200:2 (February 1998), 18-21.

Bruce Berger, "American Eye: Genius of the Canyons," North American Review 274:3 (September 1989), 4-9.

Kirk Johnson, "Solution to a Longtime Mystery in Utah Is Questioned," New York Times, July 5, 2009, 13.

Kirk Johnson, "Bones in a Desert Unlock Decades-Old Secrets for 2 Families," New York Times, May 1, 2009, A14.

"A Mystery Thought Solved Is Now Renewed," New York Times, Oct. 22, 2009, A25.

"Lost Artist Believed Living With Sheepmen," Los Angeles Times, March 10, 1935, 15.

"Artist Believed Murder Victim," Los Angeles Times, Aug. 27, 1935, 9.

"Burros Found in Snow Spur Hunt for Artist," Los Angeles Times, March 5, 1935, A10.

"Flyer-Miner Joins Hunt for Artist Lost in Hills," Los Angeles Times, March 3, 1935, 3.

Norris Leap, "Utah Canyons Veil Fate of L.A. Poet: Everett Ruess' Literary, Artistic Promise Lost in His Beloved Wilderness 18 Years Ago," Los Angeles Times, June 15, 1952, B1.

Ann Japenga, "Loving the Land That Engulfed Him: New Interest in Young Man Who Vanished 53 Years Ago," Los Angeles Times, March 15, 1987, F1.

Harold Grier McCurdy, ed., Barbara: The Unconscious Autobiography of a Child Genius, 1966.

Paul Collins, "Vanishing Act," Lapham's Quarterly 4:1 (Winter 2011).

"Barbara Newhall Follett, Disappearing Child Genius," Weekend Edition Saturday, National Public Radio, December 18, 2010.

"Girl Novelist Held in San Francisco," New York Times, Sept. 21, 1929, 40.

Floyd J. Healey, "Freedom Lures Child Novelist," Los Angeles Times, Sept. 21, 1929, A8.

"Child Writer in Revolt," Los Angeles Times, Sept. 22, 1929, 8.

Listener mail:

Jane Mo, "Woman Wakes Up to Find 3 Bears Inside Her Car," KUSA, Oct. 4, 2017.

Sara Everingham, "Town Under Siege: 6,000 Camels to Be Shot," ABC News, Nov. 26, 2009.

Wikipedia, "10 Downing Street: Front Door and Entrance Hall" (accessed Nov. 25, 2017).

Molly Oldfield and John Mitchinson, "QI: Quite Interesting Facts About 10 Downing Street," Telegraph, May 29, 2012.

Wikipedia, "Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office" (accessed Nov. 25, 2017).

"Larry, Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office," (accessed Nov. 25, 2017).

"Purr-fect Ending Fur Humphrey!" BBC News, Nov. 25, 1997.

"'Pro-Cat Faction' Urges Downing Street Rat Rethink," BBC News, Jan. 25, 2011.

"No. 10 Has Its First Cat Since Humphrey," Reuters, Sept. 12, 2007.

Andy McSmith, "Farewell to the Original New Labour Cat," Independent, July 28, 2009.

Lizzie Dearden, "George Osborne's Family Cat Freya Sent Away From Downing Street to Kent," Independent, Nov. 9, 2014.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Doug Shaw, who sent this corroborating link (warning -- this spoils the puzzle).

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at Thanks for listening!