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Futility Closet

May 7, 2018

In 1921 a schooner ran aground on the treacherous shoals off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. When rescuers climbed aboard, they found signs of a strange drama in the ship's last moments -- and no trace of the 11-man crew. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll examine the curious case of the Carroll A. Deering, which has been called "one of the enduring mysteries of maritime history."

We'll also experiment with yellow fever and puzzle over a disputed time of death.


Benoni Lanctot's 1867 Chinese and English Phrase Book is not a model of cross-cultural comity.

In 1916 a bank director mailed 15,000 bricks to establish a new bank in Vernal, Utah.

Sources for our feature on the Carroll A. Deering:

Bland Simpson, Ghost Ship of Diamond Shoals, 2002.

Edward Rowe Snow, Mysteries and Adventures Along the Atlantic Coast, 1948.

David Stick, Graveyard of the Atlantic: Shipwrecks of the North Carolina Coast, 1952.

David H. Grover, "Baffling Mystery of Cape Hatteras' Twin Ship Disappearances," Sea Classics 40:6 (June 2007), 42.

David Grover, "Bedeviling Mystery of the Vanished Conestoga," Sea Classics 42:4 (April 2009), 42-49.

National Park Foundation, "The Legend of the Ghost Ship: Carroll A. Deering," Oct. 28, 2015.

National Park Service, "The Ghost Ship of the Outer Banks," April 14, 2015.

Richard Seamon, "Ghost Ship of Diamond Shoals: The Mystery of Carroll A. Deering," United States Naval Institute Proceedings 128:11 (November 2002), 82-84.

"3 U.S. Ships Vanish at Sea With Crews; Reds Blamed," New York Tribune, June 21, 1921.

"Piracy Suspected in Disappearance of 3 American Ships," New York Times, June 21, 1921.

"Ghost Ship Met Foul Play, U.S. Charges," Washington Times, June 21, 1921.

"Bath Owners Skeptical," New York Times, June 21, 1921.

"Schooner Deering Seized by Pirates Off the North Carolina Coast, Is Belief," Great Falls [Mont.] Tribune, June 22, 1921.

"Deering Skipper's Wife Caused Investigation," New York Times, June 22, 1921.

"More Ships Added to Mystery List," New York Times, June 22, 1921.

"Divided as to Theory About Missing Ships," New York Times, June 22, 1921.

"Are Pirates Afloat in North Atlantic? Is Question Asked," Union [S.C.] Times, June 23, 1921.

"Skipper's Daughter Holds Pirate Theory," New York Times, June 23, 1921.

"London Isn't Thrilled by Ship Mysteries," New York Times, June 25, 1921.

"Soviet Pirate Tale Declared a 'Fake,'" New York Times, Aug. 26, 1921.

Shaila Dewan, "A Journey Back in Maritime," New York Times, July 4, 2008.

Alyson Cunningham, "Schooner's Voyage Ends on Carolina Coast," [Salisbury, Md.] Daily Times, Feb. 26, 2014, 40.

"The 'Ghost Ship' Mysteries Yet to be Solved," Telegraph, Jan. 23, 2014.

Engineer James Steel took the above photograph of the Carroll A. Deering from the deck of the lightship off Cape Lookout, North Carolina, on Jan. 28, 1921.

Listener mail:

Wikipedia, "Self-Experimentation in Medicine" (accessed May 4, 2018).

Wikipedia, "Max Joseph von Pettenkofer" (accessed May 4, 2018).

Wikipedia, "Jesse William Lazear" (accessed May 4, 2018).

Kiona N. Smith, "The Epidemiologist Who Killed Himself for Science," Forbes, Sept. 25, 2017.

Neil A. Grauer, "'The Myth of Walter Reed,'" Washington Post, Aug. 26, 1997

Karin Brulliard, "Could a Bear Break Into That Cooler? Watch These Grizzlies Try," Washington Post, Nov. 29, 2017.

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listeners Neil de Carteret and Nala, 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!