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June 13, 2024 10 mins

Two curious searches, each with their own depth and focus. Enjoy this trip through the Cabinet.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to Aaron Manke's Cabinet of Curiosities, a production of
iHeartRadio and Grimm and Mild. Our world is full of
the unexplainable, and if history is an open book, all
of these amazing tales right there on display, just waiting
for us to explore. Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities.

(00:36):
If you live anywhere that gets really warm in the summers,
you know what a heat wave can do to your
blood pressure. Trying to work or even sleep when you're
covered with sweat is downright miserable. And the last thing
you want to deal with is other sticky, irritable people.
But when you can't escape your neighbors, when heat and
overcrowding get out of control, it creates a recipe for disaster,

(00:57):
and a single spark can sent an entire population spiraling
from frustration into madness. Allow me to set the scene
for you. It's May of two thousand and one in Delhi,
the capital of India and one of the most populous
cities in the world. May is the height of summer there,
and temperatures are creeping above one hundred and ten degrees fahrenheit.

(01:19):
You're at home, in your sweltering apartment with no air conditioning,
just a single electric fan humming away. As night falls,
you anxiously wonder if you're in for yet another sleepless night,
but you douse yourself in cold water, turn off the lights,
and try to ignore the heat. And then just as
you're starting to drift off, the power goes out. It's

(01:40):
a rolling blackout, a common measure on hot nights when
the grid is stretched past its breaking point. But now
you don't even have your fan, and the apartment is
starting to feel like a furnace. So what do you do?
Like many desperate people around the city, you climb out
onto the rooftop or balcony and try to sleep there.
It's still ridiculously hot, and now you've got the mosquitoes

(02:02):
to contend with, not to mention the risks of sleeping
outside in an overcrowded neighborhood, but at this point you're
desperate for sleep, so you stretch out and that's when
you hear it, a faint thumping sound, like something banging
on metal. As it grows louder, you realize that someone
is climbing up the drain pipe. Could it be a
neighbor from one of the other apartments. Who's gotten locked

(02:25):
out or is it thieves? Whatever it is, the sounds
keep getting louder until you can't bear the anticipation anymore.
You peer over the balcony. In your mind goes blank.
The person climbing toward you isn't a person at all.
It's a monkey or something with a distinctly ape like face.
It's between four and five feet tall, covered in shaggy

(02:48):
black fur, and wearing what looks like a motorcycle helmet.
It would be downright comical if it weren't for the
shiny metal claws on its fingertips, which are currently lashing
out straight toward you. The claws rake across your arms,
drawing blood. You fall back in horror and pain, but
the creature is already on the move. It leaps to
the next building, then down into the alleyway, where it

(03:10):
takes off into the darkness on rollerblades. It's a wild story, right.
The world is full of strange cryptids, but a rollerblading
monkey man hybrid with metal claws is definitely up there
for oddness. And if this were an isolated incident, it
would be easy to dismiss. But my friends it was
not not at all. On the first night, fifteen people

(03:33):
reported seeing the creature. Many of them sustained serious injuries
in the form of bruises, bites, and scratches, and things
only get worse from there. The following day there were
fifty attacks. Then the fatalities began. Two men fell to
their deaths from rooftops after screaming that they were being
pursued by the monkey Man. Newspapers dubbed it the Black Monkey.

(03:56):
They eagerly published the most sensational reports, alongside photos of
by and scratches. Fanning the flames of hysteria, bands of
vigilantes took to the streets, beating up anyone they deemed
suspiciously harry. Meanwhile, the phones of the Delhi police kept
ringing off the hook with sightings of the creature, and then,
after about two weeks, it all came to a screeching halt.

(04:18):
The calls slowed to a trickle, and the vigilantes went home. Oddly,
no suspects had been arrested. The monkey man, if there
ever was such a figure, was still at large, and
to this day the mystery has not been solved. So
what happened well, according to the official explanation it was
all the case of mass hysteria, which seems incredible considering

(04:39):
how many people it affected, But on closer inspection, there
wasn't much similarity between the many wounds that were treated.
Some could have been from stray dogs or rats, while
others might have been from normal monkeys. Deli boasts a
population of over twenty five thousand primates. After all, looking back,
maybe the monkey man really was a group delusion, induced

(05:00):
by stress and exacerbated by sensational tabloid reporting. But you
have to think the city's monkeys must have been dealing
with the heat as well, so maybe one of them
was having a really bad day and just needed a
way to cool off. In nineteen eighty four, amidst the

(05:30):
tumult of the Soviet Afghan War, photographer Steve McCurry embarked
on a mission. He was hired by National Geographic to
document the harrowing reality of refugee camps along the border
of Afghanistan and Pakistan. These camps provided a fragile sanctuary
for the displaced masses fleeting the war. McCurry's journey took
him through a labyrinthine network of thirty camps. One of

(05:53):
these camps, known as Nasir bag became the focal point
of his expedition. Established in nineteen eighty, Nasir Bog's population,
at one point reached one hundred thousand. As he walked
through the camp, McCurry stumbled upon a scene that altered
the course of his career. A small school for girls.
One of the fifteen girls stood out, a twelve year

(06:14):
old with piercing green eyes. When McCurry lifted his lens,
the girl shielded her face, a silent gesture of defiance
against a world that had turned its back on her plight.
But her teacher urged her to reveal herself. She wanted
the world to see. The girl complied, and in that
moment of vulnerability, McCurry captured an image that would reverberate

(06:35):
across the globe, a portrait of resilience and the suffering
of a nation torn apart by war. The photograph was
published in the June nineteen eighty five edition of National Geographic,
and because McCurry didn't have a translator with him that day,
he simply titled the photo the Afghan Girl. The young
girl didn't know it, but the photo made her the
poster child for her people's hardship. Something about her unreadable

(06:58):
gaze equally haunted and inspired viewers. Soon people around the
world began referring to this image as the Afghan Mona Lisa.
But for McCurry this was just the beginning. He returned
to Afghanistan throughout his career, and then in January of
two thousand and two, McCurry learned that the Nasir Bog
camp was being closed. He and a team from National

(07:20):
Geographic returned to the country once more, this time in
search of a girl who had changed the world. By now,
she'd be about thirty years old. When he arrived back
in Nasir Bag, McCurry spoke to many of the people
still there. With nothing but the photo of the Afghan
girl and the little information he had, he and his
team eventually found someone who claimed to know the woman's brother.

(07:42):
That person sent word to the family that McCurry was
looking for her. Finally, McCurry and his team were sent
to a remote region of Afghanistan. There, amidst the desolate
beauty of the landscape, they found her, a woman weathered
by time and circumstance, yet bearing the same steely resolved
that had captivated the photographer decades earlier. In that moment

(08:04):
of reunion, time seemed to stand still as McCurry beheld
the Afghan Girl once more. As he captured her image anew,
he was struck by the familiarity of her gaze. She
posed for the camera the same way she did all
those years before, face turned toward the lens, eyes lit
with resolve. Later IRIS recognition technology helped confirm that the

(08:26):
woman was indeed the Afghan Girl, and the world finally
learned her name as well, Sharbat Gula. She was a
mother and a widow, and although she recalled being photographed
in the nineteen eighties, it wasn't until she met McCurry
in two thousand and two that she laid eyes on
the iconic image. Seeing the photograph probably brought her back
to that painful time in her life. Her parents had

(08:48):
been killed when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and she traveled
to Nasir Bag by foot with her sister's brother and grandmother.
Gula's journey became a testament to the indomitable human spirit
in the face of adversity. For over a decade following
her meeting with McCurry, Gula continued to suffer displacement as
a result of the conflict in Afghanistan, but in twenty sixteen,

(09:11):
the Afghan government gifted her a house to call her home.
In the annals of history, the Afghan Girl remains more
than just a photograph. She is a symbol of the
enduring human spirit, and in the eyes of Steve McCurry,
she's a reminder of photography's power to transcend borders. I

(09:34):
hope you've enjoyed today's guided tour of the Cabinet of Curiosities.
Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, or learn more about
the show by visiting Curiosities podcast dot com. The show
was created by me Aaron Mankey in partnership with how
Stuff Works. I make another award winning show called Lore,
which is a podcast, book series, and television show, and

(09:56):
you can learn all about it over at the Worldolore
dot com. And until next time, stay curious.

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