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February 1, 2024 9 mins

Sometimes people are curious because of what they are born to be, and sometimes they are curious of who they later become. The two subjects of this episode are curios for both reasons.

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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. Okay,

I'll admit it. I'm a sucker for those videos about
animals forming unlikely friendships. I recently saw one where a
German shepherd raised a bunch of tiny, fluffy ducklings, and
the sheer amount of adorableness in that sixty second clip
has sustained me for the last two weeks. But of course,
dogs and ducks are not the only odd couples in
the world. I did a little digging around and I

found a story about one of history's most unlikely herrings,
a bond between a giant of literature and a literal giant.
The tale begins in nineteen fifty three in the small
French village of Mollan, about forty miles outside of Paris.
Samuel Beckett's, a famous Irish playwright, had just purchased some
land there, and Beckett arrived in France with quite a reputation.

You might recognize his name or the title of his
most famous play, Waiting for Goodot Beckett was one of
the biggest names in the absurdist theater, a genre that
explored existentialism, meaninglessness, and illogical nature in our world. He
went on to win the nineteen sixty nine Pulitzer Prize
in Literature for his work. In nineteen fifty three, though

he was just looking for a quiet place to write.
Beckett was a native English speaker, but a big Francophile.
He spent a lot of time in Paris and often
wrote plays in French, so that's why he decided to
buy land in the French countryside. Once he got there,
he realized that he was going to need help building
his cottage. He looked to hire some low craftsman, which

is how he met a man who lived just down
the street, a Belgian born handyman and farmer named Boris Russimov.
Boris was happy to offer his services while he worked
on building Beckett's new home. The men became close friends.
Even after the playwright's cottage was finished. They kept in
touch and Boris sometimes invited Beckett over to play cards.

One evening, the playwright sat at the handyman's kitchen table,
shuffling the deck. As Beckett dealt the cards, Boris confided
in him about something he was struggling with. He said
that his son, who was just twelve years old, wouldn't
stop growing. He wasn't even a teenager yet, but he
was already six feet two inches tall and weighed two
hundred and forty pounds. He was so big that he

didn't fit on the school bus, which meant that he
had to walk over a mile to class and back
every weekday, and Beckett's immediately offered to help. He said
that he drove a convertible. If he rolled the top down,
there would be plenty of room for Boris's son in
the passenger seat. From that point forward, Beckett picked Boris
his son up for school each morning and drove him
home each afternoon. This went on for two years until

the younger Rusimov quit school at the age of fourteen
to work on his dad's farm. Over the next few years,
Boris's son just kept growing. When he turned eighteen, he
was seven feet four inches tall and weighed over five
hundred pounds. As you might imagine, He was a huge
help around the farm. They was said that he could
do the work of three men all by himself. But

after four years of manual labor, he wanted to move on,
and it's hard to blame him. Boris's son knew that
his size made him unique. He dreamt of doing something
big no pun intended, like maybe working in showbiz. So
around nineteen sixty he packed up and he moved to Paris.
There he landed a job as a professional wrestler. After

establishing himself in France, he moved to the United States,
where he joined the Worldwide Wrestling Federation. He quickly became
an international star, but his fame would be on the
ring too. He also appeared in movies, most notably the
nineteen eighty seven classic The Princess Bride. You see. Boris's
Son's name was Andrey Russimov, better known as Andre the Giant.

While on set for The Princess Bride, Andrea talked about
Samuel Beckett driving him to school. It struck his co
stars as a bizarre connection. They asked Andre what he
and Beckett would talk about. I mean, you'd imagine the
Pulitzer Prize winning playwrights and a future wrestling star would
have plenty to discuss, right Well, Andre said that their
conversations were curiously limited. They never mentioned theater, or wrestling,

or existentialism. All they ever really talked about was the
game of cricket. In the FBI's vast collection of records,

there's a fifteen page file labeled with the name that
might surprise you Colonel har Lynn Sanders, as in the
man who turned his recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken into
a multimillion dollar fast food empire. Now you might be asking,
how did the founder of KFC end up in the
FBI's radar. Well, the story is a curious one. Indeed,

well starts at the beginning. In eighteen ninety. Sanders was
born on a farm in Indiana. His early years were
marked by struggle. His father died when he was six,
and his mother had to work multiple jobs to keep
the family afloat. As the oldest of three children, Sanders
was forced to step up. He started working on the
farm and cooking meals for his siblings at just seven

years old. I know this sounds like a setup for
his future career as a fried chicken salesman, but the
Colonel's path wasn't that simple. He had a long way
to go before becoming the white haired chef we know today.
When Sanders was twelve, his mom married another man. Apparently
this guy wasn't too fond of his step children, and
Sanders ended up leaving home. He found work on another

farm in Indiana, but life was tough. He went to
school in the mornings, then came home, fed the chickens,
and shut corn until eight or nine at night. When
he reached the seventh grade, thirteen year old Sanders decided
that he had had enough of the classroom. He quit
school and worked on the farm full time until he
was fifteen years old. Then he started job hopping. He

was a streetcar conductor, he joined the army. He worked
as a fireman, an insurance agent, a secretary, a steamboat operator,
a lighting manufacturer. If there was a job to be done,
Colonel Harlan Sanders would do it. In the nineteen thirties,
when Sanders was around forty years old, he started cooking
as a side hustle. At the time, he was working

at a vehicle service station on the edge of a
busy highway in Kentucky. He would cook food in the
back room and sell it to travelers who happened to
stop by, and the words soon spread that the Colonel's
fried chicken, okra and biscuits were worth pulling over for.
Seeing this as his newest job opportunity, Sanders quit the
service station and opened up his own restaurant, the first

ever KFC. Despite his flighty job history, he took this
new endeavor very seriously. A later profile in The New
Yorker outlined his goals, saying that the Colonel wanted to
create and I quote, fried chicken so golden and delicious
that it will bring tears to the eyes of a
grown man. Well, I don't know if the drumsticks moved
anyone to tears. It was clear that Colonel Sanders had

finally found his calling. Over the next few years, he
perfected his famous recipe, the one with eleven different herbs
and spices. Right then, for about two decades he focused
on expanding his business and establishing franchise locations. Colonel Sanders
had gone from an Indiana farmboy to a multi millionaire
chicken connoisseur. Now well into his sixties, he put on

that white suit, styled his white goatee and played the
part of a fast food mogul. But in his heart,
Sanders was still a simple countryman. He didn't love the
pressure of running such a large business. In nineteen sixty four,
he sold the company for a large one time payout
plus a modest yearly salary. And with plenty of money

and even more free time on his hands, the colonel
soon developed a curious new obsession. Chicken no longer occupied
his every waking thought. Instead, he spent an inordinate amount
of time thinking about j Edgar Hoover. At the time,
j Edgar Hoover was the director of the FBI. The
colonel was a big fan of his policies and his actions.
He took to writing what was essentially fan mail, sending

Hoover multiple letters of praise once he requested an autographed picture.
In nineteen seventy, he invited the FBI director to his
eightieth birthday party. If you're curious, it appears that j
Edgar Hoover did not attend the shindig. In fact, he
didn't seem to reciprocate the colonel's affections at all. Hoover
took every single one of those letters and just put
them into an FBI file. But here's the really strange part.

Although the file explicitly states that Colonel Sanders was never
the subject of an FBI investigation, multiple paragraphs have been redacted,
which leaves me wondering what's been covered up. Is it
the Colonel's recipe for perfect fried chicken or something more curious.

I 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 you can learn all about it over at the
Worldoflore dot com. And until next time, stay curious.

Aaron Mahnke's Cabinet of Curiosities News

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