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June 25, 2024 10 mins

Today's tour through the cabinet features two very different stories, joined together by the mysterious thread of language and code.

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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 are right there on display, just
waiting for us to explore. Welcome to the Cabinet of Curiosities.

Humans are social creatures. Ever since our ancestors first walked
on two legs, we've depended on each other to survive.
Not only that, but to thrive. We need people to
talk to, to relate to, to share our thoughts and
emotions with. Life is already hard enough. We don't want
to go it alone. Sometimes, though we don't have a choice,

we could be forced to venture out on our her own,
or we might be cast out of society, or sometimes,
like in the case of the Lone Woman of San Nicholas,
we are left behind. In the summer of eighteen fifty three,
hunter George Nidiver landed on the tiny windswept island of
San Nicholas, off the coast of southern California. He had

come to the island on a mission to finally find
the woman rumored to live there before long, they came
upon a small hut where two dogs growled at the intruders.
Sitting in the yard by a small cook fire was
a figure in a dark cloak. As she rose to
her feet to greet them, nidover realized that it was
a woman wearing a dress made from cormorant feathers, and

they were the first humans to interact with her in
nearly eighteen years. The Lone Woman of San Nicholas did
not begin her life in isolation. When she was born
in the early eighteen hundreds, she was a member of
the Nicolana. They were an indigenous group of about three
hundred people who had lived on the island for thousands
of years. Shortly after the Lone Woman's birth, their way

of life came to a violent end. In eighteen eleven,
a ship full of Russian and Native Alaskan seal hunters
landed on the island in search of first to trade.
A conflict broke out, and the Alaskans and Russians massacred
most of the Nicolinea men on the island. After they left,
the population dwindled until in eighteen thirty five, there were

only seven people left. That November, the missionaries in Santa
Barbara on the mainland sent a ship for the remaining Nicolinya's.
It might have been a humanitarian mission, seeing them struggling
after the massacre. It may also have been to claim
more converts for the Catholic Church and with that more
workers to labor at the mission. The sailors rounded up

six of the Nicolineas, but grew nervous when a storm
started to brew, so they cast off, leaving the seventh person,
a young woman, behind. It's hard to say what happened
to the woman during the next eighteen years, because when
she was finally contacted by night of her in eighteen
fifty three, she wasn't able to communicate. The only other
people who spoke her language, the other six Nicolanos had

either moved to Los Angeles or passed away. She could speak,
but no one could understand her. What we do know
about her is that she adapted well to solo life.
She hunted seals and seabirds, fished in the sea, and
foraged for roots on the island. She carved stone fish hooks,
woven fiber baskets, and even braided ropes of animal sinew.

Perhaps the hardest part of survival for her, though, was
the loneliness. She trained two wild dogs as pets, who
undoubtedly kept her company over the long years. Still it
must have been hard. San Nicholas was not a remote island.
On a clear day, she could likely see the other
nearby islands, even the mainland, but she couldn't reach them.
Night of HER's expedition spent several weeks on the island,

and the Lonely Woman grew to like them. It seemed
that even for her, the loneliness was getting to be
too much, so when Night of Her and his crew
set sail for Santa Barbara, she came with them. Just
weeks after leaving her island, The Lonely Woman contracted dysentery
while living on Santa Barbara. Shortly before death, the missionaries
baptized Herjuana Maria. Due to the language barrier, no one

ever learned her real name. Over the years, the story
of the Lone Woman inspired many, including Scott O'Dell, author
of the nineteen sixty novel The Island of the Blue Dolphins.
In recent years, however, a surprising twist has appeared in
her take. It seems that she was not alone. According
to new contemporaneous accounts unearthed by researchers, she may have

had a reason to stay behind. In eighteen thirty five,
a baby boy the lone woman allegedly remained on the
island to care for her son, and the two lived
together for years until the teenage boy was killed by
a shark attack. This is probably the reason why, after
years of hiding from visitors to Sant Nicholas, she finally
decided to come to Santa Barbara. For eighteen years, the

a woman and her son may have been alone, they
were never lonely. The fall of nineteen forty is often

remembered as the darkest hour of World War two. France
had just surrendered to the Nazis, the Allied forces had
evacuated from Dunkirk, and England stood alone as the only
major power facing Germany and Italy. In this moment of desperation,
when victory seemed impossible, some British intelligence officers looked to
the stars for hope, or at least, they turned to

a man who claimed to be able to read them.
His name was Lewis de Wall, a German born author
of Hungarian and Jewish descent who had fled to London
before the start of the war. After struggling for years
as a novelist and screenwriter, he found success as a
high society astrologer, performing private horoscope readings for wealthy clients.

His career really took off when he published a book
containing Hitler's horoscope. By analyzing the fearers star sign Taurus
with Libra Rising, he concluded that Hitler's success was all
thanks to the positions of heavenly bodies, especially Saturn and Jupiter.
Fortunately for the Allies, the stars foretold that Hitler's luck

was about to run out. The book sold like hotcakes
and eventually got the attention of mi I five, Britain's
domestic intelligence agency. They saw Dewall's work as a powerful
propaganda tool, which would be made even more effective by
bringing him on in an official capacity. Besides, it was
already widely believed that Hitler took advice from a team

of astrologers. Wasn't at high time that the Allies had
their own stargazer. Churchill decided that it was at least
worth a shot. Dewall was given a paycheck and an
office which he the Psychological Research Bureau. He took to
the role with Gusto strutting about London in his new
military uniform while continuing to published astrology essays that predicted

Germany's collapse. At least at first, that's all the intelligence
agencies wanted from him. They saw astrology as a way
of distracting the populace from the grim monotony of war,
and by encouraging Dwall to continue predicting Hitler's demise, they
could help him keep the nation's spirits up. But Dwall
wanted to be more than just a propaganda tool. He

badgered his handlers with suggestions, promising that he could help
them by predicting Hitler's next attack or by telling them
when they should attack, to catch Hitler at his most fearful,
and some of his superiors were eager to take him
up on the offer. As the director of Naval Intelligence argued,
you didn't have to believe in astrology to use it

against Germany. If Hitler was making decisions based on the
movements of stars and planets, then someone with Dewall knowledge
could get inside his head. But there was one major
flaw in this thinking. Hitler had already lost faith in
astrology after a falling out with a Cabinet member who
had supported its use. In nineteen forty one, he ordered

a purge of astrologers, occultists, and faith healers. His top
astrologer was arrested and sent to a concentration camp, dying
from the poor conditions before he even got there. As
a result, Duwal had very little useful insight into Hitler's mindset.
Few of his predictions panned out, and British intelligence quickly

lost faith in his value as a seer. MI five
documents reveal that he was internally viewed as a huckster
and a charlatan, possibly even a Nazi plant. To get
him out of their hair, they sent him on a
tour of the United States, where he gave a series
of presentations predicting Germany's defeat. It was far from the
impressive role Duwall wanted, but he did end up having

a massive impact on the war, even if he wasn't
aware the whole time that he was on their payroll.
You see, British intelligence used the wall as a smoke
screen to cover for work being done by their code breakers.
Whenever the Allies foiled an attack that they shouldn't have
known about or landed their troops at exactly the right place.
They spread the word that it was all thanks to

Dwall's psychological research Bureau. In reality, the Allies didn't need
astrology to predict Hitler's decisions. Alan Turing and a team
of British mathematicians had already cracked the German Enigma code,
allowing them to decipher messages radioed between Nazi commanders. The
team decoded thousands of messages each month for several years,

leading to critical Allied victories and ultimately shortening the war
by an estimated two to four years. Of course, if
the Nazis had known their code was cracked, they would
have stopped using it immediately. By serving as a plausible
cover to explain how the Allies were always one step ahead,
Dwall helped change the course of history. So, no matter

how many times his predictions missed the mark, he was
right about one thing. Hitler's defeat was indeed written in
the stars. 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.

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