Roman Mars: This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.

During this holiday season, we have a special episode with 2 stories from one of my favorite writers, Jon Mooallem. He is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and also a writer-at-large for Pop-Up Magazine, and we’re lucky to have had him on the show a few times. The first story is about the origin of the teddy bear and its would-be successor and we also have this encore presentation of “Wild Ones Live”, the song and story extravaganza that’s probably my favorite thing that we’ve broadcast and it deserves to be listened to numerous times. Here we go. 


Roman Mars: It’s totally unfair. Hydrox cookies came out in 1908. Oreos didn’t show up until four years later, but it didn’t matter. Hydrox could never shake the image of being a knock-off, an ‘also-ran.’ Hydrox lovers would champion its tangier cream filling. Vegetarians would praise them for being cruelty-free, while America’s favorite cookie, the Oreo, contained animal lard until the mid-90s. As a consumer product, it’s just not up to you. Sometimes you’re deemed the mighty Transformer, and sometimes you’re the loathsome Gobot.

Optimus Prime (from Transformers): “One shall stand and one shall fall!”

Roman Mars: It’s capricious who wins. Swiss cake roll vs. Ho-ho. Twizzlers vs. Red Vine. Maybe yours was the first family on the block with the technologically-savvy, superior Betamax player, only to be overwhelmed by the mediocre VHS tape. Sometimes it doesn’t make any sense at all. But sometimes it does.

Jon Mooallem: I’m Jon Mooallem.

Roman Mars: Jon is a writer with the New York Times Magazine and a writer for Pop -Up Magazine, the live magazine in San Francisco where this story first appeared.

Jon Mooallem: Right, so it’s 1902 and Theodore Roosevelt is president-

Roman Mars: And he decides to vacation in a town called Smedes in the Mississippi woods, where he can hunt black bear.

Jon Mooallem: He’s a big outdoorsman. Big hunter.

Roman Mars: And this hunting trip became kind of a famous story.

Jon Mooallem: Basically he had spent a few days hunting and I don’t think they even saw a single bear. They definitely didn’t get to shoot at any. And then one morning, the dogs get the scent of a bear and they follow it down to this really weedy place where the president’s guide says, “You know what? Don’t bother going in there and troubling yourself. I’ll go in there and I’ll flush the bear out. You just stay here and I’ll flush it right to you.

Roman Mars: So Roosevelt waits and waits. But then he gets bored and decides to go off and eat lunch.

Jon Mooallem: Eventually the dogs do corner the bear. And the guide, not really knowing what to do, leaps off his horse, cracks the bear over the head with the butt of his rifle, knocks it unconscious or semi-unconscious and ties it to a tree. And then starts blowing away on his bugle, trying to call Roosevelt back so the president can be the one who has the honor of shooting it.

Roman Mars: Roosevelt hears the bugle and makes his way back to the hunting party.

Jon Mooallem: And what he finds is this bear. It’s a female bear. It weighs about 235 pounds. And it’s tied to a tree. It’s still semi-conscious, it’s injured. It looks a little mangy. Probably about half as heavy and big as it should be, but there’s been a real drought going on in the area.

Roman Mars: The bear looks pathetic. And Roosevelt takes pity on it.

Jon Mooallem: He decides it’s unsportsmanlike to shoot this thing. You know, he’s not going to do and he doesn’t want anyone else to do it either. So he lowers his gun and in this sort of merciful moment. And word of this spreads and a political cartoonist draws a cartoon of the moment of him, you know, showing the bear this mercy. And the way the cartoonist draws the bear is almost like a little labrador puppy or a golden retriever puppy. It’s sort of on its butt, on its hind legs, and it’s got these big, round, perked-up ears, almost like Mickey Mouse. And these big wide eyes and it’s staring at the president, waiting to see what its fate will be.

Roman Mars: The cartoon was called “Drawing the Line in Mississippi.”

Jon Mooallem: And from that, basically, spawned the teddy bear. This adorable little bear in the cartoon was turned into a three-dimensional plush toy.

Roman Mars: The very first teddy bear was either made by a German company called Steiff, or a Brooklyn toy store owner, depending on who you ask.

Jon Mooallem: And they name it after Theodore Roosevelt. They call it “Teddy’s Bear.”

Roman Mars: It’s a huge sensation.

Jon Mooallem: And it’s actually more popular than baby dolls, which freaks everyone out a little bit. You know, why should their children be playing with bears and not dolls? It’s a little savage. And within a few years, I think Steiff is close to producing close to a million teddy bears a year and shipping them to the US.

Roman Mars: But it was considered so bizarre that kids would play with a stuffed bear that people just assumed it was a novelty. And as soon as Roosevelt left office, no one would want them anymore.

Jon Mooallem: And at this time, the whole idea of mass-produced toys was also really new. So the toy industry wanted to capitalize on its rally and keep it going. So it was really looking for whatever was going to be the next cuddly plaything that American kids were going to want. Though it had no idea what that might be.

Roman Mars: So fast forward to 1909. And Roosevelt’s term is about up. And the president-elect is Roosevelt’s handpicked successor, William Howard Taft.

Jon Mooallem: And that January, January 1909, Taft is in Atlanta. He’s trying to woo the South. Trying to convince them that his administration is going to, you know, take them seriously as a constituency. And he’s the guest of honor at this banquet.

Roman Mars: And the chamber of commerce in Atlanta decides it’s going to serve him the truest, most unpretentious southern dish around.

Jon Mooallem: It’s something that a writer of the time- I found this little book about southern food from the time- calls it the “Christmas goose of the epicurean negro.”

Roman Mars: The meal was ‘possum and ‘taters.

Jon Mooallem: And what it was was an opossum would be roasted on a bed of sweet potatoes, and then presented whole on a platter, with its head on and tail on, and often you’d get a smaller, little sweet potato crammed between the animal’s teeth. 50 teeth.

Roman Mars: By the way, 50 teeth is apparently the most teeth of any North American mammal.

Jon Mooallem: Which is fascinating. In the end, the one that they brought to Taft’s table weighed 18 pounds. All of a sudden, the orchestra strikes up and the guests burst into song. Suddenly Taft is presented with this surprise gift. And it’s a small, stuffed opossum toy.

Roman Mars: And this is a brand new invention that some local Taft supporters are trying to position as William Taft’s presidency’s answer to the teddy bear.

Jon Mooallem: They’re calling it the “Billy Possum.” Already there was a company set up called the Georgia Billy Possum Company. According to one account, within 24 hours of that banquet, there were already deals being brokered for Billy Possums with distributors across the country. In covering the banquet, the LA Times announced that “The teddy bear has been relegated to seat in the rear, and for four years, possibly eight, the children of the United States will play with billy possums.”

Roman Mars: So from then on, a little bit of possum-mania started. There were billy possum postcards.

Jon Mooallem: Billy possum pins, billy possum pitchers for your cream when you had coffee. There was a ragtime tune called Possum: The Latest Craze. As Taft traveled around the south, some people actually started giving him live opossums in cages when he would make public appearances. Sort of handing them over like they were floral bouquets.

Roman Mars: Soon, billy possums were in toy stores from New York to San Francisco.

Jon Mooallem: Because real opossums weren’t that common in cities then and no one really knew what they were. A toy store in Brooklyn ran an in-store promotion with a live, captive opossum that they could show off to kids so that kids could familiarize themselves with what this new animal they were going to be best friends with was. I found an advertisement for this story that read, “Do not let it be said that any man, woman, or child in Brooklyn has not seen the cute little animal whose name is mentioned more in all parts of the world today than any other.” Previously there had been poems in newspapers sort of mourning the passing of the dolls and how sad it was that these teddy bears were coming into nurseries and vanquishing them. And now there were poems in newspapers about billy possums displacing teddy bears.

Roman Mars: But since you probably never heard of a billy possum, you can get what comes next.

Jon Mooallem: It was a total flop. And the billy possum was forgotten and almost entirely out of stores within a couple of months. So in other words, the billy possum never even made it to see Christmas time. Which is a special kind of tragedy for a toy.

Roman Mars: There are several possible explanations as to why the billy possum never took off. The first, and probably what you’re thinking right now is this: opossums are ugly and nobody likes them! But it was also the dawn of the mechanical toy. And even some teddy bears had evolved into windup animations.

Jon Mooallem: There was a French-made teddy bear that “winds up and is calculated to indulge in a number of ludicrous somersaults.”

Roman Mars: How could a limp, stuffed bill possum compete with that? But Jon Mooallem argues that, at its heart, the acceptance of teddy bear and the rejection of billy possum comes down to their origin stories.

Jon Mooallem: In the story that was told about Roosevelt and this bear, it was a very kind of tender moment, where Roosevelt was showing the bear mercy and when you looked at that cartoon, the way the bear was drawn, it looked like something you just want to sweep up into your arms and take care of and that was vulnerable and that needed your help.

Roman Mars: It looked like a teddy bear as we know it. Though no one knew it at the time.

Jon Mooallem: The story with Taft, it didn’t give it anything else. You know, Taft ate his possum for supper. And he ate a lot of it, and he ate so much that after his first several helpings, a doctor seated nearby apparently passed him a note suggesting it might be a good idea if he slowed down a little.

Roman Mars: Taft even bragged to reporters the next day about how much possum he consumed.

Jon Mooallem: “Well I like opossum and I ate very heartily of it last night. And it did not disturb in the slightest my digestion or my sleep.”

Roman Mars: The possum was vulnerable, I guess, splayed out on a bed of taters, but you’re not exactly rooting for it.

Jon Mooallem: I started feeling really bad for Taft, who, the more I read about him, he was this totally colorless politician and he didn’t even actually want to be president by some accounts. He was actually strong-armed into it by Roosevelt and he never really measured up to Roosevelt’s charisma and charm. I mean Roosevelt was the kind of guy, you know, no matter what he did, history seemed eager to glorify him for it.

Roman Mars: Case in point, the messed up thing about the famous story of Teddy’s bear on that hunting trip in Mississippi, is it isn’t even the whole truth.

Jon Mooallem: You have to remember that Roosevelt was a hunter. He was there to hunt bears. He wasn’t a PETA activist or something like this. While he did show the bear mercy, it was a very particular kind of mercy. After he refused to shoot it, he said, “put it out of its misery.” And one of his hunting buddies came and slit the bear’s neck open with a knife. They carried the bear’s body back to camp over the back of a horse and they basically ate off it for the next several days. And on the last night of their trip, they finished it off. They roasted its paws and, I kid you not, they ate the paws with a side of possum and taters.

Roman Mars: So that’s why you will never cuddle up with a billy possum. Just like you will never watch a Betamax tape. Or travel to Gobotron with Leader-1. And you will never again dunk a Hydrox cookie. Man, I miss Hydrox cookies! They were tasty. That story was written and read there by Jon Mooallem. Another great story by Jon in just a second.


Roman Mars: We have one cardinal rule on 99% Invisible. No cardinals. Meaning, we don’t deal with the natural world. Only the built world. So, when I read Jon Mooallem’s brilliant book called “Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America.” I didn’t think I’d ever do an episode of 99% Invisible about it. I just read it for fun. But then I saw Jon perform stories from the book live, with musical accompaniment and I thought, “I need to put this on the radio.” I still call this radio. Anyway, what you need to know about “Wild Ones” is that it isn’t a book about nature. It’s a book about how we fit nature into our modern lives. “Wild Ones” is about the cutesy stuffed animals, the eco-tours, and the byzantine methods of conservation that evolve when our experience with wildlife goes from something natural to something designed. Human/animal interaction has become a designed experience and the story of that transition, as the title of the book suggests, is sometimes dismaying and also, weirdly reassuring.

Jon Mooallem is friends with the band “Black Prairie,” and as he was writing the book, they concocted this idea of the band creating a soundtrack to the book and the result was an extended EP called “Wild Ones: A Musical Score For The Things You Might See In Your Head When You Reflect On Certain Characters And Incidents That You Read In The Book.” The writer and the band then went on a short tour with the song and story extravaganza that I’m going to play for you today. When I saw them perform this live in San Francisco, I freaked out. It was so good. And I accosted them in the dressing room and said, “You have to let me share this with my audience.” So here it is. And here we go.

[Music by Black Prairie Band]

Jon Mooallem: It happens every summer. Small turtles called Diamondback Terrapins skitter out of the water around JFK Airport New York, and they start moving west. They’re heading for a patch of sand where they like to lay their eggs and they have to cross over one of the airport’s runways to get there. Runway 4L. Sometimes, there are so many turtles on the move at once that the control tower has to delay flights. Now, the press loves doing stories about how funny this is. How a fleet of giant airplanes can be held up by just a few tiny turtles but hold that picture in your mind and think about the Caribbean Sea in 1492. There were almost a billion sea turtles living in it back then. Columbus’ men anchored in the Caribbean wrote about being kept awake at night by the thwacking of so many turtle shells against the sides of their ship. Notice how that scene is the exact opposite of the scene at JFK. It’s not a fleet of giant airplanes being held up by a few tiny turtles. It’s a giant fleet of turtles bombarding just a few relatively tiny ships.

[Music by Black Prairie Band]

Jon Mooallem: So, I wrote this book about people and wild animals in America and they only really started because I wanted to show my daughter endangered species in the wild before they disappeared. Like a lot of people, I think, I felt this pang. I knew that all around us beautiful parts of the world are expiring and I also knew that people in the future, they might not even notice. For them, a world without whales or wilderness might feel normal. I wanted to counteract that forgetting that’s bound to take hold over overtime. This forgetting has a name. Scientists call it “Shifting Baseline Syndrome.” It means that all of us accept the version of the world we inherit is normal. Over the years, we watch forests get logged or animals disappear but when the next generation comes along, they accept the depleted version of nature as their normal. It’s hard to zoom out, really feel the changes that are stacking up across the generations. I can’t even imagine what an ocean filled with a billion sea turtles must feel like. Last winter, I was in Hawaii and I saw three sea turtles and I flipped the [bleep] out. I felt like I was in Eden.

[Music by Black Prairie Band]

Jon Mooallem: It wasn’t so long ago though that America was a kinder view when people could be dwarfed and engulfed by wild animals in a way that it feels almost impossible now. In the late 1800s, trains would sometimes have to stop for four or five hours as streams of buffalo moved across the tracks. Occasionally, a stampede would batter into the side of a train, derailing it. A witness described one of these scenes in 1871 in Kansas.

William Temple Hornaday: Each individual buffalo went at it with the desperation of despair, plunging against or between locomotive and cars, just as its blind madness chanced to direct it. After having trains thrown off the track twice in one week, conductors learned to have a very decided respect for the idiosyncrasies of the buffalo.

Jon Mooallem: This man’s name was William Temple Hornaday. He was a bombastic midwesterner with an elaborate mustache. Hornaday was head taxidermist at the Smithsonian and he traveled the globe, hunting exotic animals and stuffing them for the museum. In India, after he took down an elephant, he climbed atop the carcass and popped open a Bass Ale. Once, he trapped an orangutan, named it Little Man, and gave it to Andrew Carnegie as a pet. It sounds weird but for Hornaday, killing these animals was a kind of conservation. He believed by stuffing them, he was preserving endangered species for the future generations that might not know them after they were gone. Through taxidermy, he could make them immortal. In 1886, Hornaday looked west and saw that Americans were killing so many buffalo so rapidly that the prairie was almost empty. He figured there were maybe less than 300 buffalo left in the wild and so, he did what he thought was the most helpful and logical thing. He led out for Montana to kill several dozens of them.

[Music by Black Prairie Band]

Jon Mooallem: Hornaday shot 25 buffalo in Montana and he built the best looking ones into an exhibit at the museum. He gathered them around a fake watering hole looking forlorn. But from there, his thinking evolved. He realized he was basically just a funeral director embalming this species that America was exterminating. It occurred to him, “What if we actually tried to keep these animals alive?” And so, he became one of America’s first real wildlife conservationists and activists, lobbyist, and celebrity. America was killing every conceivable kind of animal in their way. Hornaday stood up for all of them, from (inaudible) like the grizzly, to the lowlier, less majestic things like the squirrel.

William Temple Hornaday: A live squirrel on a tree is poetry in motion. We ask every American to lend a hand to save the silver tail.

Jon Mooallem: There is really only one animal on the continent that Hornaday wasn’t worried about. He seemed too mighty to be brought down by men with guns and it lived in the cold and brutal wilderness that men can’t possibly take over.

William Temple Hornaday: The polar bear is the king of the frozen north. It’s not very probable that the polar bear will ever be exterminated by men.

Jon Mooallem: That’s Hornaday writing in 1914. Back then, no one could have imagined a problem as abstract as climate change. But think about how quickly climate change has changed the polar bear’s reputation in our minds. It has gone from bloodthirsty man-killer to delicate drowning victim. 200 years ago, Arctic explorers wrote about polar bears leaping into their boats and trying to eat them even if they lit the bear on fire. But recently, when I went to the tiny northern town that calls itself the polar bear capital of the world, Martha Stewart had just arrived to film the animals for her daytime show on The Hallmark Channel.

[Music by Black Prairie Band]

Jon Mooallem: The town is called Churchill Manitoba. It’s on the edge of Hudson Bay and every fall, right before the bay freezes over, Churchill gets overrun with about 900 polar bears and 10,000 polar bear tourists. Bears routinely wander into town. They like meeting out at the elementary school especially. Folks can call 675-BEAR and a squad of bear patrol officers will come to chase the animals back into the tundra in their trucks. Bears that won’t budge are tranquilized and shipped out to a Quonset hut near the airport. Once this so-called polar bear jail fills up, each animal is drugged again and airlifted one at a time to an area north of town. Crowds of tourists come out to watch these bear lifts and I went to one myself.

[Music by Black Prairie Band]

Jon Mooallem: It was something just a little ceremonial about the bear lift I went to. How the uniformed wildlife officers arranged the sleeping bear on a net at the center of the crowd, how they tucked its paws carefully across its chest like some drunken uncle after Thanksgiving dinner. It was so careful, beautiful, and confusing. A couple of people cried. It was like the opposite of animal sacrifice. A ritual to save the bear, to show how far out of our way we’d go not to kill it. I stood there and watched, and as I did, Martha Stewart stood next to me. Her crew was there filming everything.

[Music by Black Prairie Band]

Jon Mooallem: Honestly, it’s a breathtaking thing to watch, a polar bear flying away. All of a sudden, the helicopter started to churn, the edges of the net lifted. The furry shape inside contracting through you and then the entire package was off the ground. The helicopter climbed toward the cloud bank. The bear twirling slightly underneath it like a teabag. And then, finally, the polar bear was gone.

[Music by Black Prairie Band]

Jon Mooallem: Yeah, I know. Airlifting polar bears. Strange. No one could have imagined it would come to this but the way we help animals now has evolved into a surreal kind of performance art. We carry migrating salamanders across busy highways. We monitor pygmy rabbits with drones. At Cornell, scientists breeding endangered Peregrine Falcons wear specially made receptacle which they call the “Copulation Hat” coaxed a bird named Beer Can to ejaculate on their heads several times a day, every day for much of the 1970s. You see, this is another baseline that shifts over time. The lengths we’re willing to go. Each generation does what would have looked like fighting for a preposterous lost cause to the one before it and then each generation comes along anew and does a little bit more than that. And on it goes. Humanity strapping on the proverbial copulation hat again, and again, and again. Consider the story of George and Tex.

[Music by Black Prairie Band]

Jon Mooallem: In the late 1970s, there are only a handful of whooping cranes left in the wild and also a small number at a government lab in Maryland. Scientists there were doing their best to ring as many new offspring as they could from those captive birds. But the lab had one problem child; A female crane named Tex. As a newborn, Tex has been raised in a cardboard box in the zookeeper’s living room and have never seen another crane, she imprinted on the one animal that she did see, the zookeeper. Basically, she wounded up sexually attracted to people and not other cranes. The scientist kept training the pair with Tex off but Tex wasn’t interested. She wanted a man. And specifically, a man who looked like her old zookeeper with dark hair, a white man, of medium build. Now, there was a young crane conservationist named George Archibald and George happened to be a dark-haired, white man of medium build. He took Tex to [inaudible] Wisconsin, put a mattress in her pen and moved in as Tex’s companion. They forged together, built a nest, and they danced. George doing deep-knee bends and springing up his arms out like wings. He’d whoop and holler, “C’mon Tex. C’mon Tex.” And soon, they’d be dancing together just like wild cranes do during courtship. This would get Tex aroused and at just the right moment, two assistants would rush out from their hiding place and artificially inseminate her with crane semen.

[Music by Black Prairie Band]

Jon Mooallem: George did all this for three years. Living with Tex for months at a time because the eggs she kept laying were infertile. The man and crane would start out after dawn. They’d go for a walk and they’d dance. They’d dance and they’d dance and they’d dance.

[Music by Black Prairie Band]

Jon Mooallem: George didn’t enjoy any of this. He was miserable actually. Miserable. But in the spring of 1983, Tex finally laid an egg that hatched and George was right there when it did. He was invited on the Tonight Show to celebrate. One headline read, “Man, Crane Proud Parents of Chick.” George named the chick Gee Whiz. By now, Gee Whiz has 44 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Today, there are more whooping cranes in the wild than there have been in almost a hundred years.

[Music by Black Prairie Band]

Jon Mooallem: William Temple Hornaday, the taxidermist, died in 1937. At his funeral, buglers from the local Boy Scouts troop surrounded the coffin and played Home on the Range. Twenty years later, workers at the Smithsonian were dismantling Hornaday’s buffalo exhibit, the one he built after the hunt in Montana, the one he thought would last forever. They found a rusty box buried in the fake ground. Inside was a letter. It was from Hornaday written to his future successor at the museum.

William Temple Hornaday: Dear Sir, When I am dust and ashes I beg you to protect these specimens from deterioration and destruction. At last, the game butchers of the great west have stopped killing the buffalo. All the buffalo are dead.

[Music by Black Prairie Band]

Female singer: [Singing] Hello, my name is William Temple. Please know I tried, I tried. Dear sir, I write this letter to you. Revile not, give the devil his due. Dear sir, I’m happy not to be alive. To see what you’ll have to see. Dear sir, I have prepared for the worst. Enjoy their beauty, killed by yours truly. Dear sir, I have protected them now. To the highest degree. Dear sir, I have now stopped the killing. They’re all gone, and here for you to see. [Instrumental] Oh, give them a home. Please keep them from harm. Home, give them a home. I am dust and bone. You can move faster than. Faster than the wild ones can. [Instrumental] Home, give them a home. Please keep them from harm. Home, give them a home. I am dust and bone. You can move faster than. Faster the wild ones can. [Instrumental]

Jon Mooallem: Of course, Hornaday had written that pessimistic letter in 1887 when he was still just a young taxidermist. It turns out he was wrong. The buffalo were not all dead and in the years to come, he actually played a big role in helping to save them. Lots of other species too. But it was hard for him to focus on those successes. He lost so many more battles than he’d won. But at the end of his life, he turned bitter, disillusioned.

William Temple Hornaday: I tried to inject the courage into the hearts of men but today, I think that speaking generally, civilized man is an unmedicated ass.

Jon Mooallem: Like all of us, his imagination was hopelessly trapped in its own moment, its own lifetime. He can only see the world through the tiny keyhole of the present.

Female singer: [Singing] Dear sir. Dear sir.


Jon Mooallem: So, where does that leave us then, in our present? Maybe, all that any one of us can do is push against the baseline as it shifts. You can be a tiny counterweight. We weigh almost nothing but generation after generation, that weight adds up. Sometimes in some places, the baseline starts to shift in the other direction, in the direction of more beauty, not less. But that happens incrementally too, and it could be hard to notice.

So, picture that scene at JFK again. All those turtles. When Hornaday was born, they were close to extinction, being hunted because they tasted so good in soup. We’re like those turtles, a race of stubborn little things that barely notices as the wilderness it migrates through fills up with villages and lights and swells into an airport runway. Just keep migrating across it anyway, tucking the eggs of the next generation into the sand. But we’re like the airplanes too, because we have changed. We changed into something that Hornaday could never have imagined. Species that kind of at least tried to slow down, try to stop. I like to think about those airplanes powering down, the lines of them parting like a shiny metallic seed so these tiny tribe of turtles may pass through. I get it. It looks funny in the present that squints into the hazy panorama of history, and those airplanes idling in place, that little moment of not moving forward looks unmistakably to me like progress.

[Music by Black Prairie Band]

Jon Mooallem: Thank you, guys! Black Prairie! Black Prairie!

[Music by Black Prairie Band]

Host: That’s Jon Mooallem. Let’s take a break and be right back. Thanks so much! Thanks a lot.

[background music]

Roman Mars: That’s “Wild Ones Live.” Text was written by Jon Mooallem. Music by “Black Prairie.” “Black Prairie” is Jenny Conlee-Drizos on accordion and vocals; Chris Funk on banjo, dobro, autoharp, and vocals; John Moen on drums and vocals; Jon Neufeld on guitar and vocals; Nate Query on bass; and Annalisa Tornfelt on fiddle and vocals. Their recording engineer is Rich Hipp. Special thanks to Jon Cohrs and Dirk Walker for audio help this week. “Wild Ones: A sometimes dismaying, weirdly reassuring story about looking at people looking at animals in America” is available in all the usual places. You should get it. I both read it with my eyes and listened to it on audible. It was really good on audible. I’m like the only podcast that doesn’t get paid by audible. That’s just straight-up endorsement. Anyway, however you consume books, you should get “Wild Ones.”

That’s 99% Invisible for this week. The show with Sam Greenspan and me, Roman Mars. We are a project of KALW 91.7 local public radio in San Francisco and the American Institute of Architects in San Francisco.



As you probably know, 99% Invisible is a show about the built world, about things manufactured by humans. We don’t tend to do stories about animals or nature. But our friend Jon Mooallem writes brilliant stories about the weird interactions between animals and humans, interactions that are becoming ever weirder and more designed. Mooallem is a writer with the New York Times Magazine and for Pop -Up Magazine, the live magazine in San Francisco, which is where we first heard these two stories. You might remember them as episodes #40 and #91 respectively, but we brought them together in a radio special we’re calling Mooallempalooza.


To support the show and get free audiobook of your choice go to Audible. In honor of Mooallempalooza, I’m recommending Wild Ones and American Hippopotamus.

Other recent favorites from Audible: People Who Eat Darkness, On the Grid, I Wear the Black Hat, Pulphead, Invisibles, Being Wrong, Shadow Divers, Frank, and so, so many others. I hope Audible sponsors us again, so I can share them all with you.

Our Format site this week is from Matthew Albanese.


coming soon..

  1. sallie des biens

    I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed this podcast! The music was wonderful, the story was fascinating…thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

  2. Adrian

    Loved the first half. Second half was not loved. Nor liked, really. But different strokes…

  3. Arthur

    Alot of music in this one. does anyone know the songs? Great topic but i had to focus on the music at some point. got better in the end. still great podcast!

  4. Kathleen

    I loved both parts but am particularly captivated by the second section with Black Prairie providing the sound track. What a moving collaboration.

  5. ala

    you have a really beautiful voice and i love all of your episodes. thank you for the good work and wish u the best

  6. Julia

    Please, please, please ask someone who knows German to help you with pronunciation (Steiff). Would have been very helpful for the Hundertwasser podcast too. I’ve offered my help in the past, and the offer is still on the table if you don’t have anyone. Gruß aus Deutschland,

  7. Ben Alexandro

    This hit me right in the feels. As a conservation biologist, it is so easy to slip into thinking like Hornady. Thank you for this. For helping us zoom out in time. Thank you for hope today.

  8. Bret C

    Wish I could get the entire set of Black Prairie playing while Jon Mooallem reads–unless this is it? Links to Jon and Black Prairie don’t work directly. Thanks for the episode!

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