Prisoner of war

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Mannequin prisoners shackled in the French Colonial section of Hỏa Lò Prison.
Prison cells at the “Hanoi Hilton.” National Museum of the US Air Force (Public Domain)
The walls of the prison were topped with broken glass to prevent escape. Sean Madden (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Mannequin prisoners in the women’s section of Hỏa Lò Prison. Du Hangst (CC BY 2.0)
Vietnamese prisoners in 1908. Michael Rehfeldt (CC BY 2.0)
Maison Central, the French name for Hỏa Lò Prison. Clay Gilliland (CC BY-SA 3.0)
A piece of a sewer through which five prisoners escaped to join the Communist Resistance. David McKelvey (CC BY 2.0)
A plaque outside the prison illustrates tortures suffered at the hands of the French colonial government. ronan crowley (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The French called it Maison Central, a generic name for a colonial prison. The Vietnamese knew it as Hỏa Lò, which translates to “fiery furnace,” after the wood stove shops common in the surrounding neighborhood. Westerners know it best as the Hanoi Hilton. Whatever its name, the notorious prison housed a century of torture within its walls.


Podcast Episode 147: The Call of Mount Kenya

Stuck in an East African prison camp in 1943, Italian POW Felice Benuzzi needed a challenge to regain his sense of purpose. He made a plan that seemed crazy — to break out of the camp, climb Mount Kenya, and break back in. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Benuzzi and two companions as they try to climb the second-highest mountain in Africa using homemade equipment.

We’ll also consider whether mirages may have doomed the Titanic and puzzle over an ineffective oath.


Under the law of the United Kingdom, a sturgeon when caught becomes the personal property of the monarch.

On July 4, 1853, 32 people held a dance on the stump of a California sequoia.

Sources for our feature on Felice Benuzzi:

Felice Benuzzi, No Picnic on Mount Kenya, 1953.

Matthew Power and Keridwen Cornelius, “Escape to Mount Kenya,” National Geographic Adventure 9:7 (September 2007), 65-71.

Stephan Wilkinson, “10 Great POW Escapes,” Military History 28:4 (November 2011),…