A white tie? That could get you killed…

One thing that has long bothered me about the contents of the Somerton Man’s suitcase is the white tie (the one with the “T Keane” name on it). As the always-entertaining Pete Bowes asks in a recent tomsbytwo blog post,

What manner of man carries a white tie in his luggage?

tools tie A white tie? That could get you killed...

To which I’d add: what manner of man wears a white tie at all? And indeed, up until just now I had no sensible answer at all to either question (unless you count American white-tie gangster chic as a possibility). However, I just found a curious line from history, that suggests how wearing a white tie might very possibly get you killed in post-WW2 Australia…

It turns out that one of the most famous (long) white tie-wearers of the 20th century was French lawyer and fascist politician Pierre Laval (the 101st French President), one of only three men executed by the post-WW2 French High Court for political war crimes.

Pierre Laval a Meurisse 1931 250x300 A white tie? That could get you killed...

(Pierre Laval a Meurisse 1931” by Agence de presse Meurisse‏Bibliothèque nationale de France. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.)

The book “Nazi Dreamtime: Australian Enthusiasts for Hitler’s Germany” by David Bird mentions (pp. 214-216) that well-known Australian Professor Kelver Hayward Hartley (1909-1998) for a while wore a white shirt and white tie in some kind of emulation of Pierre Laval, openly signalling his Nazi-aligned anti-democratic views: and so in 1939 he inevitably came to the attention of the NSW Special Branch. Though Sergeant Simons and Constable Jones wrote a report damning his politics, they concluded that he was essentially harmless, and so he survived WW2 unscathed.

So… might the white tie in the Somerton Man’s suitcase actually be a sign of his far-right political allegiance? Right now, I can’t conceive why anyone in 1948 would consciously want to place themselves under Laval’s long shadow, unless they were themselves a fascist.

Unless anyone knows better… icon smile A white tie? That could get you killed...

Blitz Cipher, partial transcription…

As promised, here are my work-in-progress transcriptions for the newly-released pages #7 and #8 of the Blitz Ciphers. I’ve had to add a few new symbols to the transcription alphabet, so there are now about sixty or so: doubtless some will prove to be duplicates, but I’d rather slightly expand the alphabet when transcribing than make a wrong assumption that can’t easily be undone.

And what do they tell us? Well, I’ve already tried a series of statistical tests on them, though without anything jumping out so far. Even though they have a trailing-off instance count distribution with E at the top of the heap and D not far behind it, the rest seems fairly arbitrary.

Unlike Dave Oranchak, I haven’t spent years thinking about how to crack unbroken homophonic ciphers, so I don’t really know if this is expected behaviour. Some of the symbols could well be nulls, but I don’t (yet) have a good tool for predicting homophonic nulls: but maybe that’s just too old-fashioned a thing to hope for.

Here are some analysis links to Dave Oranchak’s Webtoy: page #7 analysis and page #8 analysis. Note that these only worked for me in Firefox (not IE), but other browsers may also work.

Overall: as of right now, I’d say the Blitz Ciphers looks a bit loose and patternless: in particular, the contact tables don’t quite ‘feel’ right.

Yet unlike Rich SantaColoma commenting on Klaus Schmeh’s page from a few days ago, I’m not yet ready to call this as an outright fake. Rather, what I’m saying is that the Blitz Ciphers seem to combine the instance frequency counts of monoalphabetic ciphers with the disorder of polyalphabetic ciphers and the inscrutability of homophonic ciphers. Two out of the three I could probably still feel comfortable with simultaneously (and work with), but having all three in play at the same time leaves me a bit… suspicious.

Basically, the jury’s out on this one, and they’re asking for pizza.

Page #7 (rotated 180 degrees from the image as released):

15491625601 57c6aec33d o 217x300 Blitz Cipher, partial transcription...


Page #8

15494781095 c5394506f1 o 215x300 Blitz Cipher, partial transcription...


Note that my expanded transcription alphabet looks like this (click for larger image):-

revised blitz alphabet495 300x196 Blitz Cipher, partial transcription...

The Beale Ciphers, a Third Way…

Earlier this year, I was interviewed for an episode in a new series of Myth Hunters (in the US, “Raiders of the Lost Past” in the UK). The documentary makers focused on a particular well-known group of Beale Treasure Hunters from some decades back: but for me, talking on camera brought a whole load of conflicting research strands to the front of my mind.

Specifically, people usually talk about the Beale Ciphers in a very polarized they’re-either-real-or-they’re-fake kind of way. But this doesn’t do the subject justice at all: in fact, to me the evidence suggests the Beale Papers are both real and fake at the same time. Which is a juicily paradoxical place to begin…

Firstly, the cryptology. I now believe that Jim Gillogly was just plain wrong when he concluded that what we now call the “Gillogly strings” are evidence of hoaxery. Rather, I have no doubt at all that they offer strong evidence of some kind of keystrings “poking through” the B1 ciphertext: nothing else makes any kind of practical sense to me. So on the one hand, I would say that I find the evidence that ciphertexts B1 and B3 do use some kind of genuine cipher system (because B3′s stats look extremely similar to B1′s stats) based on the DoI to be extremely convincing.

Yet secondly, the deciphered text of B2 doesn’t seem to tally with the account given in the text of the pamphlet. The writer writes: “To systematize a plan for my work I arranged the papers in the order of their length, and numbered them”. However, the deciphered text reads:-

I have deposited in the county of Bedford [...] the following articles, belonging jointly to the parties whose names are given in number “3,” herewith [...]

Paper number “1″ describes the exact locality of the vault so that no difficulty will be had in finding it.

So who numbered the pages? The original encipherer (say, Thomas Beale?) as the ciphertext implies, or the writer of the pamphlet as the pamphlet text implies? The answer is simple: if the cipher is real, then the pages were numbered by the original author — but if the cipher is fake, it was the pamphlet writer who numbered them. There’s no middle ground to be had.

Logically, then, my conclusion is that if the cryptology demonstrates – as I think it does – that the Beale Ciphers B1 and B3 are genuine ciphers, then I think it is extremely likely that the pamphlet text is just a confection, a frippery. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that this implies that all the letters included in it are fake as well.

In which case, it seems that we have a new Third Way to proceed along: that while the ciphers (and possibly the name Thomas Beale) appear to be based on some kind of actual cryptography, everything else is probably something else entirely. Right now, my opinion is that the pamphlet is very probably some kind of retrospective whitewash (or do I mean ‘hogwash’?) wrapped around a genuine cipher.

Currently, the secret history of the Beale Papers looks to me like this: that while Robert Morriss probably was given a box at his hotel in 1822 by someone (Thomas Beale, why not?) to look after, when in 1845 Morriss forced the box open, it was simply to take what was inside for himself – there were no letters, no grizzlies, no stampede, none of it. But all Morriss actually found was some sheets of paper with numbers on and (I suspect) a Declaration of Independence: mystified, he eventually passed this on to a third party, who came to realise the relevance of the DoI to the sheets of dictionary cipher, and thus was able to crack the B2 ciphertext (though not the other two).

But as for the letters and the pamphlet… to my eyes, they’re nothing more than a fabrication, perhaps to justify Morriss’s breaking the locks, or perhaps to help Ward sell his pamphlets: possibly even both. But regardless, I don’t believe that anything much we find in the pamphlet (the ciphers aside) will help us move towards decrypting those ciphers. The secret is genuinely in the ciphers, sure, but I trust the rest of it not one jot.

Make of that what you will! icon smile The Beale Ciphers, a Third Way...

Voynich international art exhibition roaming across Europe in 2014-2015…

Coming soon to a town near you (if you’re in Europe), the Voynich 2014-2015 international art exhibition project. Put together by Ron Weijers and 10dence art collective from Schiedam in the Netherlands, the exhibition features works of art by twenty-five different artists, all connected by a single shared point of inspiration – the mysterious (and, dare I say it, oft-appropriated) Voynich Manuscript.

10dence gallery Voynich 2014 web 210x300 Voynich international art exhibition roaming across Europe in 2014 2015...

Will these plucky artists “revive debate and dialogue on the Voynich manuscript in their own specific manner”? Personally, I sincerely doubt it: to most artistic eyes, the (to-all-intents-and-purposes-utterly-asemic) Voynich Manuscript has proved as much a blank sheet of paper as, well, a blank sheet of paper. So you may just as well put together an exhibition inspired by non-green vegetables, superceded home appliances, or misplaced envy. Whatever floats your artistic boat.

All the same, I hope their foray into Voynichness stimulates them all, and perhaps even inspires some of them into exploring the razor-thin line between meaningfulness and meaninglessness which the Voynich treads in such a unique way. To me, art needs a little bit of that danger: whereas the greatest creative peril of taking on the Voynich normally lies in trying to mimic its oddly artistic liminality but falling well short. Good luck with that one, Euro art people!

Oh, and the exhibition starts in Schiedam this November (2014), and is planned to move on to other galleries during 2015.

The artists so far announced are:-
* Thorsten Dittrich – Germany
* Katerina Dramatinou – Greece
* Willem van Drunen – Netherlands
* Alex Kiefmeijer – Netherlands
* Louis Looijschelder – Netherlands
* Gerard Extra – Netherlands
* Helmut Findeiß – Germany
* Vered Gersztenkorn – Israel
* Liesbeth van Ginneken – Belgium
* Chung-Hsi Han -Netherlands
* Serhiy Savchenko – Ukraine
* Nikolaj Dielemans – Netherlands
* Karim El Seroui – Austria
* Reinhard Stammer – Germany
* Ron Weijers – Netherlands
* Mats Andersson – Sweden
* Efrat Zehavi – Netherlands
* Beppo Zuccheri – Italy
* Arturo Pacheco Lugo – Mexico
* Rudi Benétik – Austria
* Zuzana Kaliňaková – Slovakia
* Herman Gvardjančič – Slovenia
* Željko Mucko – Croatia
* Klementina Golija – Slovenia
* Ulrich Plieschnig – Austria

The dauntless SS Donbass…

Did Soviet spy Arnold Deutsch die on the SS Donbass? To work towards an answer to that question, I decided to compile my own mini-history of the SS Donbass from numerous archival sources. Here’s what I found…

SS Donbass

There have been several ships called “SS Donbass” in modern times, but we’re only interested in the first of these – the one that was sunk in November 1942. Here’s what it looked like:-

convoy pq17 donbass The dauntless SS Donbass...

This paricular SS Donbass was built in 1935, with a gross tonnage of 7925 tons and a loading capacity of 7602 tons: a decent-sized ship. Other key statistics to satisfy passing merchant marine historians:-
* Length: 140.12m
* Width: 17.94m
* Draft: 8.45m
* Machine power: 2 x 1400 hp (I think, please correct me if this is wrong)
* Max speed: 10 knots

In 1940, the ship was then transferred across from Sovtanker Steamship Company into the main fleet.

SS Donbass in Convoy PQ-17

According to this post, in mid-1942 the Donbass travelled from Buenos Aires to New York with a large consignment of oil. Once there, it was fitted with two 65mm cannon and eight heavy machine guns to allow it to defend itself, and then sent on to Reykjavik.

En route to Russia as part of the PQ-17 convoy operation, it rescued 51 men from the US transport ship SS Daniel Morgan. It repulsed 13 air attacks and 1 submarine attack, knocking down two German He-111 bombers (04th July 1942) and one Ju-88. The rescued US sailors even helped man the nose gun.

The captain (Mikhail Ivanovich Pavlov) and senior engineer (Mefodiy Martynovich Fedorov) were awarded British medals (I’m guessing Atlantic Star Medals?)

According to the crew manifests, 28 additional Russian crew members came on board in New York: I’m told that these were from the SS Ashgabat, which had not long before sunk off the American coast (but I don’t have a reference for this).

SS Donbass in Operation FB

The Donbass was not so fortunate in Operation FB, travelling from Arkhangelsk to Reykjavik. Having passed Novaya Zemlya on the way out on 4th November 1942, it was attacked by Nazi bombers the following day, but was able to use its cannons to drive them off. However, its lucky streak ended on 7th November 1942, when it was attacked by the vastly stronger German destroyer Z-27: in rapid succession, the Donbass was hit by torpedoes, its oil caught fire and set the whole ship ablaze, the Donbass split into two huge pieces fore and aft, and the front half sank.

However, the crew kept on fighting, manning the cannon and machine guns on the ablaze aft end of the ship. But when their ammunition ran out, Captain Zielke finally ordered the crew to abandon the Donbass’s dying hulk: they were left floating in the icy seas for a while, but were than picked up by the Z-27. The coordinates were: 76° 25′N, 45° 54′E.

On 9th November 1942, the fifteen captured seamen were handed to the Coast Guard at the Northern Norwegian port of Alta, and then driven to a POW camp. In February 1943, they were transported to a concentration camp for sailors in Gdynia (Poland), where they stayed until 1945 (Zielke escaped the camp but was recaptured after a month on the run). While there, however, at least four of these fifteen died of starvation. Captain Zielke, who survived, was awarded the Order of Lenin.

The Dead

Here is the memorial plaque to the SS Donbass, listing the 33 men and women who died on it that fateful day.

Donbas41 memorial plaque 300x280 The dauntless SS Donbass...

With Arnold Deutsch in mind icon smile The dauntless SS Donbass... , I cross-referenced this list with the various other crew lists available. This is because I don’t even remotely believe that Deutsch would have been on the SS Donbass in both Convoy PQ-17 and Operation FB: hence I think we can almost certainly rule out anyone who was in both convoys. Or who was female.

[*] = arrived at New York from Buenos Aires in July 1942
[A] = was taken on board from the Ashgabat
[F] = female crew member
— = (whoever was left)

Left column:
[*] Morozov Arseniy Maksimovich, 1st Assistant, 1894
— Andrianov, Mikhail Ivanovich, 2nd Assistant, ?
[*] Oparin Mikhail Nikolayevich, 3rd Assistant, 1913
[*] Kalandadze Nina Germanovna, 4th Assistant, 1918
[*] Fedorov Mefodiy Martynovich, Art. Mechanic, 1894
[*] Malakhov Ivan Dmitriyevich, 3rd engineer, 1915
[*] Gal’tsev Nikolay Stepanovich, Senior electrician, 1911
[F] Klimushcheva Iya Petrovna, Marine medic, ?
— Cheremnykh Vasiliy Nikolayevich, Boatswain, ?
— Nilov Mikhail Konstantinovich, Motorman Grade 1 (Sailor), 1911
[*] Vasil’yev Boris Mikhaylovich, Sailor, 1917
[*] Yeres’ko Filipp Grigor’yevich, Sailor, 1912
[*] Gorlachev Aleksandr Yegorovich, Sailor, 1915
[*] Butenko Fedor Vasil’yevich, Sailor, 1912
[*] Trimasov (Tremasov) Kuz’ma Andreyevich, Sailor, 1915
[*] Kochurkin (Kochkurin) Nikolay Ignat’yevich, Sailor, 1917
[A] Shibanov Aleksandr Alekseyevich, Sailor, [Aged 36]

Right column:
[*] Slobodzyan (Slabodzyan) Valentin Philippovich, Carpenter 1921
— Lavrent’yev Fedor Ivanovich, Motorman Grade 1, 1910
[*] Khachko Viktor Petrovich, Motorman Grade 1, 1912
[*] Lemza Aleksey Sergeyevich, Motorman Grade 1, 1914
[A] Radionov German Stepanovich, Motorman 1 Class, [Aged 28]
[*] Tagiyev Ismail Dzhanilovich, Motorman Grade 1, 1915
[A] Pashchenko Viktor Filippovich, Motorman Grade 1, [Aged 24]
[*] Galkin Nikolay Pavlovich, Motorman Grade 1, 1912
[*] Kuznetsov Ivan Ivanovich, Motorman Grade 1, 1914
[A] Mashchenko Petr Gordeyevich, Motorman 1 Class, [Aged 32]
[*] Mechik Leonid Aleksandrovich, Donkerman, 1908
[*] Yurkovskiy Fedor Konstantinovich, Cook, 1909
[*] Kamnev Grigoriy Timofeyevich, Chef, 1916
[F] Voronina Avgusta Aleksandrovna, Orderly, 1920
[F] Pakhtusova Agrippina Petrovna, Maid, ?
[A] Afonasenko Trofim Semenovich, Motorman 1 Class, [Aged 25]

Who is left?

If Arnold Deutsch died on board AND he appears under a different name in the lists of the dead, he must be one of the following four people:-

— Andrianov, Mikhail Ivanovich, 2nd Assistant, ?
— Cheremnykh Vasiliy Nikolayevich, Boatswain, ?
— Nilov Mikhail Konstantinovich, Motorman Grade 1 (Sailor), 1911
— Lavrent’yev Fedor Ivanovich, Motorman Grade 1, 1910

Make of that what you will.

The mystery of the Anthon Transcript…

The Anthon Transcript was a document shown to Professor Charles Anthon by Martin Harris in New York in February 1828: Harris claimed that it was a copy of the “reformed Egyptian” letters used to write the Golden Plates. The story goes that these Plates had been hidden in a hill near where Mormon founder Joseph Smith lived; that the Angel Moroni first directed Smith to them in 1823 (though he only took them away in 1827); and that Smith claimed to have translated the Book of Mormon from these Plates.

It is normally reported that the Anthon Transcript is the same as the “Caractors” document widely shown on the Internet, and which was first supplied by David Whitmer…

800px Caractors large 300x126 The mystery of the Anthon Transcript...

…but since reading an essay called The Anthon Affair by Jerome J. Knuijt, I’m really not so sure any more.

What is specifically odd is that, when later quizzed about the meetings he had with Martin Harris, Anthon wrote that the transcript “consisted of all kinds of crooked characters disposed in columns” (1834), “like the Chinese mode of writing” (1841). Moreover, “the whole ended in a rude delineation of a circle divided into various compartments;“, and that this resembled “a rude representation of the Mexican zodiac“, “evidently copied after the Mexican Calendar given by Humboldt“.

Incidentally, the 24-ton Aztec Calendar Stone (to which Anthon was undoubtedly referring) had been rediscovered not long before (in 1790), and looks like this:-

Aztec Calendar Stone enhanced 300x298 The mystery of the Anthon Transcript...

LDS writers typically downplay any connection with von Humboldt’s writing, by (for example) saying that that Joseph Smith was but a “poorly educated farmboy“, who could not possibly have amassed a “frontier library”. It seems far more likely to me that von Humboldt’s writings (e.g. about Indians writing in hieroglyphics etc) or similar ideas about Mesoamerican history instead made their way to Joseph Smith via the cracked mirror of newspaper summaries. But that’s the kind of argument that can be (and indeed often is) batted back and forth ad nauseam: it really doesn’t interest me.

So it turns out that the central mystery of the Anthon Transcript is not only why a document so intensely central to the claims of Mormonism is not only absent from the archives, but why it is also so clearly misrepresented as being the “Caractors” document. The latter may well also be a document connected to early Mormons (notes from a shorthand Bible? The 1823 Detroit Manuscript?), but it is now hard for me to see how the Caractors page could in any obvious way be the same one described so specifically by Charles Anthon.

Knuijt seems to have his doubts that David Whitmer – one of the Three Witnesses to the Golden Plates – was an altogether reliable source for the Caractors to have come from: and reading Whitmer’s Wikipedia page (ha!), this scepticism seems to be reasonably justified. All I know is that until the actual Anthon Transcript or the actual Detroit Manuscript turns up (someone must surely have taken a copy of the latter, right?), this is probably a debate that cannot be settled anywhere apart from a pub car park. icon smile The mystery of the Anthon Transcript...

* * * * * * *

I’ve appended Anthon’s two letters, the first taken from Eber Dudley Howe’s “Mormonism Unvailed” pp. 270-272, and the second from John A. Clark’s “Gleanings By The Way” pp. 233-238, both as quoted from Jerome J. Knuijt’s The Anthon Affair. I have highlighted the most relevant sections in bold, so that you can see the various quotations in their proper context.

1. Professor Charles Anthon to Eber D. Howe

New York, Feb. 17, 1834.

    Dear Sir — I received this morning your favor of the 9th instant, and lose no time in making a reply. The whole story about my having pronounced the Mormonite inscription to be “reformed Egyptian hieroglyphics” is perfectly false. Some years ago, a plain, and apparently simple-hearted farmer, called upon me with a note from Dr. Mitchell of our city, now deceased, requesting me to decypher, if possible, a paper, which the farmer would hand me, and which Dr. M. confessed he had been unable to understand. Upon examining the paper in question, I soon came to the conclusion that it was all a trick, perhaps a hoax.

    When I asked the person, who brought it, how he obtained the writing, he gave me, as far as I can now recollect, the following account: A “gold book,” consisting of a number of plates of gold, fastened together in the shape of a book by wires of the same metal, had been dug up in the northern part of the state of New York, and along with the book an enormous pair of “gold spectacles”! These spectacles were so large, that, if a person attempted to look through them, his two eyes would have to be turned towards one of the glasses merely, the spectacles in question being altogether too large for the breadth of the human face. Whoever examined the plates through the spectacles, was enabled not only to read them, but fully to understand their meaning. All this knowledge, however, was confined at that time to a young man, who had the trunk containing the book and spectacles in his sole possession. This young man was placed behind a curtain, in the garret of a farm house, and being thus concealed from view, put on the spectacles occasionally, or rather, looked through one of the glasses, decyphered the characters in the book, and, having committed some of them to paper, handed copies from behind the curtain, to those who stood on the outside. Not a word, however, was said about the plates having been decyphered “by the gift of God.” Everything, in this way, was effected by the large pair of spectacles. The farmer added, that he had been requested to contribute a sum of money towards the publication of the “golden book,” the contents of which would, as he had been assured, produce an entire change in the world and save it from ruin. So urgent had been these solicitations, that he intended selling his farm and handing over the amount received to those who wished to publish the plates. As a last precautionary step, however, he had resolved to come to New York, and obtain the opinion of the learned about the meaning of the paper which he brought with him, and which had been given him as a part of the contents of the book, although no translation had been furnished at the time by the young man with the spectacles.

[118 vi]

    On hearing this odd story, I changed my opinion about the paper, and, instead of viewing it any longer as a hoax upon the learned, I began to regard it as part of a scheme to cheat the farmer of his money, and I communicated my suspicions to him, warning him to beware of rogues. He requested an opinion from me in writing, which of course I declined giving, and he then took his leave carrying the paper with him. This paper was in fact a singular scrawl. It consisted of all kinds of crooked characters disposed in columns, and had evidently been prepared by some person who had before him at the time a book containing various alphabets. Greek and Hebrew letters, crosses and flourishes, Roman letters inverted or placed sideways, were arranged in perpendicular columns, and the whole ended in a rude delineation of a circle divided into various compartments, decked with various strange marks, and evidently copied after the Mexican Calendar given by Humboldt, but copied in such a way as not to betray the source whence it was derived. I am thus particular as to the contents of the paper, inasmuch as I have frequently conversed with my friends of the subject, since the Mormonite excitement began, and well remember that the paper contained any thing else but “Egyptian Hieroglyphics.”

    Some time after, the same farmer paid me a second visit. He brought with him the golden book in print, and offered it to me for sale. I declined purchasing. He then asked permission to leave the book with me for examination. I declined receiving it, although his manner was strangely urgent. I adverted once more to the roguery which had been in my opinion practised upon him, and asked him what had become of the gold plates. He informed me that they were in a trunk with the large pair of spectacles. I advised him to go to a magistrate and have the trunk examined. He said the “curse of God” would come upon him should he do this. On my pressing him, however, to pursue the course which I had recommended, he told me that he would open the trunk, if I would take the “curse of God” upon myself. I replied that I would do so with the greatest willingness, and would incur every risk of that nature, provided I could only extricate him from the grasp of rogues. He then left me.

    I have thus given you a full statement of all that I know respecting the origin of Mormonism, and must beg you, as a personal favor, to publish this letter immediately, should you find my name mentioned again by these wretched fanatics. Yours respectfully,


2. Professor Charles Anthon to Reverend Coit

New York, April 3d, 1841.
Rev. and Dear Sir:

    I have often heard that the Mormons claimed me for an auxiliary, but, as no one, until the present time, has even requested from me a statement in writing, I have not deemed it worth while to say anything publicly on the subject. What I do know of the sect relates to some of the early movements; and as the facts may amuse you, while they will furnish a

[118 vii]

satisfactory answer to the charge of my being a Mormon proselyte, I proceed to lay them before you in detail.

    Many years ago, the precise date I do not now recollect, a plain looking countryman called upon me with a letter from Dr. Samuel L. Mitchell requesting me to examine, and give my opinion upon, a certain paper, marked with various characters, which the Doctor confessed he could not decypher, and which the bearer of the note was very anxious to have explained. A very brief examination of the paper convinced me that it was a mere hoax, and a very clumsy one too. The characters were arranged in columns, like the Chinese mode of writing, and presented the most singular medley that I ever beheld. Greek, Hebrew and all sorts of letters, more or less distorted, either through unskilfulness or from actual design, were intermingled with sundry delineations of half moons, stars, and other natural objects, and the whole ended in a rude representation of the Mexican zodiac. The conclusion was irresistible, that some cunning fellow had prepared the paper in question for the purpose of imposing upon the countryman who brought it, and I told the man so without any hesitation. He then proceeded to give me the history of the whole affair, which convinced me that he had fallen into the hands of some sharper, while it left me in great astonishment at his simplicity.

    The countryman told me that a gold book had been recently dug up in the western or northern part (I forget which), of our state, and he described this book as consisting of many gold plates, like leaves, secured by a gold wire passing through the edges of each, just as the leaves of a book are sewed together, and presented in this way the appearance of a volume. Each plate, according to him, was inscribed with unknown characters, and the paper which he handed me, a transcript of one of these pages. On my asking him by whom the copy was made, he gravely stated, that along with the golden book there had been dug up a very large pair of spectacles! so large in fact that if a man were to hold them in front of his face, his two eyes would merely look through one of the glasses, and the remaining part of the spectacles would project a considerable distance sideways! These spectacles possessed, it seems a very valuable property, of enabling any one who looked through them, (or rather through one of the lenses,) not only to decypher the characters on the plates, but also to comprehend their exact meaning, and be able to translate them!! My informant assured me that this curious property of the spectacles had been actually tested, and found to be true. A young man, it seems, had been placed in the garret of a farm-house, with a curtain before him, and having fastened the spectacles to his head, had read several pages in the golden book, and communicated their contents in writing to certain persons stationed on the outside of the curtain. He had also copied off one page of the book in the original character, which he had in like manner handed over to those who were separated from him by the curtain, and this copy was the paper which the countryman had brought with him. As the golden book was said to contain very great truths, and most important revelations of a religious nature, a strong desire had been expressed by several persons in the countryman’s neighbourhood, to have the whole work translated and published. A proposition had accordingly been made to my informant, to sell his farm, and apply the proceeds to the printing of the golden book, and the golden plates were to be left with him as security until he should be reimbursed by the sale of the work. To convince him more

[118 viii]

clearly that there was no risk whatever in the matter, and that the work was actually what it claimed to be, he was told to take the paper, which purported to be a copy of one of the pages of the book, to the city of New York, and submit it to the learned in that quarter, who would soon dispel all his doubts, and satisfy him as to the perfect safety of the investment. As Dr. Mitchell was our “Magnus Apollo” in those days, the man called first upon him; but the Doctor, evidently suspecting some trick, declined giving any opinion about the matter, and sent the countryman down to the college, to see, in all probability what the “learned pundits” in that place would make of the affair. On my telling the bearer of the paper that an attempt had been made to impose on him and defraud him of his property, he requested me to give him my opinion in writing about the paper which he had shown to me. I did so without hesitation, partly for the man’s sake, and partly to let the individual “behind the curtain” see that his trick was discovered. The import of what I wrote was, as far as I can now recollect, simply this, that the marks in the paper appeared to be merely an imitation of various alphabetical characters, and had, in my opinion, no meaning at all connected with them. The countryman then took his leave, with many thanks, and with the express declaration that he would in no shape part with his farm, or embark in the speculation of printing the golden book.

    The matter rested here for a considerable time, until one day, when I had ceased entirely to think of the countryman and his paper, this same individual, to my great surprise, paid me a second visit. He now brought with him a duodecimo volume, which he said was a translation into English of the “Golden Bible.” He also stated, that notwithstanding his original determination not to sell his farm, he had been induced evidently to do so, and apply the money to the publication of the book, and had received the golden plates as a security for payment. He begged my acceptance of the volume, assuring me that it would be found extremely interesting, and that it was already “making great noise” in the upper part of the state. Suspecting now that some serious trick was on foot, and that my plain looking visitor might be in fact a very cunning fellow I declined his present, and merely contented myself with a slight examination of the volume while he stood by. The more I declined receiving it, however, the more urgent the man became in offering the book, until at last I told him plainly, that if he left the volume, as he said he intended to do, I should most assuredly throw it after him as he departed. I then asked him how he could be so foolish as to sell his farm and engage in this affair; and requested him to tell me if the plates were really of gold. In answer to this latter inquiry, he said, that he had never seen the plates themselves, which were carefully locked up in a trunk, but that he had the trunk in his possession. I advised him by all means to open the trunk and examine its contents, and if the plates proved to be of gold, which I did not believe at all, to sell them immediately. His reply was, that. if he opened the trunk, the “curse of heaven would descend upon him and his children.’ “However,” added he, “I will agree to open it, provided you take the ‘curse of Heaven’ upon yourself, for having advised me to the step.” I told him I was perfectly willing to do so, and begged he would hasten home and examine the trunk, for he would find that he had been cheated. He promised to do as I recommended, and left me, taking his book with him. I have never seen him since.

[118 ix]

    Such is a plain statement of all I know respecting the Mormons. My impression now is, that the plain looking countryman was none other than the prophet Smith himself, who assumed an appearance of great simplicity in order to entrap me, if possible, into some recommendation of his book. That the prophet aided me by his inspiration, in interpreting the volume, is only one of the many amusing falsehoods which the Mormonites utter relative to my participation in their doctrines. Of these doctrines I know nothing whatever, nor have I ever heard a single discourse from any of their preachers, although I have often felt a strong curiosity to become an auditor, since my friends tell me that they frequently name me in their sermons, and even go so far as to say that I am alluded to in the prophecies of Scripture!

    If what I have here written shall prove of any service in opening the eyes of some of their deluded followers to the real designs of those who profess to be the apostles of Mormonism, it will afford me satisfaction equalled, I have no doubt, only by that which you yourself will feel on this subject.

    I remain, very respectfully and truly, your friend,


Five more pages of the Blitz Ciphers released…

I’ve just been contacted by the owner of the Blitz Ciphers, with five more scans of Blitz Cipher pages we hadn’t previously seen.

These continue the original set’s apparent theme of mystifying geometrical shapes combined with unhelpful-looking annotations in a 50-odd symbol cipher alphabet: feel free to bang your head against the walls of these strange diagrams, Voynich researcher style, if you like.

Me, I’m much more interested in the prosaic-looking text-only pages #7 and #8, particularly page #7 (ignoring the tiny annotation in a second hand). My Plan A is therefore to transcribe these two pages carefully (even though there’s a fair bit of what looks like water damage, most seems legible with only light amount of image enhancement) and then throw various cryptological / statistical tests at them to see what emerges.

#7: 15491625601 57c6aec33d o 217x300 Five more pages of the Blitz Ciphers released...

My hunch? Just as I noted before, this still looks to me like a homophonic cipher with possibly a few nulls, in broadly the same vein as the Copiale Cipher. As such, I’m guessing the plaintext will be a well-known European language, particularly English or German.

But what my nose isn’t sniffing here is anything that would sit in a mainstream Masonic tradition: these, such as the (now comprehensively cracked) Action Line Cryptogram, would probably be dominated by text describing candidates knocking at doors to be initiated via faux-historical rituals than a set of curiously arcane geometric diagrams.

…unless you know better? icon smile Five more pages of the Blitz Ciphers released...

Your very own Cryptex (or perhaps not).

I’ve just heard about an upcoming auction for a Da Vinci Code “cryptex”. It’s allegedly one of the ones ‘potentially’ used in the film (whatever ‘potentially’ means, you’d have to ask an IP lawyer to be sure), but is believed by the auctioneers to be genuine. Which is nice.

cryptex in box 300x191 Your very own Cryptex (or perhaps not).

I should add that word on the crypto street (if your street just happens to have lots of collectors) is that movie props are widely forged and can be very hard to prove genuine, so it really is a case of caveat emptor etc.

But if neither your budget nor your appetite for risk will stretch quite that far, you can buy Authorized Cryptex Replicas on eBay (of course you can, that’s exactly what eBay is for, isn’t it?).

Communists on the workfloor and the missing Mr Keane…

Gordon Cramer has just posted about Edward John Rice, a machinist at Australia’s Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, who the management there tried to dismiss in 1942 for allegedly being a Communist. They were also very annoyed about the way he tried to force Mrs Dawkins, the nice lady from the canteen, into telling him all the gossip to go into the staff magazine of which he was one of the four editors.

What inspired Gordon was what Rice apparently said to a man called Keane (a surname guaranteed to set many Somerton Man theorists aquiver with excitement):-

Mr. Ashburner (for the CAC): Do you remember when you were distributing literature in the factory telling a man named Keane that “My one wish above all is to lead a revolution in this country, and when the shooting starts you want to shoot fast”?

Rice: No. I never said anything like that. You produce this man.

Mr. Ashburner: Don’t worry, he will be produced.

Gordon Cramer then appended lots of pictures of aircraft factories and alleged microwriting to help make his case that all these pieces linked together. But why did he not look at the rest of the reports of the tribunal from that same week to see if he could find out “Keane”‘s first name?

The report Gordon cited was from the Monday 3rd August 1942 edition of the Adelaide News. But the Wednesday 5th August 1942 Daily Advertiser names the same witness as Charles Keenan:-

Mr. Charles Keenan, employee of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation. said that Rice had distributed pamphlets to some employees. Rice said that the Friends of the Soviet Union had issued them and admitted he was a Communist. He spoke of leading a revolution.

The Thursday 6th August edition of the Sydney Morning Herald voiced Rice’s denials of these lurid claims:

Rice, in evidence, denied that he had told an employee, Keenan, that he wanted to lead a revolution, that he would shoot or cut the throats of capitalists or that he was a Communist.

I’m not keen on this being the Somerton Man’s Keane: in fact, I’d go so far as to say this identification is 100% pants. icon smile Communists on the workfloor and the missing Mr Keane...

Danish brewery releases beer inspired by the Somerton Man!

Amager Bryghus (that’s the brewery) has just announced “Somerton Man’s Last Drink” which, as an 8.2% ABV wheat lager, may well be enough to make anyone with an enlarged spleen drop dead on the spot, whether or not their clothes have labels. They say (tongue firmly in cheek):-

56 years after he was found dead on Somerton Beach in Adelaide, Australia, no one knows who the Somerton Man was or what he died of. A case wrapped in so many layers of mystery that no one has yet been able to penetrate to its core.

However, a thorough post-mortem examination was performed. In fact, SO thorough that it could be inferred that, just hours before his death, the Somerton Man had eaten a meat pie and drank at least two schooners of beer. Via several questionable detours, we here at Amager Bryghus got hold of his autopsy report, from which our master brewers managed to reconstruct the last beer that the Somerton Man drank on this earth. Our hope is that when drinking this rich and powerful wheat beer, you will also be possible to achieve a high level of creative intoxication – and who knows, maybe solve this 56 year-old murder mystery.

Ingredients: Water. Malt: Pilsner, Wheat. Hops: Amarillo, Centennial, Chinook. Yeast: Warehouse.

Of course, all of this is what they would like to be true, rather than what was actually true. The Somerton Man would have had to knock back far more than two schooners of beer before 6pm closing time for them still to be noticeable, given that his estimated time of death was more than six hours later. And it was lumps of potato that was noticed in his stomach (so a pastie rather than a meat pie).

But honestly, none of that bothers me one jot. The Amager people get a double thumbs-up from Cipher Mysteries for even considering the idea, let alone faking up a back story. You’re totally rock and roll, you funky drunk Danes, you!

Incidentally, my favourite barley-wine-ish strong UK beer is Robinson’s “Old Tom”: which I only mention because Robinsons also released a 4.3% golden bitter called “Enigma”, which is about as close to marrying beer and ciphers as I’d seen before.

But now I’ve seen Amager Bryghus’s effort, I’ve gone looking for other cipher-related beers, and found the Telegraph Brewing Company’s 4.0% “Cipher Key Session Ale”, about which they say “Our Cipher Key Session Ale cracks that code with hefty additions of Cascade hops (etc)”… but they would, wouldn’t they?

Yet so far I’ve only found one cipher beer with an actual cipher, and that is from the Half Acre Beer Company of Chicago, IL. It’s called “Cipher” (well, duh), and here is its label:-

cipher beer label 300x300 Danish brewery releases beer inspired by the Somerton Man!

Can you solve this? More importantly, can you solve it without printing it out and cutting it up into pieces? Enjoy!

PS: are there any other cipher-related beers I should know about? %^,

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