From dubious documents and buried treasure to nefarious charlatans and ancient coded messages, when it comes to alluring tales of undecipherable encryptions there’s really nothing not to like.
Like out-of-place artifacts and enigmatic archaeological sites, they have an uncanny knack for defying explanation and pitting scientists, cryptographers and historians against one another in feuds that often last for centuries.
Some, written in English and other languages are as easy to read as magazines or newspapers, but they’re often open to numerous interpretations ranging from the painfully mundane to the downright unbelievable.
Others contain obscure images, symbols, numbers and letters that may or may not be decipherable codes at all.
That said, if all this sounds interesting, get comfy because we’re about to take a closer look at 4 lesser known mysterious encryptions.
The Beale Ciphers
The Beale Ciphers, or Beale Papers are a set of three ciphertexts which supposedly disclose the location of more than 3,000 pounds (1,360 kg) of gold, 5,000 pounds (2,267 kg) of silver and assorted precious stones that on today’s market could be worth more than 100 million USD.
Of the three texts, only the second containing a description of the treasure has been cracked, while the first and third which give its precise location and the identity of its owners and their kin have not.
The story goes all the way back to 1820 when a man named Thomas J. Beale allegedly gave a box containing mysterious and unreadable documents to a local innkeeper before disappearing forever.
The uninterested innkeeper subsequently stuffed the items in a closet for more than two decades before curiosity got the better of him.
But after briefly studying the contents, he apparently forgot about it for another 20 years before giving it to a friend who spent decades attempting to crack the ciphertexts’ code and find the treasure, of which he was on able to determine its location in the most general of terms.
According to him it was located somewhere in Bedford Country, Virginia – an expanse of land covering approximately 753 square miles (1,992 square km).
Unable to solve the remaining ciphertexts, he ultimately gave up and urged his friend James B. Ward to publish a pamphlet in 1885, hoping it would stir public interest and possibly wrangle up someone who could help them solve the mystery and uncover the precious metals and gems.
The pamphlet claimed that Beale had been part of a group of more than two dozen men who’d stumbled upon the treasure in the early 19th century while hunting Buffalo in what was then the Spanish territory of Santa Fe de Nuevo México, or currently the state of Colorado.
Legend has it that the treasure was so immense that the team spent nearly a year and a half extracting it from the mineshaft where it’d been hidden, after which Beale was charged with transporting it to Virginia for burial in a secret rural location.
Since the story, ciphertexts and pamphlets emerged, numerous attempts have been made to solve the mystery once and for all, but all have failed.
Some who’ve delved into the story claim that it’s a hoax plain and simple.
For example, world-renowned cryptographers cite discovering evidence that prove the documents couldn’t have been written when claimed, because among other things they include words that weren’t commonly used until decades later.
The ciphertexts were also subjected to scrutiny by Sperry’s UNIVAC supercomputer in the 1960s, and scientists claim that though they’d been poorly encoded, the documents did contain intelligently placed text that couldn’t have appeared randomly, though the computer was unable to determine their meaning.
Other expert cryptographers assert that there’s absolutely no evidence that the two remaining ciphertexts are anything more than random and meaningless strings of characters.
In addition, writing experts who analyzed the texts determined that it was almost certainly written by James B. Ward, the man who published the pamphlet in 1885 which brought the whole affair to light, subsequently making him a regional celebrity of sorts.
It’s even been suggested that famously deranged author Edgar Allan Poe was the hoax’ perpetrator, largely because he lived and studied in the area, was known to be a lover of unsolved mysteries, and he frequently placed requests in newspapers inviting readers to submit coded messages, which he often succeeded in solving.
Alas, we’ll probably never know the truth, at least until some unsuspecting hayseed hits paydirt while digging for earthworms in rural Bedford County.
From pictures of unidentifiable plants and indecipherable texts to strange watermarks and possible references to the birth of Christ, since its discovery in Hungary more than 200 years ago, the Rohonc Codex has baffled and intrigued fans of arcane mysteries around the world.
Named after Wilfrid Voynich, a Polish bookseller who bought it in 1912, the Voynich Manuscript’s history may date back as many as four centuries earlier.
The book came to light in the early 19th century when it was part of the personal library of a prominent Hungarian count, who late in life donated his expansive collection to the country’s Academy of Sciences.
Curators cataloging the items noted that the Codex resembled numerous historic Medieval Hungarian texts they’d seen before, but though it bore similarities to them, its nearly 450 pages contained scores of unrecognizable and likely coded writing that included a wide variety of shapes and symbols as well as more than 80 drawings of obscure plants, military campaigns, and images of Christian, Hindu, and Islamic stories.
Relatively recent radiocarbon dating tests have determined that the vellum on which the text is written dates from the early 1400s, but though experts in various fields have attempted to validate its authenticity and meaning as well as the identity of its author, their efforts have been largely unsuccessful.
It’s generally agreed that at the very least it does contain elements of multiple languages from Hindu to Old Hungarian, but even so the recognizable script is dwarfed by the confusing coded portion, which researchers have determined may contain nearly ten times more characters than any other known alphabet.
Likewise, each of the codex’ papers include a watermark featuring an anchor inside a circle framed within a radiant star, which has been dated back to the 1530s, or about 100 years before the text was purportedly written, leading some to claim that it’s a copy of an original work that’s probably long gone.
Scholars alternately theorize that it’s everything from a previously undiscovered derivation of Latin to an Indian Brahmi script, or a historical account from the Balki people who fought against Hungarian invasion in the 11th and 12th centuries.
This does bear some weight, based on the following translated excerpt –
“In great numbers, in the fierce battle, without fear go, go as a hero. Break ahead with great noise, to sweep away and defeat the Hungarian!”
But as is often the case, there seems to exist some evidence to support each theory, even though so-called experts can’t agree on the text’s orientation, and whether it’s meant to be read from left to right or vice versa.
Though the various theories and their supporting evidence are largely incomplete, inconclusive and prone to professional disagreement, in the 20th century the manuscript was subjected to computer-based analysis.
However if the codex contains one true overarching encryption, it has remained stubbornly hidden to even the analytical powers of modern computers.
Hence, many see this as definitive proof that the majority of its contents are undecipherable, and if that’s the case, it may in fact be a hoax, and many scholars point to a man named Sámuel Literáti Nemes who lived from 1796–1842 as the most likely culprit.
A Hungarian antiquarian of Transylvanian descent and co-founder of Budapest’s National Széchényi Library, he’s known to have been a prolific forger who did much of his best work around the time the Rohonc Codex found its way into the spotlight.
Though no evidence directly linking him to the work has ever been discovered, many scholars consider it a clearcut case of fraud that warrants no additional study, while others disagree wholeheartedly.
Elberton, Georgia, home of the Georgia Guidestones is referred to as the ‘Granite Capital of the World’ for good reason.
Located 110 miles (177 km) northeast of Atlanta, the town of 4,600 sits atop a massive granite deposit purported to be 35 miles (56 km) long, 6 miles (9.6 km) wide and as many as 3 miles (4.75 km) deep.
In other words, it was the perfect site for a thought provoking stone monument that’s had scientists, scholars, zealots, occultists and conspiracy theorists all worked up since it was unveiled in 1980.
It all started in the summer of ‘79 when a well-dressed man using the alias RC Christian walked into the office of the Elberton Granite Finishing Corporation.
Meeting with the company’s president, Mr. Christian informed him that he represented a group of secretive and wealthy out-of-state investors, who for nearly two decades had been working on a project with important implications for future generations.
The company was hired to build a massive granite monument, and its employees were sworn to strict secrecy.
Then less than a year later on March 22, 1980, the rough-hewn stone structure consisting of 6 individual slabs standing over 19 feet 3 (5.7 m) tall and weighing nearly 240,000 pounds (107,840 kg) was unveiled before a crowd of 100.
One man, a local pastor, immediately declared that it was obviously the work of devil worshippers after reading the 10 tenets carved into the stones.
On each side of the capstone, in four ancient languages was carved the phrase: “Let these be guidestones to an Age of Reason.”
Likewise, in English, Russian, Mandarin, Arabic, Hebrew, Swahili, Hindi and Spanish, the following cryptic instructions for rebuilding society after the inevitable “Doomsday” were engraved:
Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature
Guide reproduction wisely — improving fitness and diversity
Unite humanity with a living new language
Rule passion — faith — tradition — and all things with tempered reason
Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts
Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court
Avoid petty laws and useless officials
Balance personal rights with social duties
Prize truth — beauty — love — seeking harmony with the infinite
Be not a cancer on the Earth — Leave room for nature
His job done, the mysterious Mr. Christian was never seen again, but before disappearing he left a smaller stone tablet explaining the astrological significance of the stones’ placement in relation to the North Star, solstices and equinoxes.
Many indignant detractors look no further than the guidestone’s reference to “maintaining” the world’s population under 500,000,000.
It’s an odd and undoubtedly intentional choice of words, considering that in 1980 the world’s population was about 4.4 billion.
In fact it begs the question, how should the population be reduced to 500,000,000 million in the first place?
Some see this statement alone as irrefutable proof that the stone’s creators were aligned with the mysterious New World Order and eugenics movements, whose dastardly aims purportedly include reducing the number of humans to more sustainable levels, and improving the quality of genetics by “culling” undesirable segments of the population through genocide, plague, forced birth control and starvation.
On the other hand, some famous figures like Yoko Ono praise the guidestones’ practicality and promotion of balance and harmony.
Though the stones drew relatively little attention in the ‘80s and ‘90s, more recently they’ve found themselves in the international spotlight and have been vandalized repeatedly.
We may never know who made the stones or exactly what they mean, but what’s particularly interesting about them is that their messages are hidden in plain sight.
Despite being polite, educated and multilingual, Henry Debosnys has been labeled a lazy sociopath, an egotistical genius, mass murder, madman and psychopath.
Though they’re not mutually exclusive descriptions, whatever he was, before his execution in 1882 he left behind a unique manuscript known as the Debosnys Ciphers.
His identity has never been definitively established, but from what has been pieced together from his past he was born in either France or Portugal and emigrated to the United States in the 1830s.
Though next to nothing is known about his family or childhood, the handsome, dapper and well-spoken Mr. Debosnys left in his wake a trail of at least two wealthy dead wives across the continent, and possibly more.
His American troubles began in early 1882 when he arrived in Essex County, New York aboard a luxurious yacht that had departed from nearby Philadelphia just a few days before.
Shortly after his arrival, he met, courted and eventually married a well-to-do local widow named Elizabeth Wells.
And surprise, surprise, poor Elizabeth turned up dead in the summer of the same year – found strangled in the forest just outside Westport, NY after a picnic with Debosnys, who was apparently seen leaving the scene and acting peculiarly.
Debosnys was subsequently captured, arrested and convicted after a trial that supposedly took less than 10 minutes.
He proclaimed his innocence and undying love for his wife until the bitter end, and while in jail awaiting execution by hanging he produced a body of work including romantic poems, macabre drawings and bizarre cryptograms, many of which haven’t been deciphered to this day.
However some were written in plain English, like this excerpt from one of his poems –
“And free from the old world it is! I will visit the heaven with mine.”
Of course it’s possible that the cryptic portions of his text aren’t coded messages at all, but the incomprehensible rantings of a misanthropic murderer with a hopelessly deranged mind.
Either way, writing and cryptography experts who’ve studied his work agree that it does contain portions inspired at least in part by hieroglyphics, much of which includes pictures of trees, snakes, horses as suns, some of which have been linked to Masonic symbolism, only deepening the mystery.
There are also portions of writing in Greek, Portuguese and Latin that may give glimpses into his early life and education.
Though the case of Henry Debonsys remained a source of interest and local lore, it was largely forgotten about nationally, and it wasn’t until a book titled Adirondack Enigma was published by Cheri Farnsworth in 2010 that efforts to decode the enigma picked up steam once again, but to no avail.
In a enticingly macabre ending to a particularly sordid tale, for years Henry Debosnys’ skull has been enclosed in a glass case and displayed in a rarely visited corner of the Adirondack History Center Museum in Elizabethtown, NY, along with historical accounts of his life and memorabilia from the trial and execution, including the actual noose used to hang him after his sentence was handed down.
Debosnys also holds the distinction of being the last man ever hanged in Essex County, of which he was the second and by far the most famous.