The Beale ciphers are actually a set of three cipher texts, allegedly indicating the location of a buried treasure worth now around 30 million US dollars, the content of the treasure, and the names of the treasure's owners.
According to a pamphlet called "The Beale Papers", published in 1885, by James B. Ward of Virginia, a treasure was buried in a secret location in Bedford County, Virginia, about 60 years earlier by an explorer named Thomas Jefferson Beale. The pamphlet further claims that Beale encrypted the information concerning the treasure in three different cipher texts and left it in the confidence of Robert Morriss, a local innkeeper whose inn Beale used to frequently stay in after returning from secret expeditions.
It is alleged that Beale told Morriss to open the ciphers (placed in an iron box), if he failed to return in 10 years. Although Beale had promised to send the innkeeper the keys to decode the ciphers, it never happened. Morriss, true to his word, waited for Beale to return. After 23 years, when Beale had still not retuned, Morriss finally broke open the iron box containing the 3 ciphers. Morriss, unable to solve any of the ciphers, later passed the cipher texts to one of his friends called James B. Ward. The content of each of the ciphers is supposedly as follows:
Cipher #1 described the location of the treasure.
Cipher #2 described the contents of the buried treasure, estimated to be worth over $30 million today.
Cipher #3 listed the names of the rightful owners of the treasure.
Ward was able to successfully decipher the second cipher by numbering the words in a particular edition of the United States Declaration of Independence, and then swapping those words with the matching numbers in the second cipher. The decoded message contained the vault's contents. However, Ward could not solve the other two cipher texts, even after years of effort. Ward ultimately made the cipher texts public, by the means of a pamphlet as described above.
Authenticity of the ciphers
To this day, even after decades of trying by hundreds of skilled cryptanalysts, the other two cipher texts have remained undecipherable. This has resulted in some suggesting that the ciphers were in fact a hoax. Some cryptographers claim that the two remaining cipher texts have statistical characteristics that suggest that they are not actually encryptions of an English language message. Some of the wording in the letters also does not fit with that particular time period (for example, the word "stampede", found in one of the letters did not enter into print twenty-two years after the letter is supposedly dated!) On top of that, there is actually no solid proof that a person by the name of Thomas Jefferson Beale ever having existed in Virginia in the early 19th century. The original Beale papers themselves do not exist anymore and therefore all information regarding the ciphers originates from one source - the pamphlet published by Ward in 1885.
However, the disputes over the authenticity of the Beale Cipher has not deterred many people from hunting for the treasure by digging up possible locations, some even investing significant amount of time and energy in the hunt.
- The Beale Cryptograms
- The Beale Ciphers Demystified
- The Beale Papers
- The Beale Treasure Ciphers
- The Beale Treasure
- Picture source: The solved cipher (GNU Free Documentation License)