Among the 400,000 graves at the Arlington National Cemetery – a solemn US military graveyard in Virginia – lies the final resting place of cryptography pioneers William and Elizebeth Friedman. And hidden in code on their tombstone is a touching tribute from a wife to her husband. A code that's only now just been cracked, …
Thanks for a really nice article. A good mixture of technology, history and some interesting people.
Also I find it fascinating to note how far back in time some of these ideas originate. I'd heard of the ancient Caesar cipher but Baconian ciphers had passed me by. I for one would welcome a few more articles about the history of cryptography (or indeed the history of other technologies for that matter).
... Omni magazine pointed this out in roughly 1982 ... although it might have been in Martin Gardner's Mathematical Games in Scientific American in the same time frame. (I don't think it would have been as late as Hofstadter's newfangled Metamagical Themas.)
Anybody else remember this? Better, do you have a dead-tree copy to verify my memory? I know I read it somewhere, because I knew the details of the story before I clicked on the headline ...
"developed by the British Elizabethan cryptographer Sir Francis Bacon"
I think that's doing rather a disservice to Bacon, who was the originator of the scientific method, was the Attorney General and also Lord Chancellor of England, wrote a dozen books, somehow found time to be an MP for seven different constituencies at various stages, and produced the foundations of the Napoleonic Code.
It's rather like saying that Isaac Newton was a British Master of the Royal Mint. True, but somewhat misleading.
...I think that's doing rather a disservice to Bacon, who was the originator of the scientific method...
To a point, Lord Copper.
There are TWO Bacons who were involved in the early development of the scientific method - Sir Francis (around 1600) and Roger (around 1250). Roger Bacon, the Franciscan monk, is 350 years before Sir Francis, who is 400 years before us.
If you read their works, Novum Organum and the Opus Maius, for example, I think you will come to the conclusion that Roger produced a more complete, coherent and workable proposal for scientific endevour, and, moreover, did it 350 years earlier than Francis, in an age distinctly hostile to the idea that knowledge could be gathered in any way apart from reading the Bible....
The Friedmans were students of Ms Gallup, also a high ranking cryptographer for US Intelligence during WW1, who had written a 400 page discourse on her discovery of concealed codes in the works of Shakespeare and the St James Bible which she attributed to Francis Bacon the Tudor statesman and philosopher. The codes told the secret story of Bacon's life as the first son of Queen Elizabeth 1st of England and heir to the throne as well as the writer of all the Shakespeare works and Sonnets.
This revelation was highly disruptive to the majority of academic opinion at the time and it is my belief that the Friedmans were asked and well paid to dispel Ms Gallup's findings and so to keep the status quo.
Since that time the "who wrote Shakespeare" debate has continued furiously with Bacon as a main contender. It is my contention that if Bacon can be seen in the light of his true birth that the debate becomes much clearer as to his claim as Shakespeare. The whole story is told in my "faction" novel as a thrilling tale of conspiracy as The Royal Secret last published in 2016 and now on Amazon.
John Bentley (Author).
"Since that time the "who wrote Shakespeare" debate has continued furiously with Bacon as a main contender."
There are bonkers conspiracy theories and them there are raving loony conspiracy delusions, and the Bacon=Shakespeare is the latter.
A five minute overview of Bacon's career and Shakespeare's will dispel it - Bacon was simply far too busy to write the plays as well, and in those days the playwright would need to be heavily involved in rehearsals. Bacon as Shakespeare is a simple fantasy of snobbery - of course some actor chappie from the sticks who hadn't been to Oxford couldn't have done it. It's as ridiculous as some minor journalist from Wiltshire being knighted for writing a hugely successful fantasy series or an obscure woman from Scotland making over a billion writing about wizards.
"or an obscure woman from Scotland making over a billion writing about wizards."
Who's that then? J. Rowling (the K. is fake news!) is from Gloucestershire. According to Wikipedia (yes, I know), she had already written three chapters of Harry Potter when she moved to Scotland in 1993, aged 28.
> So, when HP1 was published, she was from Scotland, no?
I think you underestimate the scale of parochialism that operates amongst the British. Clue: the scale is microscopic, and eternal. Someone born in Gloucestershire can never be said to "come from Scotland", indeed people in the same county will stoutly defend "coming from" individual towns and cities. This operates down to village level, and I can give you examples from within villages that you can, with a good arm, throw a stone clean across.
The words "You aren't from round 'ere, are ye?" is not generally a perfectly friendly greeting :)
"Britain wasn't available when Sir Francis Bacon was alive."
Glad I'm not the only one who thinks this way. I was skeptical of someone who said St George was Turkish for the same reason. To explain it I asked them if they thought Caesar would be best described as "Italian" --- but they did ("of course"), so that strategy went precisely nowhere.
> could plod seize the gravestone and require it be decrypted ?
Don't give them ideas! They could arrest and detain the Friedmans for contempt to court, indefinitely, since I'm pretty sure they won't speak. And what's next? Obviously FBI asking for backdoors on gravestones.
See, this could get ugly pretty fast.
Clever. It also quite raises the bar for designing your own gravestone.
Personally, my two favourites so far are
1. "Hier liegen meine Gebeine. Ich wünschte, es wären deine." (Real, to be found at, where else, Zentralfriedhof Wien.)
2. "Here lies Edmund Blackadder, and he's bloody annoyed!" (Fictional, but oh so very, very good.)
...designing your own gravestone.
'I told you I was ill' (Spike Milligan)
"Please keep off the grass" (Peter Ustinov)
"That's all, folks!" (Mel Blanc)
There are some more gems here... (including ones from some well known people still alive on how they would like to be remembered)
There's a great book recently published on the Friedmans, principally about Elizebeth: "The Woman who Smashed Codes" (Jason Fagone). Containing sections on how jerks like J Edgar Hoover essentially stole her decrypts, and how the laws of the day prevented her from complaining.
Interesting enough of a read to keep me going without interruptions! Recommended.
FYI the Bacon/Shakespeare stuff was never her idea, but that of an early funder.
Wrote a story called "The Goldbug", featuring an encoded pirate treasure map that has to be decoded if the treasure is to be found. I'll say no more; it's a fun story.
Friedman read this story as a child and got interested in ciphers.