The Church Cipher

In 1775, an enciphered message was intercepted en route from colonial physician Benjamin Church to a British officer in Boston. Part of the message appears below. What does it say?

https://www.nps.gov/articles/decoding-benjamin-church.htm

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“The New Europe”

https://digital.library.cornell.edu/catalog/ss:19343441

P.A. Maas, son of a Viennese publisher, offered this proposal after World War I. “Does anyone really seriously believe that the consequences of the peace negotiations so far have secured eternal peace?” he wrote. “Does anyone really seriously believe that the revenge of the individual peoples has been satisfied by the consequences of the present peace negotiations?”

Instead he proposed to divide the continent into 24 wedge-shaped “Kantons,” each named for a prominent city. These would meet at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, center of the new union’s capital, which Maas envisioned as “a large, wide garden city, hygienically designed and expanded.” The Kantons would cut across cultural and ethnic lines and across the old national borders, and each one would include at least two of Europe’s “Nations” — Romans, Germans, Slavs, and Magyars — so that “racial hatred does not prevail as before, but the love of the people prevails.” The three-year presidency would rotate among the Nations, all colonies would be jointly owned, everyone would speak Esperanto, and everyone over 20 (except married women) could vote.

“To many a reader this work may appear as the result of over-excited imagination; someday, though late, the knowledge of truth will gain the upper hand, and perhaps many things which have been stimulated by me here will be realized.”

(From the Cornell University Library.)

Company

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Three_grotesque_old_men_with_awful_teeth_grimacing_and_point_Wellcome_V0012066.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Members of the Liverpool Ugly Faces Club, 1745:

  • Mathew Strong, merchant: “A tawny complexion, sharp nose, flook mouth, irregular bad set of teeth like those of an old worn out comb, thoroughly begrimed. A ghastly queer grin and countenance greatly set off by a long carroty beard.”
  • John Woods, architect: “A stone coloured complexion, a dimple in his attick story, the pilasters of his face fluted, tortoise eyed, a prominent nose, wild grin, and face altogether resembling a badger, and finer, though smaller than those of Sr Chryst WREN or Inego JONES.”
  • John Williamson Jr., merchant: “Ruff face, bleared eyes, flowing like two fountains, monstrous long nose, hooked like the beak of an eagle, pretty large mouth, upon the whole a charming member.”
  • William Long: “Rugged face, very prominent large nose, extraordinary wide mouth, no upper teeth, a large under lip, a prodigious long chin, meeting his nose like a pair of nutcrackers, an extraordinary member.”
  • Francis Gildart, Esq.: “Large pancake face, little, hollow grey eyes, short turnup, nose, large thick under lip, which almost meets his nose, odd droll, sancho, pancho, phiz, which gives life humour to everything he says. Therefore sets off a joke to ye utmost advantage.”
  • Robert Fillingham, merchant: “Little eyes, wide mouth, thin jaws, narrow face. His countenance hard, stern and crabbed. In every respect extremely well qualified.”
  • John Parr Sr., draper: “Broad, Punch like face, flat nose, wide nostrils, large mouth, thick lips, stern looks, sallow complexion, hideous grin.”
  • William Willocks, merchant: “Longish visage, very uncommon squinting eyes.”
  • Lewis Augs Younge, M.D.: “A large carbuncle potato nose, fine and bushy eyebrows, an agreeable facetious grin, wide mouth. When he laughs comes the shape of the moon at a quarter old, and on the whole, a face fitting a member of the Society.”

Worst, apparently, was merchant Joseph Farmer: “Little eyes, one bigger than ye other, long nose, thin lanthorn jaws, large upper lip, mouth from ear to ear resembling the mouth of a shark. A rotten set of irregular teeth, which are set off to great advantage by frequent laughing. His visage long and narrow. His looks upon the whole, extraordinary haggard, odd, comic, and out of ye way. In short, possessed of every extraordinary qualification to render him ye Phoenix of ye Society, as the like will not appear again this 1000 years.”

The club’s motto was Tetrum ante omnia vultum, “Before all things, an ugly face.”

(From the Liverpool Mercury, Sept. 29, 1887.)

Podcast Episode 318: Peace Pilgrim

peace pilgrim

In 1953 Mildred Norman renounced “an empty life of money and things” and dedicated herself to promoting peace. She spent the next three decades walking through the United States to spread a message of simplicity and harmony. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe her unusual life as a peace pilgrim.

We’ll also admire Wellington’s Mittens and puzzle over a barren Christmas.

Intro:

In 1956, Navy pilot Tom Attridge overtook his own rounds in a supersonic jet.

Flemish artist Cornelius Gijsbrechts painted a rendering of the back of a painting.

See full show notes …

Lesson

https://rmc.library.cornell.edu/waketheform/exhibition/outsider/index.html#modalOpen

This was in the Public Domain Review yesterday — in 1917 the National Woman Suffrage Association published a little book purporting to give every reason women shouldn’t be given the franchise. Inside, every page page was blank.

The 19th amendment passed three years later. “Men and women are like right and left hands,” wrote Jeannette Rankin. “It doesn’t make sense not to use both.”

(From the Cornell University Library.)

Brave New World

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Outside_StGeorges_Hospital.jpg

Only a few years back those who carried Umbrellas were held to be legitimate butts. They were old fogies, careful of their health, and so on; but now-a-days we are wiser. Everybody has his Umbrella. It is both cheaper and better made than of old; who, then, so poor he cannot afford one? To see a man going out in the rain umbrella-less excites as much mirth as ever did the sight of those who first — wiser than their generation — availed themselves of this now universal shelter.

— William Sangster, Umbrellas and Their History, 1855

In 1899 Notes & Queries reprinted an account, now thought to be apocryphal, of “the first silk hat in London”:

It was in evidence that Mr. Hetherington, who is well connected, appeared upon the public highway wearing upon his head what he called a silk hat (which was offered in evidence), a tall structure, having a shiny lustre, and calculated to frighten timid people. As a matter of fact, the officers of the Crown stated that several women fainted at the unusual sight, while children screamed, dogs yelped, and a young son of Cordwainer Thomas, who was returning from a chandler’s shop, was thrown down by the crowd which had collected and had his right arm broken.

Supposedly Hetherington argued that he’d broken no law, and the Times backed him up: “In these days of enlightenment it must be considered an advance in dress reform, and one which is bound, sooner or later, to stamp its character upon the entire community.”

Podcast Episode 316: A Malaysian Mystery

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Moonlight_bungalow.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1967, Jim Thompson left his silk business in Thailand for a Malaysian holiday with three friends. On the last day, he disappeared from the cottage in which they were staying. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review the many theories behind Thompson’s disappearance, which has never been explained.

We’ll also borrow John Barrymore’s corpse and puzzle over a teddy bear’s significance.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 315: Beryl Markham’s Unconventional Life

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beryl_Markham_(12990136984).jpg

Beryl Markham managed to fit three extraordinary careers into one lifetime: She was a champion racehorse trainer, a pioneering bush pilot, and a best-selling author. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review her eventful life, including her historic solo flight across the Atlantic in 1936.

We’ll also portray some Canadian snakes and puzzle over a deadly car.

See full show notes …

Miss and Hit

At the commencement of this battle [Gettysburg], as the Regiment was rushing forward toward the enemy, a cannon ball passed between the legs of Captain Robert Story, of Company B, plowing up the earth beyond, yet he rushed on until, half an hour later, he lay mortally wounded, in the enemy’s lines. He was struck in the left thigh by a Minnie ball, which, on reaching and fracturing the bone, divided into three parts.

— Abram P. Smith, History of the Seventy-Sixth Regiment New York Volunteers, 1867

The Burned House Phenomenon

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Burned_House_Horizon_Map.PNG
Image: Wikimedia Commons

The Cucuteni-Trypillian culture of Neolithic Europe left behind a curious puzzle for archaeologists: It appears that, for more than a thousand years, the houses in every settlement were burned. It’s not clear why. Possibly the fires arose accidentally or through warfare, or possibly they were set deliberately. The extent of each fire must have been considerable, because the raw clay in the walls has been vitrified by intense heat, an effect that has not appeared in modern experiments with individual houses. But the reason for the phenomenon, and for its longevity, remains unknown.