Pigeon Puzzle

In 1982, 74-year-old David Martin found the skeleton of a carrier pigeon in the chimney of his house in Bletchingley, Surrey. Attached to its leg was an encrypted message believed to have been sent from France on D-Day, June 6, 1944:

AOAKN HVPKD FNFJW YIDDC
RQXSR DJHFP GOVFN MIAPX
PABUZ WYYNP CMPNW HJRZH
NLXKG MEMKK ONOIB AKEEQ
WAOTA RBQRH DJOFM TPZEH
LKXGH RGGHT JRZCQ FNKTQ
KLDTS FQIRW AOAKN 27 1525/6

What does it mean? No one knows — the message still hasn’t been deciphered.

“Although it is disappointing that we cannot yet read the message brought back by a brave carrier pigeon,” announced Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters last November, “it is a tribute to the skills of the wartime code makers that, despite working under severe pressure, they devised a code that was undecipherable both then and now.”

UPDATE: Gord Young of Peterborough, Ontario, claimed to have cracked the code last month using a World War I code book that he had inherited from his great-uncle. He believes the report was written by 27-year-old Lancashire Fusilier William Stott, who had been dropped into Normandy to report on German positions. Stott was killed a few weeks after the report. Here’s Young’s solution:

AOAKN – Artillery Observer At “K” Sector, Normandy
HVPKD – Have Panzers Know Directions
FNFJW – Final Note [confirming] Found Jerry’s Whereabouts
DJHFP – Determined Jerry’s Headquarters Front Posts
CMPNW – Counter Measures [against] Panzers Not Working
PABLIZ – Panzer Attack – Blitz
KLDTS – Know [where] Local Dispatch Station
27 / 1526 / 6 – June 27th, 1526 hours

Young says that the portions that remain undeciphered may have been inserted deliberately in order to confuse Germans who intercepted the message. “We stand by our statement of 22 November 2012 that without access to the relevant codebooks and details of any additional encryption used, the message will remain impossible to decrypt,” a GCHQ spokesman told the BBC on Dec. 16. But he said they would be happy to look at Young’s proposed solution.

(Thanks, John and Ivan.)

The Swallows Return

Swimming in the Nile at age 10, Hadji Ali discovered he could ingest large amounts of water and bring it up again without ill effect. He parlayed this talent into a career as a “regurgitation act” in music halls and carnivals around the world, playing even to Tsar Nicholas II at the Winter Palace in 1914.

The performance above, from Laurel and Hardy’s 1931 Spanish-language film Politiquerias, includes Ali’s famous closing stunt, in which he ingests both water and kerosene and then upchucks them variously onto an open flame.

All of this was received with surprising tolerance by the era’s audiences — Judy Garland named Ali her favorite vaudevillian — but at least one club cut short an engagement when they found it was “killing their supper shows.”

Showoff

Dr. S.V. Clevenger, in the Alienist and Neurologist for July 1890, describes an infant prodigy, Oscar Moore. Two little colored children were reciting the multiplication table at their home, in a little cabin in Texas, as they had repeatedly done before, and one of them asserted that four times twelve was fifty-eight, whereupon a thirteen months old baby, Oscar Moore, who had never spoken before, corrected the error by exclaiming, ‘Four times twelve are forty-eight!’ There was consternation in that humble home until the family became reconciled to the freak. Oscar was born in Waco, Texas, in 1885; his father is an emancipated slave, his mother is a mulatto. He was born blind; the other senses are unusually acute; his memory is the most remarkable peculiarity. He is intelligent and manifests great inquisitiveness; his memory is not parrot-like. When less than two years of age he would recite all he heard his sister read while conning her lessons. He sings and counts in different languages, has mastered an appalling array of statistics, and is greatly attracted by music. The writer concludes that Oscar is not mentally defective, but may possess extraordinary mental powers.

Science, June 26, 1891

Sympathy

A most singular circumstance has recently occurred in Louisville. One Robert Sadler being arraigned on a writ of lunatico inquirendo, the following appeared in testimony: It was allegated that in the night time he would alarm his family and his neighbors with screams as if in severe pain, exclaiming that he felt the pain inflicted upon persons at a distance, by amputation or other causes. Mr. Sadler was said to be of good character and incapable of wilfully feigning what he did not feel, and therefore was supposed by his friends to be insane. In consequence of this belief a writ was issued to make the proper legal inquiry and to decide the question. The jury however could not agree to call him insane and he was discharged. It was proved that he uttered his cries and expressions of pain at the precise time that those with whose sufferings he claimed to be in sympathy, were actually undergoing the operations, which would cause similar pain; and this under circumstances which precluded the belief that he could have been aware, by external means, of the time or place at which such operations were to take place. The length of time during which he had displayed this morbid sensibility had been so prolonged, that if he had really been practicing a deception it could scarcely have failed to be discovered. In his conversation, and in all other particulars except the one we have described, Mr. Sadler gave no evidence of anything except the most perfect sanity. The case seems to be well authenticated, and if the truth of the details can be relied upon is altogether a very remarkable one.

Scientific American, Dec. 16, 1868

Identity Crisis

This notice appeared in Dublin in July 1781:

This is to certify that I, Daniel O’Flannaghan, am not the Person that was tarred and feathered by the Liberty Mob, on Tuesday last; and I am ready to give 20 Guineas to any one that will lay me 50, that I am the other Man who goes by my Name.
Witness my Hand, this 30th July.
Daniel O’Flannaghan.

Wrote Henry Sampson, “A man who can afford to lay seventy guineas to thirty that he is himself, and nobody else, deserves credit for his boldness, if not for his ingenuity.”

Leviathan

Extract from the log of A.H. Raymer, second officer of the S.S. Fort Salisbury, Oct. 28, 1902, quoted in The Zoologist, January 1903:

Dark object, with long, luminous trailing wake, thrown in relief by a phosphorescent sea, seen ahead, a little on starboard bow. Look-out reported two masthead lights ahead. These two lights, almost as bright as a steamer’s lights, appeared to shine from two points in line on the upper surface of the dark mass. Concluded dark mass was a whale, and lights phosphorescent. On drawing nearer, dark mass and lights sank below the surface. Prepared to examine the wake in passing with binoculars. Passed about forty to fifty yards on port side of wake, and discovered it was the scaled back of some huge monster slowly disappearing below the surface. Darkness of the night prevented determining its exact nature, but scales of apparently 1 ft. diameter, and dotted in places with barnacle growth, were plainly discernible. The breadth of the body showing above water tapered from about 80 ft. close abaft, where the dark mass had appeared to about 5 ft. at the extreme end visible. Length roughly about 500 ft. to 600 ft. Concluded that the dark mass first seen must have been the creature’s head. The swirl caused by the monster’s progress could be distinctly heard, and a strong odour like that of a low-tide beach on a summer day pervaded the air. Twice along its length the disturbance of the water and a broadening of the surrounding belt of phosphorus indicated the presence of huge fins in motion below the surface. The wet, shiny back of the monster was dotted with twinkling phosphorescent lights, and was encircled with a band of white phosphorescent sea. Such are the bare facts of the passing of the Sea Serpent in latitude 5 deg. 31 min. S., longitude 4 deg. 42 min. W., as seen by myself, being officer of the watch, and by the helmsman and look-out man.

The ship’s master added, “I can only say that he is very earnest on the subject, and certainly has, together with look-out and helmsman, seen something in the water of a huge nature as specified.”

Brewing Trouble

A curious excerpt from The Pursuit of the Heiress, a history of aristocratic marriage in Ireland by A.P.W. Malcolmson, 2006:

Another strange tale, which this time ended less happily for the heir presumptive, is that of the 3rd Earl of Darnley, an eccentric bachelor who suffered from the delusion that he was a teapot. In 1766, when he was nearly fifty and had held the family title and estates for almost twenty years, Lord Darnley suddenly and unexpectedly married; and between 1766 and his death in 1781, he fathered at least seven children, in spite of his initial alarm that his spout would come off in the night.

I thought this couldn’t possibly be true, but Malcolmson gives two sources, a letter from the Rev. George Chinnery to Viscountess Midleton, Aug. 18, 1762, kept at the Surrey History Centre in Woking, and a typescript family history by Rear Admiral W.G.S. Tighe. An Irish auction house supports the story.

(Thanks, Donald.)

Signs and Wonders

COLUMBIA, S.C., May 29. — Closely following the appearance of the hand of flame in the heavens above Ohio comes a story from Darlington County, in this State, of a flying serpent. Last Sunday evening, just before sunset, Miss Ida Davis and her two younger sisters were strolling through the woods, when they were suddenly startled by the appearance of a huge serpent moving through the air above them. The serpent was distant only two or three rods when they first beheld it, and was sailing through the air with a speed equal to that of a hawk or buzzard, but without any visible means of propulsion. Its movements in its flight resembled those of a snake, and it looked a formidable object as it wound its way along, being apparently about 15 feet in length. The girls stood amazed and followed it with their eyes until it was lost to view in the distance. The flying serpent was also seen by a number of people in other parts of the county early in the afternoon of the same day, and by those it is represented as emitting a hissing noise which could be distinctly heard.

New York Times, May 30, 1888

Meeting the Locals

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Henry Hudson made this curious journal entry in the Canadian arctic, June 15, 1610:

This morning one of our company looking overboard saw a mermaid; and calling up some of the company to see her, one more came up, and by that time she was come close to the ship’s side, looking earnestly on the men. A little after, a sea came and overturned her. From the navel upward, her back and breasts were like a woman’s, as they say that saw her; her body as big as one of us; her skin very white; and long hair hanging down behind, of colour black. In her going down they saw her tail, which was like the tail of a porpoise, and speckled like a mackerel. Their names that saw her were Thomas Hilles and Robert Rayner.

“Whatever explanation be attempted of this apparition,” wrote Philip Gosse, “the ordinary resource of seal or walrus will not avail here. Seals and walruses must have been as familiar to these polar mariners as cows to a dairy-maid. Unless the whole story was a concerted lie between the two men, reasonless and objectless, — and the worthy old navigator doubtless knew the character of his men, — they must have seen, in the black-haired, white-skinned creature, some form of being as yet unrecognized.”