Updated January 16th, 2024 at 18:43 IST
Woman Buys A Victorian Dress With A Mystery Pocket That Had A Note From 1880s
Sara Rivers Cofield, a collector of vintage costumes, acquired a Victorian dress from the Maine antique mall.
Sara Rivers Cofield, a collector of vintage costumes, acquired a Victorian dress from the Maine antique mall. Dating back to the 1880s, the dress showcased a fitted bodice, a puffy bustle, and delicate lace cuffs. Remarkably, despite its age and intricate embroidery, both the dress and its fabric remained remarkably well-preserved.
Ms. Cofield negotiated and purchased the dress for $100 in 2013. Later, she made an intriguing discovery a secret pocket hidden beneath the bustle. Inside she found two crumpled sheets of paper containing lists of seemingly random words and places.
According to reports, the notes in the margins of the papers seemed to convey a sense of time. Additionally, the dress featured a tag stitched into it with a handwritten name: Bennett.
Ms Cofield shared that she was baffled. The words were cryptic. "What did they mean, and why did Bennett need a "super secret hidey-hole," in Rivers Cofield's words, to stash them? The buttons alone portrayed a forlorn Ophelia from Shakespeare's "Hamlet," and were worth more than she'd paid for the dress, she said.
She documented the dress discovery in a blog, expressing her bewilderment and inviting any decoding prodigies to take on the challenge. Online enthusiasts, intrigued by the mysterious notes, attempted to unravel the "silk dress cryptogram." Despite their efforts, the mystery endured, earning a spot on a blogger's list of the Top 50 unsolved encrypted messages in 2017.
Various conspiracy theories emerged, with some suggesting espionage and others proposing cryptic love notes or telegraph-related communication. Ms. Cofield swiftly dismissed any connection to the Civil War. The enigmatic dress and its cryptic notes continue to perplex both amateur sleuths and historians alike.
"I had kind of abandoned the blog at that point," said Rivers Cofield.
"Every once in a while I would see that a comment was posted or that some other codebreaker would email me and be like, 'Hey, I'm still interested in this,' but nobody ever solved it," River added.
Wayne Chan, a researcher at the University of Manitoba in Canada, undertook the challenge of deciphering the code online during the summer of 2018. Despite his efforts, he reported to CNN that he examined 170 code books, but none of them matched the message.
"I worked on it for a few months but didn't get anywhere with it. I set it aside and didn't look at it again." Chan said.
After extensive research, Wayne Chan had a breakthrough in early last year. He revealed that the coded messages were, in fact, a form of weather report. Contrary to being encrypted for secrecy, the code served as a means for forecasters to condense detailed weather reports into a few words, enabling efficient communication. Each word represented meteorological variables like temperature, wind speed, and barometric pressure at a specific location and time of day.
Chan explained that to make wired messaging via telegraph more cost-effective, a shorthand code was developed. In an academic paper published in August 2022, he elaborated, "Since telegraph companies charged by the number of words in a telegram, codes to compress a message to reduce the number of words became popular."
The mystery persists regarding the identity of Bennett and the reason for having weather codes concealed in a secret pocket.
Published January 16th, 2024 at 18:43 IST