The Voynich Manuscript and It’s Place in Cryptographic History

The Voynich Manuscript came into popular cultural in 1912 when  Wilfrid Voynich (a Polish book dealer) purchased it. It is unclear from where he purchased it so it’s even more interesting when you consider that the vellum it was written on dates it somewhere between 1404–1438! That’s a good solid 500 years it was just floating around somewhere with no one really paying attention to it. It’s particularly remarkable because this codex was written in some unknown script and everyone’s best guess is that it was written in Northern Italy during the Renaissance. So, it’s not Italian?

We’ve put our world’s best–British and American codebreakers from both World Wars–on the task of decrypting this text and yet it is still undeciphered. It ranks right up there with Kryptos and Ricky McCormick’s encrypted notes. We just can’t seem to figure them out. However, looking at the diagrams and illustrations, our best guess is that it had to do with medicine. But if that’s the case, why encrypt it?

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Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake, as the name might suggest, was created when the volcano Mount Mazama collapsed, leaving behind just the tip of the volcano as the island Wizard Island, which stands from the bottom of the lake up to over 700 feet above the water’s surface. The collapse of the volcano left behind a huge crater that formed a lake about 2,000 feet deep, the deepest lake in the United States. It is also know for its picturesque views, with high, sheer cliff faces rising another 2,000 feet above the water’s surface. It is supposedly one of the most beautiful sights around, considered sacred by the Klamath people.

One rather interesting feature is the Old Man of the Lake. It’s not really an old man, but a tree trunk that has been documented to be floating vertically in the lake at various locations since the year 1896 (well over a century!) (pictured above). Reportedly, it is wide enough and buoyant enough to withstand a person on top of it. The thing is, we don’t exactly know why it has remained floating this way for as long as it has. Typically, floating logs lay horizontally along the surface of the water, because that’s how science works. We can make guesses, and there are good guesses out there, but we have no definitive proof because of how long ago the tree got to this state. Check out this Atlas Obscura article to read about that a little more. There is also a myth about the Old Man that states that a research team in the late 80′s was concerned about the safety hazards of the large tree stump moving around the lake so they tethered it to Wizard Island. Apparently, as soon as the log was tied to the island, the weather got nasty and the water got choppy. Spooked, the team decided to cut it loose and deal with it possibly getting in their way. So, at that point, the weather turned nice again in a matter of minutes.

Now, no creepy lake is complete without monster sightings. It has been written on several sites that a woman named Mattie Hatcher, from Georgia, was interviewed for a newspaper called “Fort Meyers News-Star” about a “monster” sighting at Crater Lake, despite it being in Oregon and the woman being from Georgia, in 2002. This is suspicious for several reasons. The only “News-Star” I could find was in Louisiana and I was unable to locate anything related to Crater Lake on their site. And then, there was a paper called “News-Star” near Fort Myers (different spelling), Florida, that seems to have been absorbed into Fort Myers’ News-Press paper. This doesn’t really bode well for the credibility of the claim but supposedly Mrs. Hatcher said “That thing must have been a block long…To me it looked like a dragon.” It makes for an interesting folktale, at the very least.

I was able to track down some slightly more credible information about this case in the form of the book called Haunted Hikes: Spine-Tingling Tales from North America’s National Parks by Andrea Lankford. In this book, Lankford describes a set of twins, Lloyd and Larry Smith, who were rangers at Crater Lake for a long stint, that actually has a website called Crater Lake Institutewith extensive chronological records about any events that occurred at or near the park. Some of these notes involve unsolved murders and strange or possibly paranormal encounters experienced by rangers and visitors alike. It does appear that there were Bigfoot sightings/experiences as well as UFO sightings. You can even check these out for yourself by looking through their records here.

In 1945, something called “The Burp” occurred at the lake. The area is clearly volcanic and that always comes with the risk of a dormant volcano becoming active again, but it seemed that the lake was spitting out huge, diamond-shape plums of “dust-like gas” that is still unexplained to this day. It is also worth noting that approximately 98% of the landscape of the lake underwater is unexplored.

Oh, and one more thing. Apparently, rangers see “phantom fires” on Wizard Island, particularly in illegal areas where camping and fires are not allowed. However, when the rangers boat over to talk to the campers, they would find no signs of a fire: no smell, no smoldering embers, no sign of people. One particular instance was noted, the phantom fire was seen in an area that used to be an old park campground. That’s a bit…bizarre.

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Amy Duggan Archer-Gilligan and the “Archer Home for the Elderly and Infirm”

Amy Archer-Giligan from Windsor, Connecticut is considered the most prolific female serial killer, with a possible victim count of 60 of the residents in her nursing home for the elderly. That’s how many residents died between the years of 1907 to 1917. However, not all of them were confirmed. After a relatively healthy resident died suddenly of “stomach ulcers,” as it first appeared, suspicion fell on Archer-Gilligan from the victim’s sister and subsequently local authorities. They exhumed the body and performed an autopsy that showed that the victim, Franklin R. Andrews, died of arsenic poisoning.

So, during this time period, arsenic was readily available as it was frequently used as a rat killer. The only catch was that you did have to sign documents when you purchased the substance. Authorities easily found that Archer-Gilligan was buying entirely too much arsenic to just be killing rats. So, they exhumed four more previous residents of Archer-Gilligan’s and found large amounts of arsenic in their bodies as well. That put the charges against her at five. However, her lawyer managed to get it down to just the murder of Andrews. She was sentenced to death in 1917. However, she appealed and was granted another trial in 1919 but was still found guilty. This time, they sentenced her to life in prison. In 1924, they transferred her to the Connecticut Hospital for the Ins*ne in Middletown and she stayed there until she died in 1962.

The reason this is classified as “unsolved” is because we will never know the number of victims she really had, with only five confirmed. They would have had to exhume every single one of her previous residents that had died and, as stated earlier, that number was 60. They had enough to convict on the five they did confirm and that was all they were concerned with.

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The Fool Killer

In order to understand the circumstances under which the Fool Killer was discovered, we have to briefly discuss the Eastland Disaster involving the SS Eastland. This ship was finished in 1903 but early on had issues with listing–tilting one way or another–because it was too heavy. That should have clued people in, but people were trying to make money so they just kept using it.

Of course, you’ll notice this all happened a few years after the Titanic sank, which led to the passing of the Seamen’s Act in March of 1915. This is the act that mandated that all ships going forward be fitted with as many life rafts as were necessary for the passengers on the ship and crew as well as retro-fitting any boats not previously equipped with enough rafts for the passengers. The act did some other good stuff for sailors, but that’s the part that’s most relevant to this tale. So, the Eastland was already top heavy and then they added a bunch of lifeboats on to the ship plus the passengers. The ship’s capacity was 2,572 and on the morning of July 24, 1915, the ship was filled to capacity, including 220 Czech immigrants on their way to a company picnic. So, the ship was very top heavy and when it was filled like that a lot of passengers had to stand on the upper deck. Then, the upper deck started to list (tilt) to the port side, away from the dock. Within a few minutes, the ship lurched to the side and then completely rolled all the way to one side. A total of 844 passengers and 4 crewmen died. You can go here to watch video of the rescue efforts in two different clips.

Now, this is where the Fool Killer submarine comes into play. A diver named William “Frenchy” Deneau, who I can’t seem to find much information on anywhere other than in articles that refer specifically to the Fool Killer, was helping out with dragging the Chicago River to look for bodies from the Eastland disaster. Despite the murkiness of the water, Deneau was able to help recover around 250 bodies. In November, Deneau went back to this same area, to lay cables under the Rush Street bridge. While down there, using his shovel, he supposedly discovered a forty-foot long submarine. Now, this was interesting because WWI was underway at this point (though, the United States was a few years away from officially joining the fight) and the Germans were known to use “U-boats” in their attacks, so people of this time knew all about submarines. It is also of note that the United States did attempt to use submarines during the Revolutionary War as well as the Civil War, with not much success. So, that Fool Killer submarine was interesting specifically because it seemed old, possibly dating to the 1890s, but also because Deneau supposedly found a human and dog skull inside the sub. Around this time, a man named Peter Nissen was pretty famous as a “daredevil” and inventor, as he did, in fact, construct several attempts at submarines, all with the name the Fool Killer. So, the thought at the time of the 1915 discovery was that the sub and the bones inside belonged to Nissen, but it was complicated by Chicago Tribune articles that claimed the sub belonged to William Nissen, though a William Nissen was noted to still be alive during the 1920 census. So, who did the bones belong to? This is still unanswered.

Additionally, the exact location of the discovery of the sub is contested, with the most common being beneath the Madison Street bridge while other reports say Rush Street bridge, Wells Street bridge, and even Fullerton bridge (Chicago has a lot of bridges!!). We do know one thing, though. Deneau used the sub to get money, shipping it around the country as a way of promoting the Skee Ball machines (since the company was a financial backer). Though, it did also enjoy a stay in Chicago at 208 South State Street, with admission costing 10¢. Due to the complete murkiness of this case, some speculate the whole thing could be a hoax, that the bones were planted. This could be the case, but we may never know. Reportedly, after a bit of travel, the sub found its way back to Chicago in 1916, but that was the last known siting. Who knows what happened to it or the bones?

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Babes in the Woods

This is an interesting concept, though sad. Traditionally, the title comes from an anonymous tale originally published in 1595. It was later absorbed into Mother Goose and in 1932, Disney created a movie by the same name. If you’ll notice, it’s also pretty similar to the tale of Hansel and Gretel, with two innocent children going into the woods and being preyed upon or left to die. Clearly, this is rooted in some sort of cultural fear, given that it appears in both English and German folktales. Interestingly, it even made its way to North America, entering common language to mean innocents (not necessarily children) entering into unknown, dangerous situations (not necessarily a forest).

We can see this when we look at several murders that had this name attributed to them. This includes one case in Pennsylvania in 1934 and another in Vancouver, BC, in 1953. The murder in Stanely Park was never solved.

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Shades of Death Road

Yes, that’s the full name of the road: Shades of Death Road. Though, it’s mostly just referred to as “Shades.” That’s pretty ominous either way you slice it. This particular 7-mile long Shades of Death Road is located in Warren County, New Jersey, right up snug next to Pennsylvania. Interestingly, the other  Shades of Death is in Pennsylvania, though on the farthest western side but has far less… interest surrounding it and doesn’t have a Wikipedia page like this one does.

Several possible reasons for this name, as cited in the magazine Weird NJ (a veritable feast of New Jersey Americana), are:

“…the road’s southern half, where the adjoining forest with its aged trees provides much actual shade from the sun on even the brightest days. Highwaymen or other bandits would supposedly lay in wait for victims in these shadows, then often cut their throats after taking what they had, or they would engage in fights to the death among themselves over women.

“Or…the local populace would take revenge against these highwaymen by lynching them and leaving the bodies dangling from low-hanging tree branches as a warning to others criminally inclined.

“In the 1920s and 1930s there were three brutal murders along the road, one a robbery in which a man was hit over the head with a tire jack over some gold coins, a second in which a woman beheaded her husband and buried the head and the body on different sides of the street, and lastly one in which a local resident, Bill Cummins, was shot and buried in a pile of muck…

“The twists and turns of the road have led to suggestions that it has led to an inordinate number of fatal car accidents, and supposedly the reflective guard rails along the road indicate where that has happened. However, the road had earned its name well before automobile use became common in the area.

“Bear Swamp nearby was known as either Cat Hollow or Cat Swamp, because of packs of vicious wild cats that lived there who frequently and lethally attacked travelers along the road.

“…the Pequest lowlands and nearby Bear Swamp, used today for sod farming. In 1850, malaria-carrying insects were discovered nesting in a cliff face along the road. They flourished in the nearby wetlands of Bear Swamp, causing annual outbreaks of the disease. The high mortality rates due to the remoteness of the area from effective medical treatment cut a swath through so many families that a street once called merely Shade or Shades Road due to its tree cover took on the name Shades Of Death out of black humor. The problem was so widespread, that in 1884 a state-sponsored project drained the swamps, ending the threat.”

Sadly, the aforementioned murder of Bill Cummins was never solved. Poor fellow. Though it should be noted that the only reference I could find to this case was through this book. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but it would take further research to determine the veracity of this event.

Ghost Lake is a major feature along this stretch of road. Interestingly, the lake isn’t officially named on any U.S. government documents, so the name is a purely local attribution. The name, supposedly, comes from the phenomenon of whispy mist that hangs above the lake, often at night. Of course, there is a scientific explanation for this occurrence but that doesn’t make it less spooky when you’re driving alone at night and you see the whisps, especially considering it has been reported that it has been reported that, no matter what time of night, the lake always appears to be illuminated as though it were twilight. The local legend that really gives the lake that spook factor is the now-abandoned cabin across the lake from the road where several people were murdered, possibly causing the lake to be haunted.

Weird NJ also reported that at some point during the 90s, a couple of anonymous readers found some…disturbing Polaroid photos (of the distressed woman variety). Apparently, however, when the police started to investigate, the Polaroids disappeared. Still, mysterious Polaroids are majorly creepy, if I do say so myself.

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“Satan Sleuths : Once Scoffed at by Peers, Police Experts in Occult Crime Now Are Frighteningly in Demand”

by  DIANNE KLEIN in the  May 25, 1989 edition of the Los Angeles Times.

We are so fortunate that the LA Times has such a good archive system. Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t be able to read about this case. There’s not even a Wikipedia page of it.

The gist of the case is: in 1981, a decapitated man was found in the Golden Gate Park with a headless chicken near him (and apparently partially stuffed inside him). It was quite gruesome and detective, Sandi Gallant, immediately pointed to some sort of ritual sacrifice.

“In 42 days, Gallant told homicide, the dead man’s head would be returned near the spot where his body was found.”

The SFPD was pretty skeptical of this. However:

“The head was returned on the 42nd day not far from where the body was found. But no one from the San Francisco Police Department was there to see, let alone arrest, whoever returned it.”

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Bridgewater Triangle, Massachusetts

This area in southern Massachusetts is about 200 square miles and super creepy. It seems to be a hotspot of paranormal activity and unexplained events. The name was originally attributed to the area by the paranormal researcher, Loren Coleman, in his book Mysterious America.

The area has a few landmarks of note. Obviously, the rock on the top left here is pretty interesting. It’s called (appropriately) Profile Rock, located in The Freetown-Fall River State Forest, where a good portion of the activity is reported. This activity includes a string of murders, hazardous waste dumping, and aggressive and abandoned dogs. Not to mention reported animal mutilations and (possibly related) Satanic rituals.

The stone on the bottom is known as the Dighton Rock, a 40-ton boulder (if you want an idea of how large it really is, check out this daguerreotype photo of it!)  that was actually removed from its original site in order to preserve it and install it in the Dighton Rock State Park. While we don’t really know what these petroglyphs are, there have risen a number of…interesting theories about their origins. These theories range from the most likely (First Nations people) to the far-fetched and debunked (Norse people), and a few in between including a theory that the Chinese arrived in America before Columbus did.

Hockomock Swamp is the other main area for strange occurrences. This swamp had been integral to the lives of the Wampanoag living in the area. Reportedly, the name Hockomock means “the place where spirits dwell,” though not in a creepy ghost-y way, just a very alive and active area, as a local conservation journalist, Ted Williams, wrote that it referred to “good spirits that led Indian to moose and deer.” If the sightings of Bigfoot and Thunderbird are to be believed, then that is probably a pretty accurate description! Though, it could also be in the creepy ghost-y way as poltergeists and orbs, balls of fire have all been reported. And! Let us not forget, there have also been UFO sightings.

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Ricky McCormick’s encrypted notes

Not only is Ricky McCormick’s death unsolved, there is the mystery of these bizarre notes found on his body. Codes are always interesting but it is made more noteworthy when you consider that his family went on record claiming that Ricky was only able to write his name, much less legible code. So, who created this code? It appeared that no one had any reason to murder him and the authorities were not able to determine a cause of death. Was his killer the author of the notes?

His body was found fifteen miles from his home, in a cornfield near West Alton, Missouri on June 30, 1999. This case would appear to be the sort that was open and shut, despite a cause of death or a perpetrator, considering McCormick had the kind of profile that would lead people to dismiss him, if it weren’t for these notes. Why was his body found so far from home? Why did he have the notes in his pocket? Who could have written them if not McCormick? The questions about this case are numerous and, as of 2011 when the FBI issued a request for help ciphering the notes, it remains unsolved. The page is still up, if you have any ideas on the code.

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Cryptozoology and Ivan T. Sanderson

Ivan T. Sanderson is credited with coining the term “cryptozoology,” the study of unknown creatures, as we all know very well. Sanderson was born in Scotland but immigrated to the United States and became a US citizen after WWII. He did a lot of traveling in his life, including with his family, and, sadly, his father was killed in Kenya by a rhinoceros in 1925.

Sanderson himself got his bachelor’s degree in zoology and two master’s degrees in botany and ethnology. So, he wasn’t some crackpot pseudo-scientist. He was the real deal. It is worth noting that he was interested in Charles Fort (this guy is super interesting and I would highly recommend looking into him! He wrote four books in his lifetime and all of them are considered nonfiction, though they dealt with topics ranging from teleportation to poltergeists and out-of-place artifacts. Interestingly enough, the collective of these various phenomena is called “Fortean phenomena” or “Forteana.”).

During his lifetime, he was known as a scientist to bring in for weird and unexplained animal cases (particularly the giant penguin incident that occurred in the St. Petersburg area of Florida in the late 1940s). On top of that, Sanderson had a healthy interest in lake monsters, sea serpents, Mokèlé-mbèmbéYeti, and Sasquatch.

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