Got some vacation time coming up? Good at solving mysteries? Looking to quit your day job and take up treasure hunting? Then you need to sit down and spend a little quality time with the Beale Ciphers, three cyphertexts over a century old that are said to lead to $63 million in treasure.
Let’s start with the first thing you’re going to need to know before you start down that treasure hunting road. A cyphertext, or ciphertext, is a form of encryption that uses an algorithm. Without this algorithm the text is completely unreadable. In the case of the Beale Ciphers, it is three ciphers comprised of a series of numbers, so I hope you paid attention in math class.
The Beale Ciphers were first documented in a pamphlet released in 1885. According to the pamphlet, the ciphers originated in Bedford County, Virginia in the 1820s. Thomas Beale was passing through when he gave a box to a local innkeeper by the name of Robert Morriss. Afterwards Beale disappeared, never to be seen again. Twenty-three years latter Morriss opened the box and discovered three cyphertexts inside which he then passed on to a friend. Morriss’ friend spent the next twenty years attempting to break the cipher, but was only able to figure out one. With no solution in site, this unnamed friend published the Beale Ciphers pamphlet.
Morriss’ friend was able to decipher only the second of three ciphers. In true NATIONAL TREASURE fashion, Morriss’ friend used The United States Declaration of Independence as a key to unlock this second cipher. That cipher described a fortune that is buried in a still undiscovered location. According to the second cipher, the successful treasure hunter will find three tons’ worth of treasure broken down into $63 million in gold, $1 million in silver, and $13,000 in jewels.
There are those who believe the Beale Ciphers to be a hoax; these people are no fun at all. Although several census records put a Thomas Beale in Virginia around the time when the ciphers first emerged, there are still those entirely devoid of whimsy who would like to see all our dreams of finding buried treasure squashed. One theory is that Edgar Allan Poe was the author behind the 1885 pamphlet. Poe had an interest in ciphers and even used it as a plot device in some of his writings. Poe’s brief time at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA also puts him close to Bedford County during the 1820s. However, Poe’s death, over twenty years before the pamphlet was published does cast doubt on this theory.
The ciphers being fact or fiction hasn’t stopped treasure hunters from digging up a lot of ground in Bedford County while searching for the treasure (even without having translated the other two ciphers). For the past 100 years these intrepid trespassers have been getting arrested for digging on private land. But some have operated with permission, promising a 50/50 split with landowners. One such expedition from the 1980s failed to unearth treasure, but did make a few significant Civil War era finds. Treasure hunting is an expensive pursuit, but in the case of this group, the historical find was enough to help the expedition break even.
To this day the treasure remains undisturbed, and the other two parts of the Beale Cipher remain unsolved. If you have a mind for numbers and could use $63 million in gold, then take a crack at this life changing opportunity. Just remember you heard about it here first. I think a 50/50 split sounds fair. And be sure to get permission before digging up someone’s flower garden.
Here is the Beale Cipher which supposedly describes the location of the treasure vault: