After purchasing a vintage dress during Christmas break in 2013, Sara Rivers Cofield discovered a hidden pocket in the dress. Not only was the pocket hidden, but it was tricky to get into, which made the contents very intriguing. Despite what you may be thinking, pockets were common in dresses in the 1880s. It wasn’t until the 1900s that fashion designers decided women didn’t need pockets! But this was no ordinary pocket, and its contents created the mystery of the secret code dress that would take almost a decade to solve.
Sara wrote a blog post about the vintage dress in February 2014. In her post, Sara pointed out all the unique features of the silk bustle dress, including the original buttons and obvious signs of alterations. Silk is an unforgiving material, and every stitch mark is visible. And then there was the mysterious pocket.
Inside the pocket, Sara found two sheets of crumpled paper that looked as if they may have suffered a washing in their hiding spot. Unfolding the sheets carefully, she discovered cryptic lines of text. The words seemed nonsensical, such as “Bismark Omit leafage buck bank.” Each sheet contained 12 lines of undecipherable text. She was hoping that, by posting about the dress, some “decoding prodigy” would see it and take on the project.
The Silk Dress Cryptogram was a challenge accepted and later abandoned by many. It became one of the top 50 unsolvable encrypted messages. That is no longer the case, thanks to Wayne Chan at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. Wayne is a research computer analyst at the Center for Earth Observation Science.
Finally, Decoding The Secret Code Of The Vintage Dress
Wayne published his findings in 2023. He also created a wonderful pictographic video of the process he used to solve the puzzle. Although it is 17 minutes long, it is worth the time to discover the great lengths Wayne went through to solve the riddle.
Initial attempts to figure out the secret led researchers to telegraph codes. Not as exciting as finding pirate treasure, but the search was afoot. Because the charges to send a telegraph were based on the number of words, sending a detailed message could be expensive. The early telegraph codes were in use to allow shorter messages with a complete block of information.
Although they were close, no one thought of the one missing piece of the puzzle. Wayne finally realized that the code resembled weather reports. That led him to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). During the 1880s, weather reports were under the purview of the U.S. Army. And that led Wayne to finally crack the code.
The coded sheets remained hidden for 135 years and took a decade to crack. But now we know the source of the mysterious lines of cryptic text. Thank you, Mr. Chan, for solving this intriguing mystery. And thank you Sara Rivers Cofield, for sharing your vintage dress and its hidden secret code.
If you enjoyed this mystery, please share it with friends. They will appreciate the lure of the chase and the final satisfaction of learning the truth.
You can find the source of this story’s featured image here.
Want to be happier in just 5 minutes a day? Sign up for Morning Smile and join over 455,000+ people who start each day with good news.