In 1910, a man living in Bedford, Ohio, received an encrypted postcard. Can a reader decipher it?

As already stated in my last post, the US state of Ohio seems to be a good source for interesting cryptograms. In addition to the train station robbery cryptogram, several other encrypted messages from Ohio have been covered on this blog. My friend Tobias Schrödel


Source: Schrödel

…, who is known as a comedy hacker, encrypted postcard collector, and crypto book expert, has now provided me two more encrypted postcards from Ohio. This post is about the second one (the first one was covered last Monday).

 

A postcard sent to Bedford

The second postcard Tobias provided me was sent to Bedford, a town in the northeast of Ohio. Bedford (a suburb of Cleveland) is located about 200 kilometers away from Toledo, the place were the recipient of the other Ohio postcard lived.


Source: Schrödel

The picture on the postcard shows Long Lake, a lake located near Akron, another suburb of Cleveland. The message is dated October 22, 1910.


Source: Schrödel

Unlike most other encrypted postcards I am aware of, this one was sent to a man. The recipient was named Clayton Ellet. No street is mentioned (apparently, Bedford was that small that this was not necessary). Below the address, the letters R.F.D.I. are written – I don’t know what this abbreviation means.

 

The cryptogram

The cipher used is apparently a variant of the Pigpen cipher (similar, but not the same as the one I covered last Monday). As the ciphertext contains spaces, it should be possible to guess a few words. Tony Gaffney has solved many of the ciphers in his book The Agony Column Codes & Ciphers by guessing the word LETTER, which also worked for the other Ohio postcard Tobias provided me. However, today’s postcard doesn’t contain a word that fits with LETTER.

The ciphertext contains a one-letter (it appears twice). As there are only two one-letter words in the English language (A and I) this allows for a guess. As the pronoun I is more frequent on postcards than the indefinite article A, my guess is that the one-letter word in this text is I.

Is my assumption correct? Can a reader find out more? Can you decipher the postcard? If so, please leave a comment.


Further reading: Unsolved: A strange encrypted postcard from Newton, Iowa

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Kommentare (12)

  1. #1 Bill Briere
    Wyoming, USA
    13. März 2019

    I’m an old mailman myself, so this is what I think I know about “R.F.D.”

    It stands for “rural free delivery,” and it’s followed in your sample by a zone indicator, the number 1 (the period after the 1 is superfluous).

    RFD signified a remote or rural area that previously couldn’t get mail delivered without paying extra fees. For example, a farmer in the 1800’s might have had to have traveled 20 miles to pick up mail at the nearest post office every week or two — or authorize someone else to pick it up and deliver it for a fee.

    This new, free service came into use around 1900 or so. The RFD designation was still being used in the 1940’s and 1950’s, but probably not much later than that.

    American postal carriers now refer to these as “rural routes,” and the carriers who deliver there still operate under slightly different rules than those who deliver on “city routes.”

  2. #2 Tony
    13. März 2019

    Ha! Ha!
    I thought the RFD were the senders initials!

  3. #3 Richard SantaColoma
    http://proto57.wordpress.com/
    13. März 2019

    “The concert is supposed to begin eight sun time [tive?]. If you cant go, be sure and let me know for Martins will leave on the 7:15 car and I don’t want to get left and have to stay alone. Too bad it rained for night. Ha! Ha! You thought I didnt know. From me.

  4. #4 Richard SantaColoma
    http://proto57.wordpress.com/
    13. März 2019

    The pigpen is one grid with nine boxes. The alphabet it written in each box, from left to right, but one letter in each box like a in upper left top, then b in center top, then c in right top, then d in left middle.. etc.

    This continues, so that “AJS” appears in upper left, “BKT” in center top, etc…

    The number of dots denotes the letter chosen in that box… so center top box (looks like a “U”), with two dots, is “K”.

  5. #5 Richard SantaColoma
    http://proto57.wordpress.com/
    13. März 2019

    … the only confusing part is the phrase, “… eight sun time.” It looked like three dots in the “DMV” box, which would be “V”, but that does not make sense… So that is probably two dots, blurred, and actually an “M”.

    So it is probably “… eight sun time”, and I am thinking, maybe, he means “eight o’clock sun time”, as in the old way of dividing hours of the day and night, according to amount of light. So “sun time” would be longer hours in the summer, and shorter in the winter.

    Now I had thought that this was not done for a long time by 1910, but maybe not, especially in rural areas which needed to plan a day based on sunlight? Maybe I’m over thinking that.

  6. #6 Thomas
    13. März 2019

    @Richard
    Good job! Don’t you think it says “FRI. NIGHT” instead of “FOR NIGHT”?

  7. #7 Thomas
    14. März 2019
  8. #8 Richard SantaColoma
    http://proto57.wordpress.com/
    14. März 2019

    Yes it seems that after the institution of time zones in the mid-19th century, there continued some variation and confusion regarding which “time” should be agreed on for various purposes. Even the railroads of the USA did not all adopt a universal set of time zones, for all routes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_zone#Railway_time

    So I suppose that in some areas of the country, a person in 1910 would still use a local “sun time”, relating to the actual position of the sun, for most activities (such as a concert). But I’ll bet the 7:15 that the car (railroad, I am assuming) used, was Central Time, since by then the railroad was probably using that.

  9. #9 Richard SantaColoma
    http://proto57.wordpress.com/
    14. März 2019

    Oops. Yes, Thomas, good catch… I made a mistake, and I see it was “Fri. night”.

  10. #10 Thomas
    15. März 2019

    I suppose that the postcard was written by Ida M Phillips from Northfield whom Clayton Ellett married in the following year, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GRMD-3FV2?i=50&cc=1614804. She was a teacher, here a photo from 1907 showing her (the girl in the middle): https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/52587236/ida-m_-ellett#view-photo=57933847. At that time Clayton was living with his parents and his sister Kathrina on the farm in Walton road, Bedford, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GRKQ-93T4?i=13&cc=1727033

  11. #11 Thomas
    15. März 2019

    Comparing her handwriting in the marriage license application form from 1911 and the address of the postcard, I’m pretty sure that Ida M. Philipps wrote the postcard.

  12. #12 Richard SantaColoma
    http://proto57.wordpress.com/
    15. März 2019

    Good sleuthing, Thomas. Interesting to see the people who wrote these things. There must have been so much romance and excitement to courting then… maybe a lot of that is missing in the digital age.