On a closer look, different fonts are used here. Some letters have serifs, some do not. For example, look at the capital E’s. If we write each letter that is with serif in italic bold letters, we get the following:


This encodes the following three letters: WFF. These are the initials of William Frederick Friedman. I admit, this is not the most interesting message in the world, but it is a nice dalliance and very typical for the Friedman’s.

Some may quibble as to whether the Os in the message were serifed or not. However, Jason Fagone, in his research in the Marshall Library where the Friedmans’ papers are stored, found a note from Elizebeth to William’s 1977 biographer R. Clark, that “WFF” was indeed the intended plaintext.


Jason Fagone, whom I met at the last Crypto History Symposium, is currently writing an Elizebeth Friedman biography titled The Woman Who Smashed Codes. Its publication is scheduled for August 2017. I can hardly wait.

Congratulations to Elonka on this great finding! The history of encrypted tombstones has to be re-written.

Further reading: Ten peculiar uses of the pigpen cipher


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Kommentare (6)

  1. #1 Thomas
    20. April 2017

    Another example of the Bacon cipher can be seen in a photo of Friedman’s WWI cryptographer group (looking to the camera = a, looking away = b):

  2. #2 Markus
    20. April 2017

    Just one thing: the table containing the ABC letters and the ciphers only has 24 (4×6) elements.
    Based on a 5 character string there are 2^5 = 32 possibilities to cipher letters. So why did you let some letters out?

  3. #3 TWO
    20. April 2017

    So the “solution”has been available since 1977, do I understand that correct?

  4. #4 Klaus Schmeh
    20. April 2017

    >So why did you let some letters out?
    Not all 32 combinations are used.

  5. #5 Klaus Schmeh
    20. April 2017

    >So the “solution”has been available
    >since 1977, do I understand that correct?
    I don’t think the solution was publicly known before Elonka’s publication.

  6. #6 Gerhard F. Strasser
    9. September 2017

    Dear Klaus,
    I enjoyed reading the Friedman tombstone article with all its sequels. But I am afraid historical dates are not your forte–Bacon’s biliteral cipher was first published in 1605 (not, as you apparently thought, in the 16th century …)–it predates the Morse code not by “over 300 and the ASCII code by 400 years …”. Otherwise lots of fun and food for thought–but keep your dates straight!
    Best wishes,