A postcard from 1909 bears an encrypted message and an unusual spelling of a remarkable rock. Can a reader solve these mysteries?

One of the nice things about writing this blog is that I’m tought a geography lesson once in a while. This time an encrypted message has taken me to a place named Stand Rock near Kilbourn in the US state of Wisconsin. The following picture is from the 19th century, but the rock probably still looks the same today (the person on the picture is the son of the photographer, by the way):


Here’s a video of the same place. It proves that dogs are sometimes more reasonable than humans.


The Stand Rock postcard

On Reddit the following postcard showing Stand Rock was published recently (thanks to David Allen Wilson for the hint):


Suprisingly, the place is called “Stank Rock” here. Is this a typo? Or is it an old name of the rock? In addition, it would be interesting to learn what B352B4 and 881 mean? Maybe a reader knows more.


An encrypted message

However, this postcard was not published on Reddit because of the strange spelling and the cryptic character sequences. In fact, the reason is the text side of the card, which looks as follows:


Apparently, this postcard is encrypted. It was sent by an unknown person to some Ethel Phelps in Oxford, Wisconsin. Oxford is located some 20 miles away from Kilbourn. As can be seen on the stamp, the card was sent on March 27, 1909. The name of the place is not readable (it could be Oxford, too).

Experience shows that most encrypted postcards were sent by young men to their spouses. Considering that the recipient was female and unmarried (indicated by the word “Miss”), I am pretty sure that this is the case here, too.

The encryption method used by the unknown sender is probably a monoalphabetic substitution cipher (MASC). The spaces between the words are not visible (or at least hard to spot), which makes deciphering a little more difficult. Apart from this, I don’t think this cryptogram is hard to break. Can a reader solve it?

Further reading: Who can solve this encrypted postcard from Transylvania?

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Kommentare (8)

  1. #1 TWO
    29. August 2017

    Dear Ethel

  2. #2 Gerry and Andrea
    29. August 2017

    Fri Night
    How are you Ethel
    Suppose you are
    st(u)dying ton(i)ght

    I have been trying
    to flourish a
    little. Have
    been out breaking
    roads this
    afternoon for the
    wagons. Good night (RR)LW

  3. #3 Gerry and Andrea
    29. August 2017

    27.03.1909 is a Saturday, so Fri Night (first line) fits as the day the letter was written. In line 4 are two errors, a missing symbol and a wrong symbol (square without dot in the middle.
    We found the solution by assuming the name Ethel must be somewhere – it is in line 2 with 9 )( || 9 #
    And if you know the solution you can see the spaces between the words 🙂

  4. #4 Klaus Schmeh
    29. August 2017

    @Garry and Andrea:
    Thank you very much, great job!

  5. #5 Tony
    30. August 2017

    I just wanted to comment that “RR#2” is part of the postal mailing address (on the right), not part of the ciphertext (on the left).

    For those not familiar, RR = Rural Route, defined here for example: https://www.answers.com/Q/What_is_a_rural_route
    and proudly cited in this Wisconsin website address:


  6. #6 Gerry and Andrea
    30. August 2017

    @Tony: Thanks for clarification! Interesting read.

  7. #7 Peter
    31. August 2017

    “B352B4” dürfte die Kartennummer des Kartenproduzenten (H.G.Zimmermann, Chicago) sein. Jedenfalls sind auf zwei Karten des gleichen Produzenten Nummern im gleichen Format:


  8. #8 ofu
    2. September 2017

    wenn der artikel in deutsch geschrieben waere wuerde ich ihn mir durchlesen