I love a good puzzle, but I don’t always excel in solving them. Now, there’s a puzzle out there that’s worth $60 million. If you can solve it, you can claim the treasure. What is the treasure, you ask? It’s the treasure that Thomas Beale supposedly buried in 1820 somewhere in Bedford County, Virginia. If you believe in mysteries, Beale found a treasure of gold, silver, and jewels out West. He then hauled it home to Virginia, and he buried it. As a result, he left three ciphers behind, which told of their precise location.
There are three ciphers, but only two haven’t been solved (below). All three of the ciphers are substitution ciphers where you count the words and letters in a key text in order to find each of the letters in the cipher. One of the ciphers was supposedly solved back in the 19th century — the key text was the Declaration of Independence — and it contained primarily a description of the treasure in question — that’s how we know it supposedly contains 5,100 pounds of silver and 2,921 pounds of gold.
This story is receiving a bit of a resurgence thanks to MentalFlooss, who broke down the story again, including the history of the treasure hunters who’ve tried to solve the location of the treasure. That said, this whole thing could be a giant hoax. Even if the cipher is eventually decoded, it could lead nowhere. There is some doubt as to whether Beale himself ever existed. There aren’t any credible sources to determine if Beale actually existed, but I will share what I found:
A survey of U.S. Census records in 1810 shows two persons named Thomas Beale, in Connecticut and New Hampshire. However, the population schedules from the 1810 U.S. Census are completely missing for seven states, one territory, the District of Columbia, and 18 of the counties of Virginia. The 1820 U.S. Census has two persons named Thomas Beale, Captain Thomas Beale of the battle of New Orleans 1815 in Louisiana originally from Virginia Botetourt County – Fincastle area 12 miles from Bedford County and one in Tennessee, and a Thomas K. Beale in Virginia, but the population schedules are completely missing for three states and one territory.
If Thomas Beale didn’t exist, who wrote the cipher? It’s been thought that perhaps Edgar Allan Poe was the actual author as he had an interest in cryptography. It was well known that Poe would place notices in the Philadelphia newspaper Alexander’s Weekly (Express) Messenger, inviting submissions of ciphers which he proceeded to solve. All that said, its unlikely to be Edgar Allan Poe because he died in 1849, and the first of The Beale Papers weren’t published until 1885.
All of that said, no one knows if this is real or a hoax. If it is real, it would be a really incredible find. But if it is a hoax, it would feel a bit like fake news at this point. As I said earlier, one of the papers was transcribed, and it reads the following:
I have deposited in the county of Bedford, about four miles from Buford’s, in an excavation or vault, six feet below the surface of the ground, the following articles, belonging jointly to the parties whose names are given in number three, herewith:
The first deposit consisted of ten hundred and fourteen pounds of gold, and thirty-eight hundred and twelve pounds of silver, deposited Nov. eighteen nineteen. The second was made Dec. eighteen twenty-one, and consisted of nineteen hundred and seven pounds of gold, and twelve hundred and eighty-eight of silver; also jewels, obtained in St. Louis in exchange to save transportation, and valued at thirteen thousand dollars.
The above is securely packed in iron pots, with iron covers. The vault is roughly lined with stone, and the vessels rest on solid stone, and are covered with others. Paper number one describes the exact locality of the vault, so that no difficulty will be had in finding it.