December 26, 2011
Our Strictly Hush-Hush New Year’s Eve Miscellany
Yes, it has been far too long since our last update. So please pour yourself a generous glass of something bubbly, don a dinner jacket or white tie, fire up a good recording of Die Fledermaus, and get ready for New Year’s Eve (Sylvester for our European friends!), Curated Secrets-style…
Mysteries behind mysteries: the Copial Cipher (above, and detail at bottom) is finally cracked
It seems better than fiction: in East Berlin, an undecipherable manuscript was found, with some 75,000 handwritten characters over 105 bizarre pages dating to the late 18th Century. The code was thought to be unbreakable until this year, when a team of scientists from USC and Uppsala University used the very latest computer decryption techniques to unveil its words, and reveal a hitherto unknown German secret society. What they found has left them and us scratching our heads. What were the purposes and activities of this “High Enlightened Oculist Order”? Does this strange fraternity still exist?
The initiation rites detailed in the decoded manuscript display a strange fascination with eyeballs and spectacles. At one point in the ceremonies, initiates undergo an “operation” involving the plucking of an eyebrow. Neophytes are meant to be frightened, and are told “prepare yourself to die.” Some passages display an Illuminist-like political slant. Modes of recognition are taught: if a member asks how “Hans” is, the other responds by mentioning a name that begins with the second letter of the first name (eg, “He is with Anton”).
If by chance you meet an Oculist, be very afraid.
“Whom to call for a hidden stairway–or a personal crypt”
When you need a secret lair built into your house, we’ve found the right folks to do it: Creative Home Engineering, with a list of some 150 happy clients to date. We like their special touches, including passages that open when certain piano keys are depressed or when chessboard pieces are arranged a specific way. Doors made with “Kevlar-steel ballistic armor, blast-resistant hinges, and multiple redundant locking systems” are also no problem. “To the Batmobile,” as they used to say…
Going to Lloyd’s of London to insure against the unthinkable
Some of you may recall that, as a publicity stunt, the makers of Cutty Sark whisky once offered a £ 1 million reward for the capture of the Loch Ness monster. What’s perhaps more interesting is that it turns out they obtained insurance coverage from Lloyd’s in the unlikely event that some punter actually arrived on their doorstep with Nessie in tow. That’s what we call risk management.
Terminal 5 hideaway
Speaking of London, look for the unmarked white door at Heathrow’s T-5 — if you can find it. “If you’re supposed to be there, you won’t need directions,” says the manager of the officially sub-rosa Windsor Suite. Until 2011, only VIPs named by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office were offered the minimalist amenities within, but budget pressures mean that in principle anyone can now use it for one departure or arrival at the cost of £ 1,800. For that you get serenity amid the Eames chairs and bonsai trees, plus the peace of mind that comes from a bomb-proof glass roof. There is a private entrance and security screening, immigration formalities are handled by staff, and then you’re whisked to your aircraft door by a 7-series BMW. The right crowd, and no crowding?
Given economic pressures on both sides of the Atlantic, perhaps it’s time to resurface a long-forgotten proposal. In 1947, US Senator Richard Russell Jr. of Georgia put forward the offer that England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland should be admitted to the United States as four new states. The reaction was frosty (something about Georgia owing money to the UK, borrowed during Confederate times and still unpaid). Still…
The greatest Ghost Town ever built
It sounds outlandish (and right out of some spy thriller or perhaps The Prisoner), we realize, but a company called Pegasus Global Holdings is planning to build a full-size, 20-square mile model of an American town in New Mexico. It is being called “The Center,” and will be used for scientific, military and commercial testing. If you go, will they allow you to leave?
Ever come across the members of the Cambridge Association for Spiritual Enquiry, popularly known as the Ghost Society? Founded in 1851, the society once included a future prime minister (Arthur Balfour) and archbishop of Canterbury (Edward White Benson) among its members. Their present website (if you can find it) includes an audio recording from Michelham Priory in East Sussex, with sounds of ghostly rapping. You can decide for yourself.
Of course England is famous for its odd places, one of which we stumbled across recently en route to Downside Abbey: an “anonymous building in a cobbled backstreet” of Bath. Inside, curious interiors befitting the first Royal Theatre outside London, a post-Emancipation Roman Catholic oratory where bishops were consecrated, and a present-day provincial Masonic lodge claiming to be the oldest of its kind. There is an admittance charge, supposedly payable in Half-Crowns.
Gallic conspiracy theories
The French are probably second only to the Italians in their fondness for conspiracy and secret society-tinged news and opinion, and in the recent past France has overflowed with new material for aficionados. This bonanza includes a public, bruising Civil War within “regular” (ie, non-Grand Orient) Freemasonry that is frequently splashed across the major media. (Those who read French can read regular updates on the website of newsmagazine L’Express.) Secondly, Robert Eringer, a Los Angeles-born writer with intelligence links, has come forward saying that he was founding chief of the M.I.S. (the Principality of Monaco Intelligence Service), with not-so-nice allegations about the place and its reigning family. Finally, there is the case of disgraced (and hardly praiseworthy) former IMF head and onetime Presidential candidate Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the curious matter of his missing BlackBerry. This is more interesting than you may realize, and we recommend the Financial Times‘ piece (“One Afternoon in Manhattan”) of 26 November for its gripping investigative reporting.
A devoted reader has alerted us to the existence of the “Sinister Sites” website (no comment), and then there is the case of the mysterious shortwave radio signals that have been emanating “from a lonely rusted tower in a forest north of Moscow” for decades… Of course we have to save some enigmas for 2012. Happy New Year.