Brain Pickings

The Beale Cipher: A Modern-Day Treasure Hunt

In 1820, a man named Thomas Jefferson Beale buried a treasure of gold, silver and jewels at a secret location in Virginia’s Bedford County and coded directions to the location in a set of three ciphertexts that became known as The Beale Ciphers. Estimated to be worth over $65 million today, Beale’s booty remains one of the most notorious modern treasure hunts, veiled in an air of mystery and suspense that has held up for nearly two centuries.

The Thomas Beale Cipher is a beautiful animated short film by Andrew Allen, telling the story of a cryptographer named Professor White who sets out to solve the uncrackable Beale cipher, only to find himself the subject of a hunt. Part film noir, part stop-frame cut-out animation, part something else entirely, the film builds a stunning textured narrative, both visually and conceptually, to relay a ceaselessly riveting living legend.

The Thomas Beale Cipher will be screening across the US, UK and Canada this year — find a screening near you.

Published January 25, 2011




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