In December 2013, archeological curator Sara Rivers Cofield bought a Victorian-era silk bustle dress from an antique mall in Maine. When Sara examined the dress, she found a hidden pocket that contained mysterious handwritten messages that appeared to be some sort of code. Since then, codebreakers have tried to solve the messages without success. The so-called "Silk Dress cryptogram" became one of the top 50 unsolved codes and ciphers in the world.

The breakthrough came during the holiday season of 2022-23, when Wayne Chan, an analyst with the Centre for Earth Observation Science at the University of Manitoba, discovered that the messages were encoded using a 19th-century telegraphic weather code used by the United States Army Signal Corps, which served as the national weather service for the U.S. during the late 1800s.

The messages turned out to be weather observations from a number of stations in the U.S. and Canada for a particular day in 1888, including one from the University of Manitoba's St. John's College, which was the official weather station for Winnipeg at the time. The code was used to compress the weather reports so that they could be transmitted by telegraph more economically, as messages were charged by the word.

For more information, you can watch a 17-minute graphic novelization of the solution, or read the research article.

For the backstory about how Sara discovered the messages in the dress, please see her blog.

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Field Value
Title 135-Year Old Code Mystery Highlights Forgotten Era of Meteorology
Publication general type graphic novel
Project Name
Keyword Vocabulary polar data catalogue
Keyword Vocabulary URL
Theme Atmosphere
Version 1.0
Publisher Canadian Watershed Information Network
Date Published 2023
DOI 10.1080/01611194.2023.2223562
Language English
Field Value
Authors 1
Author Name
Chan, Wayne
Type of Name
Centre for Earth Observation Science - University of Manitoba
Field Value
License Name Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
Licence Type Open
Licence Schema Name SPDX
Licence URL
Field Value