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<nettime> George Fabyan celebrated for fostering first think tank
nettime's_roving_reporter on Fri, 22 Jun 2001 19:09:27 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> George Fabyan celebrated for fostering first think tank

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George Fabyan celebrated for fostering first think tank 
Associated Press 

GENEVA, Ill. (June 13, 2001 09:34 p.m. EDT) - On a laboratory wall 40 miles
west of Chicago, a plaque cryptically reads: "To the memory of George
Fabyan from a grateful government."

The plaque at the Riverbank Acoustic Laboratory was presented several years
ago by the National Security Agency, an organization that didn't exist when
Col.  George Fabyan died 65 years ago this month. And it doesn't specify
what the government was being grateful for - which is probably

Just what do you say in thanks to a man who was best known for persuading a
Chicago judge to rule that Sir Francis Bacon wrote the works of Shakespeare
and for building an antigravity machine that never worked?

Fabyan, a millionaire cloth dealer, spent years and a small fortune
pursuing both notions. His 300-acre estate, Riverbank, housed one of the
world's first think tanks - staffed by cryptologists, geneticists and
acoustic scientists.  They didn't discover much to support Fabyan's
theories, but inadvertently contributed to U.S. victory in both World Wars.

And Fabyan didn't seem to mind that his experts rarely found what he hired
them to do. He seemed content with whatever they could generate - even

That notoriety hit its high-water mark on April 21, 1916, when Judge
Richard S.  Tuthill issued a ruling on a lawsuit brought against Fabyan by
motion picture producer William N. Selig, who was releasing a series of
Shakespearean movies in conjunction with the 300th anniversary of
Shakespeare's death. Selig filed his lawsuit ostensibly to keep Fabyan from
publishing a book that would use code analysis to prove Bacon was the true
author of Shakespeare's plays.

After listening to Fabyan's cryptologists, Tuthill ruled: "This cipher
convinces me that Bacon not only wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare,
but also (Edmund) Spenser's best output, (Robert) Burton's 'Anatomy of
Melancholy' and all of (Robert) Greene and (George) Peele."

"Bacon must have been a very busy man!" was the amused comment of a modern
Shakespeare scholar, professor Gail Kern Paster of George Washington
University and the Folger Shakespeare Library.

In 1916, Tuthill's ruling was front-page news in New York and London, but
Chicago reporters greeted it cynically. They knew that Fabyan, Selig and
Tuthill were all friends. They also knew theself-educated Tuthill had a
love of showing up his college-trained colleagues on the bench. And, as a
chancery court judge, he had no business ruling on a civil lawsuit in the
first place.

The notion that it was a "put up job" gained strength when Selig's
assistant, Jack Wheeler, was questioned by the Chicago Tribune about the
$5,000 damages his boss was ordered to pay.

"Isn't that sad?" Wheeler wisecracked. "That will be about 9 million
columns of publicity, won't it?"

Selig proceeded to release his movies, while court authorities reprimanded
the 75-year-old Tuthill and voided his ruling.

It's not known precisely when Fabyan became interested in Bacon, but in
1912 or 1913 he arranged housing at Riverbank for Elizabeth Wells Gallup, a
woman who claimed to have found ciphers in Shakespeare's plays, indicating
that Bacon was their true author.

Such claims were nothing new, and had been the subject of at least one
19th-century best seller. But Gallup provided a new twist by saying she had
found cryptographic evidence that Bacon was really the son of Queen
Elizabeth I, and thereby the true heir to the English throne.

Bacon was known to have invented and used a "bilateral cipher" which used
two different typefaces in each message. Each set of five letters in the
printed text represented one letter in the coded message. Using capital and
lowercase letters, for example, "Aaaa" might stand for "a," "aAaaa" might
be "b," and "aaAaa" might be "c" ... on through "aAaAA" as "x," "aaAAA" as
"y," and "AAAAa" as "z."

In actual use, the cipher could be relatively subtle. The first line of
"Macbeth" - "When shall we three meet again?" - could be printed in a
combination of regular and italic letters to spell any five-letter encoded
name, such as "Elvis."

Since the earliest editions of Shakespeare's works were printed in a jumble
of different typefaces, Fabyan thought there might be a glimmering of truth
in Gallup's claims. He paid to have early Shakespeare editions and Bacon
manuscripts sent from England for her use, and recruited a staff of clerks
and had them trained in cryptography.

Fabyan read in one of Bacon's works a description of a levitation device
that allegedly worked on acoustic principles. He built one, but couldn't
get it to fly, so he sent to Harvard University for some acoustic experts
to help him.

Fabyan also had some unrelated stock-breeding experiments in mind, so he
hired a young Cornell University geneticist, William Friedman.

Friedman turned out to be the true find. He fell in love with cryptographer
Elizebeth Smith, and taught himself her specialty in a matter of weeks. He
soon proved capable of cracking Britain's most sophisticated field code at
a speed that was previously believed impossible.

But as Friedeman improved the code-breaking, Gallup's anticipated
breakthrough on the authorship question failed to occur. The cryptanalysis
simply didn't find anything useful and Friedman began to suspect that no
cipher existed.

The cryptology project might have dissolved had the United States not
entered World War I in April 1917. The federal government had virtually no
cryptographers, and Fabyan had plenty, so Riverbank became the NSA of its
day.  Newlyweds William and Elizebeth Friedman were soon cracking German
and Mexican codes for the U.S. military and helping Scotland Yard expose
anti-British agents in North America.

When the U.S. Army finally established its own Cipher Bureau, its first 88
officers were trained by Fabyan and the Friedmans at Riverbank. When they
graduated, William Friedman took a commission himself and went to France.

The Friedmans returned to Riverbank briefly in 1920 and then entered
government service.

William Friedman became the nation's top code breaker and led the
successful effort to crack the Japanese codes before World War II.
Elizebeth Friedman did her code breaking for the Coast Guard and the
Treasury Department, and later established a secure communications system
for the International Monetary Fund.

In 1955, the Friedmans returned to the Shakespeare question in their book,
"The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined." Although they thanked Fabyan for
encouraging code studies, they concluded that they began their careers
seeking something that did not exist.

Fabyan died in 1936, without ever getting his Baconian levitating machine
off the ground. But the building where it was housed, and where the plaque
now hangs, is still a functioning research facility, specializing in
architectural acoustics. 

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