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Famous codebreakers sent Christmas cards in code

Published: Dec. 15, 2021 at 5:46 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Va. (WDBJ) - “Cut out all the little circles, and then you line it up.” Melissa Davis, the Marshall Foundation Director of Library and Archives has a digital copy of an unusual Christmas card, obviously from a very unusual couple.

William and Elizabeth Friedman were codebreakers.

“They invented the science of cryptography,” Davis explained.

But their projects, like breaking the Japanese diplomatic code before Pearl Harbor, were top secret.

“Cryptography and codes were part of their everyday family lives,” Davis said, “and this extended to their Christmas cards.”

A new challenge every year, like one with a piece of music that translates into a code, or a binary code in a tree.

“And so they just had fun,” Davis said. “And they designed the Christmas cards themselves. Everything is hand lettered, hand drawn, hand printed. It wasn’t anything they would create and send off to a printer, they were all handmade, which made it very personal.”

We looked at are copies, as the originals are really fragile, but they show the holiday challenge the Friedmans’ friends faced each year.

“They enjoyed the fun of cryptography and codes,” said Davis. “They taught their children some codes. Their daughter Barbara wrote a letter when she was 9 to her parents when they were traveling, and it was in code.”

Because, after all, what says Christmas more than secrets?

“And they made it fun as a family.”

They’ll have a longer video on all the Friedman cards on the Marshall Foundation YouTube channel.

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