Having secrets is part of being human. There is no person alive today who doesn’t have at least one secret. While most of these secrets are of no concern to anyone else, there are some that could benefit the whole of humanity, or even solve some long-running mystery. While some of these may one day surface, others will forever be lost. Here are 10 people who took their biggest secrets with them to the grave, and left us to speculate about what those secrets truly were and how they could have benefited us if we knew them.
10. Arne Beurling – Cracking the Impossible Code
In 1940, Europe was in a state of uproar. While the Nazis were continuing their advancements, this time in Norway, the Russians were conducting an offensive operation of their own in Finland. Trapped in the middle, neutral Sweden felt exposed on both sides and thought it necessary to find out what was going on so close to its borders, not to mention what other plans those foreign aggressors might have had. Not wanting to pick a side, though, they opted to listen in, in order to better prepare themselves for any potential attack that might come in the near future.
Tapping into the German communication lines passing through the country on the way to Norway, the Swedes were able to crack the code of one of the most advanced cryptology devices at the time. While the infamous Enigma machines were brilliant in their own right, they weren’t the most advanced such devices of WWII. The Germans also invented the more complicated piece of Siemens and Halske machinery called the T52, or the “Geheimschreiber” (the secret-writer). This was larger and more complicated than the Enigma and only the most sensitive and secret messages were written with it.
At first the Swedes were baffled by the strings of digits coming from the T52, and called it “severely unreadable.” That’s when Arne Beurling, a mathematician and professor of mathematics, came into play. Not only was he good at his job, but in just two weeks after receiving this assignment, he was able to crack it. How he did it, though, remains a mystery. When asked about how he went about it, he simply replied, “A magician does not reveal his secrets.” Some 46 years later he passed away, but he never gave up his secret on how he was able to break it. Some modern-day scientists think they are on the right track, but still haven’t been successful. Thanks to Arne Beurling’s wits and ingenuity, the Swedes were able to know beforehand Hitler’s plans to invade Russia.
9. Maurice Ward – The Recipe for Indestructible Plastic
After witnessing an airplane bursting into flames, an English inventor by the name of Maurice Ward decided to design and create a material that could withstand pretty much anything. And incredibly enough, he did. What he was able to achieve was a heat-resistant plastic that could endure more than 10,000 degrees Celsius and was resistant to an impact force greater than that of 75 Hiroshima bombs combined. Naming it Starlite, Ward decided to sell his invention to those who could put it to great use. NASA was, of course, extremely interested and invited Ward to present his indestructible invention. Since Starlite was light-weight and could be shaped in basically any fashion, it would have had an unimaginable impact in revolutionizing spaceflight as we know it.
Unfortunately, Ward sensed that some companies might want to profit from his invention without giving him any credit or remuneration, and decided not to part with his most prized possession. In 2011 he passed away, taking the secret of Starlite with him. When asked about it, he just said that it was made out of “up to 21 organic polymers and copolymers, and small quantities of ceramics.” This, however, wasn’t enough for scientists to replicate it.
8. Nikola Tesla – Wireless Electricity
Thanks to the marvel that is the internet, we can save some time by not having to say much about who Nikola Tesla was, or what he achieved throughout his life. But for those of us who don’t know that much about him, Tesla was the man who discovered alternating current, which was far more practical and safe than Edison’s direct current. He’s also credited for inventing the Tesla coil, the radio transmitter, and fluorescent lamps, and by the early 1900s was regarded as America’s greatest electrical engineer.
But for all his worth, Tesla wasn’t able to complete what would have been his crowning achievement: bringing free wireless electricity to the whole world. In 1905, with the financial aid of entrepreneur J.P. Morgan, Tesla began working on the Wardenclyffe Tower, a prototype that was aimed to use both the ionosphere above and the entire planet below as electrical conductors. It would be capable of transporting electrical energy anywhere in the world. However, the economic instability that hit the United States shortly after construction began ensured that this ambitious project would never come to fruition.
When Tesla died in 1943, he more or less took wireless electricity with him. Even though many have tried to replicate his works, all hit a brick wall when studying his notes. Since Tesla relied heavily on his photographic memory, his notes were comprised mostly of sketches and scattered details, offering those who tried to follow in his footsteps little to no aid.
7. Jan Sloot – A Revolutionary Data Compression Technique
Jan Sloot was a Dutch electronics technician who, in the early 1990s, claimed to have created one of the most efficient data compression coding systems in history. It was able to turn a 10 GB movie into just 8 kilobytes without any loss in quality. This system would have revolutionized data transfer as we know it, if it weren’t for his untimely death on July 11, 1999. Killed by a heart attack, Sloot was one day short from signing a deal with the technology company Philips, which saw the tremendous potential his invention had.
Nevertheless, Roel Pieper, a former CTO and board member of Philips, wanted to go ahead with the deal and buy the notorious Sloot Digital Coding System. But in another unfortunate turn of events, a key floppy disc that held the secrets to this system went missing, and even after months of diligent searching, it was never found. What actually happened to it is left to pure speculation.
6. Antonio Stradivari – Crafting Musical Instruments to Perfection
Even if you’re only casually familiar with classical and symphonic music, you’re probably at least somewhat familiar with who Antonio Stradivari was and what he did. Stradivari was an Italian craftsman of stringed instruments who lived between 1644 and 1737. Throughout his life he made around 1,100 instruments, 650 of which are still around today. Out of these, roughly 500 are violins. Five out of 12 of the most expansive violins in the world today were made by him, and the most expensive one, called “The Messiah Stradivarius” is worth $20 million.
How he was able to craft them so perfectly still baffles luthiers today. While Stradivari never revealed his secrets or technique, modern scientists equipped with state of the art technology are feverously trying to figure it out. By making use of scanning lasers, they try to see whether the back or belly of the violin are the reason for their finely tuned notes. Or maybe it’s the glues, resins, or varnishes used that give the Stradivarius violins their heavenly harmonies. So far, nobody has been able to figure it out, and it’s most likely that it’s a combination of all of the above.
5. Johann Bessler – The Secret to Perpetual Motion
In 1712, German entrepreneur Johann Ernst Elias Bessler, more commonly known by his peers as Orffyreus, claimed to have invented a device that was self-sustaining and able to keep working without any fuel or outside forces. By 1717 he had convinced thousands of people that his invention was truly groundbreaking. In an official experiment, the device is said to have worked continuously for 54 days, without anyone tampering with it in any form whatsoever.
His device was a wheel, 6.5 feet in diameter, that was capable of lifting several pounds into the air. Among those who witnessed the machine in action were renowned scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers, but none were able to figure out how it worked. Bessler then demanded £20,000 (equivalent to 100,000 Reichsthalers) for revealing the secrets inside his wheel, and the Tsar of Russia, Peter the Great, showed great interest in buying the device. He asked Willem ‘s Gravesande, a professor of mathematics and astronomy at Leiden University, to offer him advice on the authenticity of the device. Unfortunately, Bessler saw this and believed it to be an attempt at stealing the machine’s secrets to perpetual motion and immediately destroyed it. He died in 1745, never revealing the secret of his invention.
A device like this clearly violates the law of conservation of energy, which states that energy can never be created out of nothing, or destroyed, so this begs the question of how it actually worked. Scientists today are trying to figure it out by looking through Bessler’s notes, but so far to no avail. It is also a possibility that Orffyreus fooled everyone and his device didn’t produce perpetual motion, but even that would be interesting to see how it was achieved.
4. Arsene Goedertier – Location of a Stolen Painting of Incredible Value
The Ghent Altarpiece is an incredible piece of artwork dating back to the early 15th century and was commissioned by Hubert van Eyck, about whom little is known. Many art specialists believe this to be one of the most important paintings in the world, and arguably the most often stolen. It also managed to escape several fires and riots throughout the ages, and was even able to find its way back after being taken by Napoleon. However, during a moonless night in 1934, two men were seen outside St. Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent, carrying an object resembling a panel and then climbing into a car and driving away. The next morning the theft of two of the 12 panels that comprise the Ghent Altarpiece was reported.
Soon after, the Bishop of Ghent received a ransom letter, asking for one million Belgian francs, and a series of letters were sent back and forth between the thief and the bishop. As a gesture of good faith, the thieves gave back one of the stolen panels, St. John the Baptist. However, the correspondence stopped soon after that. In a seemingly unrelated sequence of events, a stockbroker by the name of Arsene Goedertier asked to meet in private with his lawyer after suffering a stroke, and was laying on his death bed. He told his lawyer that he was the only one who knew the location of the last missing panel and pointed towards a wardrobe, saying something about a key that opened a drawer. He died immediately after that.
The lawyer opened the wardrobe, found the key and unlocked the drawer, only to find the carbon copies of the correspondence between the bishop and the thieves. There was also an unsent note, which had a line that translated to “No one, not even I can recover the Judges Panel without attracting public attention.” What this meant, nobody knows. It could imply that the missing panel might be hidden somewhere in plain sight, or in a public space or building. The case of the missing panel is still open with the Belgian Police.
3. Texas Gov. John Connally – The Kennedy Assassination
There have been countless theories about what “really” happened on that fateful day of November 22, 1963 in downtown Dallas, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in broad daylight. What is less known and discussed about the attack is that Governor John Connally was also injured, but managed to survive. He was seated in front of President Kennedy at the moment of the shooting, and the Warren Commission version of events states that a lone gunman shot a single bullet, which managed to both kill the president and seriously wound the governor.
Conspiracy theorists beg to differ, and bring some compelling facts to the table. According to how the seats were arranged inside the car, it would have been impossible for the bullet to injure Governor Connally and kill the president, since that would mean for the bullet to change direction mid-flight and zigzag through the air. Some further evidence was also brought up, implying that there was a second bullet fired. Even the governor himself swore that he couldn’t have been injured by the same bullet, even if he believed that Oswald acted alone.
The best way to put this matter to rest is to analyze the fragments still in the governor’s wrist, with the infamous bullet itself. After Connally’s death in 1993, a petition was signed asking for his body to be exhumed and the fragments analyzed. His family, however, refused and thus the secret of whether there was only one or more bullets is buried with the governor.
2. Edward Leedskalnin – Moving Tons of Stones as if by “Magic”
Edward Leedskalnin was a Latvian emigrant to the United States who, from 1923 until his death in 1951, built Coral Castle in Florida. He was about five feet tall and weighed a mere 100 pounds, but was somehow able to move stone blocks weighing up to 30 tons. He always worked alone and would never let anyone see him while doing so. The only eyewitness sighting of him working is from two teenagers, who said the blocks seemed to float like helium balloons. Others said that they spotted some of his equipment, which was comprised of a tripod of logs and some ropes. But they also insisted on adding that both the ropes and logs didn’t look strong enough to lift those tremendous weights. He also made use of a small device in a black box, which he simply called a “perpetual motion holder.”
After his death in 1951, his Coral Castle became a popular curiosity for visitors. In 1986, a 9-ton revolving door that was so perfectly balanced that a small child could easily move it around stopped working because the hinges had rusted. It took eight workers and a 50 ton crane to remove and reinstall it, but they were unable to put it back the same way Leedskalnin had. Leedskalnin claimed to have figured out the secret of how the Great Pyramids were built, but unfortunately he never did share that secret with the rest of us.
1. Jerome of Sandy Cove – Nobody Knows
On September 8, 1863, a man was found on the beach of Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia. Nothing particularly striking so far, but this man had both his legs cut off just above the knees and bandages over his wounds. When asked about his name, the man was only able to utter a few words and sounds that loosely sounded like “Jerome.” So, that’s what people began to call him. He never spoke after that, and was only capable of making animal noises. This seemed to indicate a probable brain injury.
Over the years Jerome became somewhat of a local personality, with people from other places paying to have a chance to see him. He eventually died in 1912 without telling anyone who he was, where he came from, or even what happened to his legs. So great was this intrigue that his memory endures in Nova Scotia, fascinating people well into the 21st century. There have been books written about him and even a movie was filmed in 1994, called Jerome’s Secret. He may not have actually had anything to say, but given the fact that he didn’t say anything at all, it drove people to all sorts of wild speculation.
While this list was comprised in no particular order, we did, however believe that Jerome deserved the number one spot for one particular reason. Since there was little to no information about this man to begin with, his persona was blown out of proportion by others who’ve imagined all sorts of stories about him. This stands to show how curious people are, and how determined we are to give every question an answer – regardless of whether the answer is right or wrong, or if the question needed an answer in the first place.