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I N T H E S TA C K S

I N T H E S TA C K S

COL L E C T ION S

All the News That’s Fit to Search The Detroit Jewish News digital archive comes to the Bentley. By Robert Havey

THE BENTLEY HISTORICAL LIBRARY will soon unveil the Detroit

By Lara Zielin and Deb Thompson

ROSS J. WILHELM was an esteemed professor of business economics at the University of Michigan, well known for his prediction of the 1970s energy crisis, as well as his voice on the popular radio show Business Review, broadcast on more than 100 stations throughout the United States. So why, then, does his collection at the Bentley Historical Library contain folders full of strange symbols and ciphers, complex drawings and codes, and references to an obscure 16th century text? The answer begins with Wilhelm’s experience in World War II, and ends with a small island off the coast of Nova Scotia. Wilhelm left Ohio State University in 1942 to serve in the Army in World War II, and was put to work in counterintelligence at Camp Hulen, Texas, under General H.C. Allen. As part of his training, he studied De Furtivis An aerial photo of Literarum Notis, a Oak Island in Nova book on cryptogScotia, taken in raphy by Giovanni 1984, showing the Battista Porta, pubdig site and overlished in 1563. laid with the code The book would that Ross Wilhelm play a role again cracked. in Wilhelm’s life,

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but not for many years—after the war ended and he was awarded an Army Commendation Ribbon for his service; after he received his bachelor’s degree and a master’s in business from Case Western Reserve University and his Ph.D. from U-M (in 1947, 1948, and 1962, respectively); after he became an associate professor of business economics at the University of Michigan; and after he read a story about a fabled treasure buried on Oak Island off the coast of Nova Scotia. The Oak Island treasure lore began in 1795, when three young men found a depression on the island and started to dig. Around 70 feet down, they reportedly discovered a flat stone on which several symbols were carved. They kept digging, but were halted by seawater seeping into the dig site—the same problem that has plagued the island’s treasure hunters in the centuries since. Though the stone itself has been lost to time, recreations of the symbols remain. Those symbols were included in a threepart Detroit News story on Oak Island in 1970, which Wilhelm read, and which brought Giovanni Battista Porta’s book back into his mind: The symbols were the same as those he’d studied during WWII. Using the cipher disks in Porta’s book, Wilhelm set to work on breaking the code, which he

believed was the key to unlocking the treasure vault without letting seawater in. Trying different language combinations, Wilhelm eventually landed on a message in Spanish that translates to: “At eighty guide, maize or millet estuary or firth drain F” According to a 1971 article in the U-M Business School’s Dividend magazine tucked away in Wilhelm’s collection, the code explains that adding maize to the drains would soak up the water and prevent flooding, thereby granting access to the treasure. The F, he believed, is a kind of pun, intended to be F II or a reference to King Philip II of Spain. Even though he believed he’d cracked the code, Wilhelm was doubtful that it would lead to any treasure. Philip II and the Spanish crown were in bankruptcy numerous times, and the Dividend article hypothesizes that Philip would have cleared out any gold on the island. Today, a History Channel show, the Curse of Oak Island, follows a brand new crew digging for treasure, though to date they haven’t found much of value. Wilhelm died unexpectedly in 1983 at age 63. His collection contains detailed notes about the Oak Island cipher and is open to the public—treasure hunters included.  n

GARY CORBETT/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

On the (Treasure) Hunt

Jewish News Digital Archive, a free, searchable database containing more than 100 years of digital copies of the Detroit Jewish Chronicle and the Detroit Jewish News. The official launch of the digital archive will be at an event on November 5, 2018, where University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel will perform a ceremonial first search. “The Jewish News and Jewish Chronicle have served as the premier voice of its Detroit community for a century,” said Bentley Director Terrence McDonald. “As part of our continuing digitization efforts, we are excited and pleased to preserve and maintain public access to this wonderful archive.” Based on the Michigan Daily Digital Archive platform, the Detroit Jewish News Digital Archive will contain every issue of the Detroit Jewish Chronicle (1916–1951) and the Detroit Jewish News (1942–present). Researches will be able to browse by date or use a full-text search. The Bentley will add future issues of the News to the archive and will also capture content on the DJN website. Arthur Horwitz, Publisher and Executive Editor of the Detroit Jewish News and Chair of the Detroit Jewish News Foundation, says the archive will preserve the shared history of Michigan’s Jewish community. “In an era of alternative facts and fake news, the archive provides myriad ‘snapshots in time’ of events and activities that, when tied together, tell accurate stories about individuals, their families, their businesses, their connections to the Jewish and general communities, and—whether it was the price of groceries at Dexter Davison Market or news headlines from Israel or Washington, D.C.— provide this information in the context of the era in which they occurred.” Horwitz began planning for a way to preserve and protect historic pages of the News in 2002, when a fire destroyed the DJN’s Southfield offices. This image from No one was hurt, and offthe newly digitized site backups of business files Detroit Jewish made the next issue only a News appeared in day late, but the bound volumes July 2017. of the News stored in the office

suffered some smoke and water damage. When readers found out about the fire, Horwitz was inundated with questions about what happened to the newspaper archive. “People throughout the community expressed concern about how well we were safeguarding their history, the community’s history.” In 2011, Horwitz launched the Detroit Jewish News Foundation, which created the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History in 2013. At a gala on May 3, 2018, it was announced that this archive will be revamped and moved to the Bentley’s servers. “The digital archive ensures the story of our community, and the individuals and families who continue to shape it, is always at our fingertips,” said Horwitz.  n

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Profile for Bentley Historical Library

Collections Magazine, Fall 2018  

In this issue of the Bentley Historical Library's magazine, we explore the life of LGBTQ pioneer Ruth Ellis, as well as the Fourth Amendment...

Collections Magazine, Fall 2018  

In this issue of the Bentley Historical Library's magazine, we explore the life of LGBTQ pioneer Ruth Ellis, as well as the Fourth Amendment...