Thursday, July 9, 2009

Clue #36: Alexander Hamilton -- and a Hint of Cryptography

The 36th Twitter clue, posted at about 7:00 a.m. PDT, Thurs., July 9th:

Near the buttonwood's accord lies a field of Christ. His marker there would make even Khafra smile.

The solution to the fundamental elements of this clue was announced on Dan Brown's Facebook fan page by Cheryl Lynn Helm, about 30 minutes after the clue was posted. Good for you, Cheryl!

"Buttonwood's accord" is a reference to the Buttonwood Agreement of May 17, 1792, which established the New York Stock & Exchange Board (later known as the New York Stock Exchange, now the NYSE Group). The agreement was signed by 24 stockbrokers under a buttonwood (i.e., sycamore) tree outside 68 Wall Street in lower Manhattan, New York City. Of course, the New York Stock Exchange was and remains fundamental to the development of American-style capitalism.

"Field of Christ" is a reference to a cemetery. U.S. Founding Father, Alexander Hamilton, is buried in the Trinity Churchyard Cemetery, perhaps a 5-minute walk or so from the location of the Buttonwood Agreement. His grave marker (the "marker" of the clue, of course, shown above) is in the form of a pyramid with a flat apex.

Khafra, or Khafre (also known as Khephren) is the Egyptian pharaoh of the Fourth Dynasty (2650-2480 BC) who built the second largest of the 3 famous pyramids of Giza. In one of his best-known representations, he is represented as smiling. The author of the clue is remarking on how Khafra would be pleased to see a pyramid on Hamilton's grave.

The Next Level

One thing that has consistently shown up in the Twitter clues about this novel is that many clues are very subtle: the same word is meant to be taken in more than one way, and a seemingly off-the-cuff reference may actually be crucial to the novel. Such is the case here. For we must ask: what put Alexander Hamilton's body under that pyramidal grave marker -- that is, what killed him? And why even bring up Khafra, rather than half a dozen other pharaohs?

Warning: no matter how weird things get in this section of the post, I want you to remember: everything in "The Next Level" actually happened in real life.

Alexander Hamilton (b. 1755 or 1757--d. 1804) is on everyone's list of U.S. Founding Fathers. Like many of them, he was a Freemason. He was the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and as such ties into the financial theme that runs through this clue. However, it gets murkier than that, and intensely conspiratorial, in real life, very quickly.

Hamilton was mortally wounded by Aaron Burr, in a duel in Weehawken, NJ, just across the river from Manhattan Island. At the time, Burr was serving as the Vice-President of the United States, under Thomas Jefferson in Jefferson's first term as President. Burr came under intense criticism, especially among Northern voters, for killing Hamilton. Burr left the Vice Presidency at the end of his term (Jefferson entering a second term as President with a different VP), and then things really got weird.

Burr moved into what was then the West of the territories of the U.S., and apparently came up with a scheme that, if successful, would have left him as essentially the king of a separate nation, incorporating much of what is now Texas, northern Mexico, and nearby areas. (I should point out that these were the very areas later focused on by the Knights of the Golden Circle, or KGC, whom we met in Clue #34; see this article with its provocative map).

Burr was arrested and put on trial for treason, but was acquitted for lack of evidence. The team for the prosecution included the young William Wirt, whom we met in Clue #6. (You will recall Wirt as the Freemason who later abandoned the Masons, and ran against Jackson for the Presidency on the Anti-Masonic Party ticket; after his death, Wirt's corpse was beheaded, and his skull was stolen right out of his crypt in the Congressional Cemetery.)

(Incidentally, Burr was not a Mason. However, his defense attorney, the young Henry Clay -- distant relative of my wife, Kathleen -- was a very prominent Mason later in his life.)

Which leaves us with Khafra. I find it interesting that the alternate spelling of his name, Khafre, is also the name of a sophisticated block cipher developed 20 years ago. The publication of the cipher was originally blocked by the National Security Agency, but through a variety of mishaps it came to public attention anyway.

So there we have it: Founding Fathers, a fatal duel, a conspiracy to rule a chunk of North America, pyramids galore, and a code scheme so threatening that the NSA wanted to block its publication -- and all in real life. What's not for Dan Brown to love?

Potential Relevance to The Lost Symbol

So where might Brown be going with all this? A couple of things come to mind.

You can't have a good conspiracy without a hefty amount of cash. The clue points in passing at one of the most massive wealth-engines in human history, the New York Stock Exchange, founded in the earliest days of the American Republic -- hey, Washington was still in his first term. Perhaps the conspiracy that Dan Brown depicts in his novel has something to do with the NYSE. (Of course, the Confederate gold mentioned in Clue #34 might work in here, too.)

My guess is that, in the novel, Burr somehow has connections with the KGC, connections that somehow reverberate down to our own day. (Thus, the KGC would be the "bad guy" secret society in the novel. Would the Freemasons be the "good guys"?)

In the world of the novel, Hamilton's flat-topped pyramid may resonate with the unfinished pyramid of the Great Seal of the U.S., discussed in relation to Clue #35.

The Khafre cipher can encrypt small amounts of data very quickly, which, in Dan Brown's universe, could come in mighty handy . . .


  1. Brilliant Mark!

    Keep them coming!!

    If you get your book published, I'm first in the cue!

  2. You are too kind, Brett. Thank you for your kind words.

  3. There is also a purely visual link. The Khafre pyramid is the one that still has the outer shell on the apex, and therefore (to me anyway) is most evocative of the unfinished pyramid on the Great Seal. Somehow, the Khafre's apex seems disconnecte from the rest.

    And just for fun, look at this image of the Khafre with the Sphinx and then look again at the new TLS cover.

    Oh, and thanks...

  4. Burr and the KGC? Wouldn't Burr have died two decades before the formation of the KGC? Of course, Dan Brown could have it in his novel that Burr was the real founder of the KGC, which operated underground until the Civil War.

  5. Before the KGC their have people die for that.

  6. Hi

    I'm Petros Petrosyan.
    I now live in Chicago.

    Attention please!

    1. The pyramid is not a sepulcher of Pharaoh and the purpose of its construction was not on this plane.
    2. The huge volume of the information is ciphered with use of the geometrical form of a pyramid.
    3. The basic model of the Pyramid cipher was established.
    The basic model of the code of a pyramid is formed of 365 small pyramids which consist at 14 steps of model of the code.

    Pyramid is ciphered message, It is simply improbable.

    Please Go to:

    Full Article:

    Thanks, Petros M.Petrosyan


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