October 23, 2013 • 04:30:55 p.m.

Chit Chat: Author highlights life of Gilded Age tycoon George Fabyan


Richard Munson recently published “George Fabyan: The Tycoon Who Broke Ciphers, Ended Wars, Manipulated Sound, Built a Levitation Machine, and Organized the Modern Research Center,” the first biography about George Fabyan. (Image provided)

GENEVA – Richard Munson was driving along Lincoln Highway in the Geneva area when he ran across an unusual looking estate surrounded by an old Dutch windmill, a private zoo and Japanese-style gardens.

After touring the home, Munson said he only wanted to learn more about the somewhat odd estate and the man behind it – George Fabyan.

“The more I learned about George Fabyan, the more fascinated I became,” he said.

About a month ago, Munson published, “George Fabyan: The Tycoon Who Broke Ciphers, Ended Wars, Manipulated Sound, Built a Levitation Machine, and Organized the Modern Research Center.” The book is the first biography about Fabyan, a Gilded Age tycoon who – during his lifetime from 1867 through 1936 – invented a levitation machine, spent millions trying to prove that Sir Francis Bacon actually wrote William Shakespeare’s plays and created tuning forks that synchronized long-distance communications.

“I think, at the core, he had an insatiable curiosity,” Munson said. “He was just a broad-minded person.”

Munson, of Hinsdale, said Fabyan also was, in large part, an unusual character. Fabyan’s family became wealthy through selling dry goods and cotton. When Fabyan was young, he dropped out of school, abandoned his family inheritance and decided to roam the Wild West for a few year working odd jobs. He later got married and returned to Chicago in 1893, Munson said.

Upon his return, Fabyan secretly took a job with his father’s company in Chicago and didn’t tell anyone who he was. Being a masterful salesman, he caught the attention of the company’s leaders, including his father, who wanted to meet him. That was the first time Fabyan had seen his father in a decade, Munson said.

“Of course, he was welcomed back to the family, and he became the head of the Chicago office,” Munson said. “He did have a lot of money, but he also had curiosity. He was able to use that for his real passion, which was science.”

Fabyan started his own research center, Riverbank Laboratories, where scientists helped create a levitation machine inspired by sound vibrations. The machine, however, never levitated, Munson said.

Fabyan also had a wealth of well-connected friends, including Marshall Field, the head of the Morton Salt Company and a Hollywood producer who had set out to do a movie about Shakespeare’s plays. Munson said Fabyan had spent a lot of money attempting to prove that Sir Francis Bacon had actually written the plays and, in a publicity ploy, Fabyan convinced his Hollywood friend to sue him for damages. The two faced a judge – also one of Fabyan’s buddies – who ruled in Fabyan’s favor and claimed that Sir Frances Bacon was, indeed, the real author of Shakespeare’s work, Munson said.

Munson said by the end of the week, people began to suspect that the three men were connected as friends and questioned the validity of the ruling. However, as Fabyan tried to crack codes in Sir Francis Bacon’s writing to prove his theory, his research paved the way toward ciphering cryptology, which later helped Americans retrieve messages from the Germans in World War I and capture terrorists, Munson said.

“When we went to war in World War I, we had no capacity as a nation in cryptography, but Fabyan had because, to be honest, he was doing some strange things,” Munson said. “He had rather eccentric sides to him.”

Munson’s book, published by CreateSpace, is now available on


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