(Image taken and clipped from the May Day Mystery’s archive of May Day, 1987)
Who could’ve known that one the biggest internet mysteries would derive from a school paper in Arizona?
The Main Target
May Day (A.K.A. International Workers Day) is often a day used to celebrate workers and the working class. Compared to the bigger holidays, like Halloween or Christmas, it’s not the most recognized, but it is a monumental day.
However, on May 1st, 1981, a monumental discovery was made that changed the course of internet mystery cases– and it took place in a college newspaper in Arizona; The Arizona Wildcat to be more specific.
The University of Arizona is one of, if not the biggest college there. Their community, also known as the Wildcats, strive to “do great things,” As their website says it:
“It’s our passion to transform the lives of our student Wildcats and to solve some of the biggest challenges facing our state and the world.
But what makes us unique is how we do it. We live our purpose, mission and values every day.”
With this and most colleges, they had a student-run newspaper. One that seems to be still doing well for itself. Well, online at least. They also have a physical newspaper, which seems to be the main target of a strange mystery.
On May Day of 1981, the first of many announcements in the school newspaper was discovered. One that stated “Long Live Chairman Mao” in Chinese characters, with the signature simply being signed, “May Day, 1981.”
(Photo taken from the May Day Mystery’s archive of May Day, 1981)
From this one piece of text alone, it spawned multiple posts like it. Soon, every single May 1st, similar posts would be made and sent as advertisements for the newspaper. And given how pricey it is to put an advertisement in a newspaper (ranging from $2,700 to $100,000) it was a strange effort to see.
However, these posts didn’t get discovered until 1995, when the then freshman from Ohio named Bryan Hance discovered the puzzles for himself. Soon, by 1997, when Bryan wasn’t in class, he’d be in the newsroom, scanning through the paper and trying to figure out these puzzles.
Soon enough, Bryan would make a website archiving the mystery. But– what exactly is the May Day Mystery?
What Is The May Day Mystery?
People are still looking for an answer to this question. In the almost 40+ years of these announcements, it’s astounding how little it makes sense for most people.
All while some just thought this was all some elaborate joke, while others thought all the mathematical and historical references were too obscure to just be a joke.
Now, when you fuse all of these elements together, you get codes. Codes that no one really knows what they lead up to.
However, people (and Bryan Hance himself) have dumped it down to a couple of key factors. Most of these announcements include mostly the same criteria.
- Math equations
- A mix of several different languages
- Intricate illustrations of historical figures and facts
- And lastly, the smiley guy, which people suspect is a signature for the person(s) making/publishing these puzzles
(Image taken from the May Day Mystery’s official Twitter account)
A peculiar thing of note about the smiling guy, was that he was considered the only face of the organization publishing these ads to the paper, but he wasn’t the only thing that stood out in the paper.
Its Propagandic Roots
Going back to puzzles themselves, not a whole lot of them could be easily solved. Even the first puzzle was a lot to just understand what it means.
The first puzzle had Chinese characters that translated into “Long live Chairman Mao,” or “Long Live Comrade Mao for Ten Thousand Years,” which comes from propaganda during the Cultural Revolution back in China.
The phrase itself is the title of a song that was used as a slogan from the Red Guard, which links back to Mao’s cult of personality back then. The phrase then became used by The Young Pioneers of China and Communist Youth of China.
For the next couple of years, “Long Live Chairman Mao” became the main phrase for the May Day posts. While there were a couple of other announcements posted on other dates, May Day became the main day to post these propagandic messages.
However, still so much remains, even taking away the propaganda from the messages– it’s still a mess of codes from the outside looking in.
And from what was mentioned on Hance’s official website for the mystery, he mentions the convoluted nature of the puzzles. In his own words:
“In addition, there are occasional ‘corrective’ pages (well, I call them that, others disagree) that run on seemingly random and unconnected dates that ‘update’ the state of the game. Such ads are usually short, just as cryptic, and seek to modify part of an existing Mayday page to reflect necessary changes to the game. I.e. One such page makes a reference to a road or path that is unpassable, and gives alternative coordinates with an apologetic tone.
Every single page will mention several clues, key words, and dates, as well as other dates and page numbers of related Mayday Pages that can be found in the back issues of the Arizona Daily Wildcat. The pages seem to be interwoven with one another.”
But who’s publishing all these to the paper? And do they have connections to the Arizona Wildcat?
For the longest time, people didn’t know the people responsible for these announcements. There was no real signature outside of “May Day, (insert year here)” or the smiley guy, so the people all over Reddit, Facebook, and Youtube had little to no leads, and they, especially Bryan Hance, were getting tired of the lack of progress in the mystery.
Due to the lack of leads throughout the duration of the mystery, people improvised with theories of their own. Some said that the mystery was all conspiratorial, and some kind of twisted ramblings of mad men (or a single man), while others thought it was something the Illuminati could’ve produced.
It felt like a dry spell was cast over the mystery, as if there was nothing to uncover. Nothing seemed to lead anywhere.
All but one lead, the small name of “The Orphanage.”
The Orphanage was first mentioned on February 8, 1989, and it was one of the first posts that convinced Bryan to go through the rabbit hole that it is now.
(Photo taken from the May Day Mystery archive of February 8, 1989)
As for the Orphanage themselves, they do seem to pride themselves on making and posting the announcements to the paper. Why specifically the Arizona Wildcat is beyond most. And according to Bryan Hance, it seems beyond him as well, if the emails sent to him by the Orphanage are anything to go by.
“Dear Mr. Hance:
This would have come earlier but matters intervened. The sentences are intended to be simple and declarative, as the following information must pass through several permeable membranes before it reaches you.
It is believed, but not verified, that you have already received several messages from Various & Sundry. Some of them are definitely informative as to the nature of the Announcements and indeed, of the Cause itself.
There was (perhaps) over-reaction on this end to your characterization of the Announcements as a Game. It has been considered carefully and a Game is a suitable metaphor, especially for a young person of your background. You must, however, realize that it is a Game far more serious than those with which one is generally familiar. A copy of Kipling’s Kim is not available at this location in any language, but if the collective memory serves, his aforementioned novel made reference to “The Great Game.” What you are–very intensely–studying is more analogous to The Great Game than to some of the suggestions that have been posited by your friends on the Net.
Since you are deeper into this than most, you should be informed that (as suggested by one of your Net-friends), there is some danger. It is not from our side. It is assumed that by now you have intuited that the Pelagians are the foulest of opponents and the other sub-groups in opposition have subordinate tasks–chosen by the Pelagians. Without becoming unduly rhetorical, the Pelagians can be simply explained as that rotting corpse which stalks you home and then materializes with you locked helplessly in its embrace, your life being its sole food. That loathsome corpse that can also appear animated, attractively young and able to communicate in the most contemporary manner possible. (The foregoing is a feeble metaphor, the point being to convey the power of the opponents–and their multifariously malignant purpose.)
If you have a mailing address and would care to receive one piece of mail, which shows that you are held in esteem at the end of June, please post it on your site. It is naturally assumed that you shall soon graduate and enter the maelstrom of employed life. Do not think that you must “solve” the Game immediately. The stakes are so high that a year, ten years or all one’s waking moments between now and rigor mortis, are nothing compared to The Prize.”
This peculiar email is the 12th update according to Bryan’s website. It seems to clarify a couple of things that many (including Hance) have speculated about for years.
- The announcements are called “The Great Game,” and not just simply strange ads or newspaper puzzles.
- Just as Bryan is incredibly involved with solving the mystery, the Orphanage has been keeping eyes on Bryan’s efforts. Often giving him clues throughout the email.
- The Orphanage’s emails are just as cryptic as the announcements they make.
A thing of note is that “The Orphanage” is all they’ve gone by, no real name has leaked from the organization about any of the people making these posts.
Except for one– a lawyer by the name of Robert Truman Hungerford.
If the May Day Mystery wiki is anything to go by, Robert is the only person with proven connections to the May Day Mystery, given he is an attorney and alumnus of The University of Arizona.
However, Robert isn’t the only person behind all these puzzles. In fact, he’s gone on record saying it, from an archived article from Phoenix Magazine:
“The mystery is a work of art,” Hungerford says. “There’s a society behind it, and this is the unveiling of the program that deals with future events.”
All the various theories about outside sources making the May Day posts deemed unlikely from this point forward. In fact, Hungerford actively works with the university to publish these announcements. He’s also mentioned that he could possibly be working alongside the Orphanage as well.
As for the Orphanage themselves, not a whole lot else is known. Robert seems to be the only person tied to them to speak about it, and no other individual has spoken out about the Orphanage.
Again, with most things associated with the May Day mystery, people used theory crafting to fill the void. But whether these theories are true are still up in the air.
With what we know from Hungerford, the Orphanage is almost like a secret society of sorts, and are actively hard at work to make these posts. Posts that people still don’t know what they mean.
40+ Years, But Never Solved
Still, so little is known about the entire mystery. Even back in 1981 when Bryan Hance was hard at work trying to first solve it, there were massive periods of time where progress couldn’t be made due to lack of leads and evidence.
Hungerford is the only voice for the Orphanage, and not even he explains a lot about them. At least we know that the Orphanage isn’t simply one entity.
But, what about everything else? What about all the historical figures mentioned in the puzzles? Why Hungerford of all people speaking for the Orphanage?
Well, nothing is for certain. Even Bryan knows. After all, these little posts from the Arizona Wildcat have been going on for 40+ years, but never solved. Only the answers get replaced with more questions.
From what Bryan has said on the website:
“All of this suggests a deliberate, organized effort to carefully construct a puzzle leading that leads to some eventual endpoint. I can guarantee you, the Mayday pages are not the work of a mentally-challenged individual and or/f*cking lunatic.
UPDATE: I take the above statement back. They could be completely loony freaks, but as of 1/15/99, I believe they are at least interesting loony freaks, and worthy of some sort of attention, whatever their intentions.
They’re too systematic, they’re too detailed. And, like I said, they’re expensive.”
“They’re” being the advertisements in the Arizona Wildcat. Getting advertisements into a newspaper is quite expensive, especially for a college student-run paper. Which means a couple things:
- Someone behind the Orphanage is truly dedicated to publishing these puzzles to the Arizona Wildcat and the Arizona Wildcat only. (Quite plausible for it to be Hungerford)
- The Orphanage has enough money behind their name to publish these for over 40 years.
- They’re aware enough about the attraction these posts have been gaining since 1981, so they’re still making them after so long.
With the immaculate efforts the Orphanage has made to keep this mystery alive and thriving in the new age of the internet, (and being aware of all the internet sleuths keeping consistent tabs on it.) It’s interesting to see it grow in popularity and how it’s been kept alive, even when it’s almost unsolvable to most.
As of May 2023, a new post was added for the May Day mystery on May Day, 2023. It features more different languages, a note from the Orphanage, mathematical equations, and the smiley guy drawn in different color highlights.
It’s worth keeping in mind that even though the mystery grew due to its consistent posts on May 1st, there are unscheduled posts that are added in other months and dates.
This whole mystery has been a remarkable effort for all the parties involved, especially Bryan Hance, who made this all happen.
Even though the website has been selectively down (unless a new clue or update has been uncovered for the mystery), Bryan’s promises for it have been consistent for years, promising that he’ll update it with all the information he has as soon as possible when his work allows it.
The Orphanage has been devoted to keeping pretty much everything about them a secret, and who knows when the next post will come out and the community will have to solve it, if they even can.
But since the mystery has been going on for as long as it has, it’s a matter of time before it reaches some form of conclusion.
For now, the May Day mystery will have to stay just that- a mystery: The one that single handedly changed the course of internet cases.
To conclude with a quote from Bryan Hance’s website:
“I have unraveled the Mayday pages as far as I can, and I am far from the goal. I need help.
I need your help.”