Let us admit it. In stressful times when our brains and bodies do not work, a crossword puzzle not only provides the necessary diversion but also gives peace of mind.
In fact, ‘puzzle’ as a word first originated in the 1590s and was first used to mean a ‘perplexing question’. However, by the 1800s, it became a ‘toy contrived to test one’s ingenuity’. And most experts agree that the early word games started as letter arrangement, letter replacement, or “fill in the blanks” word finder games.
And most games were a mix of chance and some degree of skill that gradually increased in ingenuity and creativity with the coming years. By the 1920s, the puzzles became a rage and an obsession with most age groups, and a new breed of gamers christened as cruciverbalists or ‘crossword fans’ emerged overnight. Word games rebranded as ‘crossword puzzles’ became the world’s newest stress buster under uncertain times.
That said, much before the world got addicted, there were some early pioneers as well who lived, breathed, and dreamed puzzles. And Dr. Samuel Bean definitely falls into this category.
When he lost his first two wives, Henrietta and Susanna, within 20 months of each other, he decided that the best way to honor his wives would be to create a tombstone dedicated to a hobby all of three enjoyed — solving puzzles.
The doctor had them buried side by side in Rushes Cemetery Ontario, and a single gravestone was placed over their graves. The gravestone bore a crossword puzzle that kept historians and cryptologists busy for the next 75 years.
The story of Beans tombstone
Samuel Bean was born in Wilmot Township, Canada in 1838.
Early in his career, he experimented with multiple professions. He was a teacher, physician, and later a pastor in Wellesley, Canada. Not surprisingly, Bean is remembered for his famous ‘Bean marker’, a cryptogram he created for his deceased wives rather than his multiple professions.
Samuel married his first wife, Henrietta Furry from Philadelphia, in 1865 at the age of 27. Unfortunately, she passed away 7 months later, leaving him mad with grief. He found love again in Susanna Clegg, a local girl from Wellesley but she also passed away within 13 months of illness.
As expected, the doctor was brimming with emotions at the double demise of his two wives within a span of fewer than 2 years. And while most people would have cried their hearts out in the face of such towering grief, Dr. Samuel Bean decided to express his emotions by creating what was arguably Ontario’s most creative cryptic gravestone, dedicated to his two dear wives.
He had a tombstone created about 3 feet high, featuring a finger pointed skyward with the words ‘Gone Home’ above the two women’s names. Underneath the names is a grid carved with 225 seemingly random numbers and letters. It was this cryptic ‘crossword puzzle’ that kept historians and cryptographers on the tenterhooks for more than 75 years.
In 1904, while on a visit to Cuba, Dr. Bean fell overboard from a sailboat and drowned. The secret of the coded gravestone was forever lost.
The puzzle was cracked finally
It was finally in 1947 when the puzzle was first deciphered by the cemetery caretaker John L. Hammond. Hammond has copied the puzzle and took several months to crack it. The puzzle now reads like the following.
“In memoriam Henrietta, 1st wife of S. Bean, M.D. who died 27th Sep. 1865, aged 23 years, 2 months, and 17 days, and Susanna his 2nd wife who died 27th April 1867, aged 26 years, 10 months, and 15 days, 2 better wives 1 man never had, they were gifts from God but are now in Heaven. May God help me, S.B., to meet them there.”
There are many theories as to why Samuel Bean chose to pay homage to his wives in this manner. Was it superstition? Was it simply a weird sense of humor? Or was it just privacy?
Unfortunately, no one would ever be able to decipher Dr. Samuel Bean’s thought process that made him create one of the most enigmatic crossword puzzles ever created.