The Case of the Curious Bean Gravestone or Alan Turing Would have been Proud

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READER ALERT: MY PROBLEMS POSTING YESTERDAY ARE SOLVED. SO YOU CAN READ THE CURIOUS STORY BELOW. YOU’LL BE GLAD YOU DID

The Silcox National  Site caravan recently took a side road to Rushes Cemetery. It lies northwest of the town of Wellesley, Ontario, west of Waterloo. Tombstones were on our radar that day.  And not any old mouldy stone for these Ontario history-seekers.

We were on the hunt for the Bean grave stone, tagged as “the most curious tombstone in Canada.” Come on along with us to learn the reason why.

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Tragedy stalked the life of one Dr. Samuel Bean, born in Waterloo County in 1842. First a teacher, later an evangelical minister, Samuel found his true calling as a  country physician. He set up his practice in the village of Linwood, northwest of Waterloo.

In 1865, the good doctor took a wife, one Henrietta Furry. A brief 7 months later, Henrietta died. After an appropriate period of mourning, Dr. Samuel married again, this time to Susanna Clegg. Susanna passed into her eternal life too, some months later. The two women were buried side by side in the Rushes Cemetery, a small multi-denominational cemetery outside Wellesley.

One can only surmise the reasoning behind Dr. Bean’s efforts to commemorate the lives of his two lost loves in this curious way. On a white marble stone, no more than 3 feet high a finger points skyward with the words “Gone Home” above the two women’s names. Nothing unusual here.

But look below the conventional. Instructed by the grieving widower (time 2) , the stone carver etched 225 seemingly random numbers and letters into the face of the marker. To say visitors to the grave were perplexed at Dr. Bean’s gibberish would be an understatement.

Whether driven a perverse sense of humour, or simply a need for privacy, Samuel Bean would have none of the requests and kept the meaning close to his vest. Then in 1904, on a holiday to the island of Cuba, Dr. Bean, aboard a small sailboat, was washed overboard. His body was never recovered.

And so the meaning of the cryptic word puzzle died with the good doctor.

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The years passed and the solution to Dr. Bean’s tribute remained hidden. Drawn by word of mouth, hundreds of visitors arrived annually at Rushes Cemetery to try their hand–unsuccessfully.

Not until 1942 was the message “decoded.” And not by a mathematics wizard or a savvy Alan Turing cryptographer, but the caretaker of the Rushes cemetery. He too took the solution to the Bean puzzle to the grave with him too.

Not until the 1970’s was Dr. Samuel Bean’s tribute to his young wives solved again–and this time revealed. A 94-year-old woman living in a Waterloo retirement home unlocked the treasure chest.

This didn’t stop hundreds of visitors to the Bean grave–camera or pencil and paper in hand– trying to solve the puzzle themselves. No doubt Rushes Cemetery ranks as Wellesley Township’early October 004s #1 tourist attraction.

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By 1980’s the carved letters on the white marble marker had worn enough to make them indescipherable and visits to Bean grave diminished.  In 1982, The Wellesley Historical Society replaced the original stone with a more durable grey granite marker.

Much more durable than marble, the Bean gravestone will welcome curiosity-seekers fro decades to come.

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Now it’s your turn to try your hand at breaking the Bean code. All the letters are visible in the photos above.

And let this historic site blogger know how you have fared. I’ll be glad to pass on the solution if you’re stumped.

A hint to lessen your agony. The message begins with the letter “I”  starting 7 rows to the top left and 7 rows down.

Another clue. Forget everything you’ve learned about tracking words.

Above all have fun!

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