Emotions are funny things. Most people show theirs in a relatively standard way – laughter in amusement, tears in sadness, blushing / face-palming in times of embarrassment, and so on. But every now and again you hear a story about a really bizarre display of emotion that raises an eyebrow (see: surprise). The story of Dr Samuel Bean definitely falls into this category.
A teacher, physician, and – later – pastor in Wellsley, Canada, in the 1800s, Dr Bean cemented his reputation as an eccentric by commissioning an extremely unusual headstone for the shared grave of his first and second wives, Henrietta and Susanna.
The epitaph in itself is reasonable enough, containing the usual kind of sombre, loving but tastefully restrained sentiments you might expect to see on many headstones in a 19th century cemetery. What’s weird is that it took over a century for those words to be read, because they are conveyed in code. (If you give up trying to crack it yourself, the solution is outlined in this post over on Atlas Obscura.)
There are many theories as to why Samuel Bean chose to commemorate his wives this way. Was it for privacy? Superstition? Or was Dr Bean just a sucker for a good puzzle? One rather spiky theory, from The Chronicle’s Philomena Rutherford, deduces that the doctor simply had “a taste for young brides who didn’t live long, and that moments of sorrow left him calm enough to compose cryptograms”.
Unfortunately, no one will ever really know the answer to the riddle: Dr Bean took it with him when he fell overboard a ship on its way to Cuba in 1904, thus avoiding ever having a silly headstone erected in his memory.