When Canadian doctor Samuel Bean lost his first two wives, Henrietta and Susanna, within 20 months of each other, he decided that the best way to honor them would be to create a tombstone dedicated to a hobby they both enjoyed —solving puzzles. The doctor had them buried side by side in Rushes Cemetery near Crosshill, Wellesley Township, Ontario, and a single gravestone was placed over their graves. The gravestone bore a puzzle, one that kept historians stumped and amateur cryptologists busy for the next eighty years.
A replica of the gravestone can still be seen in Rushes Cemetery. The original stone was badly weathered and was replaced with this durable granite replica in 1982. The stone is about 3 feet high, and features 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.
Without doubt, Dr. Samuel Bean must have received many requests to reveal the meaning of the cryptic message, but he would have none. Then in 1904, while holidaying in Cuba, Dr. Bean fell overboard from a sailboat and drowned. The secret of the coded gravestone was forever lost.
It was in 1947, some eighty years after Dr. Bean’s wives were buried, that the puzzle was first deciphered by the cemetery caretaker John L. Hammond, whose own grave is nearby. Hammond had copied the inscription, took it home and over the course of several months figured it out.
To solve the puzzle, start at the seventh column from the left and at the seventh letter from the top and read in a zig-zag way. If solved correctly, it should read:
IN MEMORIAM HENRIETTA 1ST WIFE OF S BEAN M. D. WHO DIED 27TH SEP 1865 AGED 23 YEARS 2 MONTHS & 17 DAYS & SUSANNA HIS 2ND WIFE WHO DIED 27TH APRIL 1867 AGED 26 YEARS 10 MONTHS & 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
However, the puzzle appears to have a few errors, as TheRecord.com observes:
There is a single letter-discrepancy between the two stones. In line 7, column 8, the original's "D" became an "E" on the replica — as it should be. However, there remains one seeming error: in line 8, column 14, each stone shows "B" but this has no place in the puzzle. If made an "O" it completes the word "SO" in the puzzle's final phrase. I like to think that Samuel had these false letters engraved into the original marble to have the last laugh on his township neighbours.
Dr. Bean wasn’t the first to incorporate puzzles into headstones.
At the eastern end of the churchyard of St Mary's Priory Church, in Monmouth, Wales, there is the gravestone of John Renie, a house painter who died in 1832. Renie’s gravestone comprises a rectangular carved 285-letter acrostic puzzle. From the larger H on the center square the sentence "Here lies John Renie" may be read in any direction. It is claimed that the sentence may be read a total of 46,000 different ways. It is believed that Renie carved the stone himself, possibly in a bid to confuse the Devil, so ensuring Renie a safe passage to heaven.
Again, in the church of San Salvador, in the Spanish city of Oviedo, there is a tomb with the Latin phrase “SILO PRNCEPS FECIT” engraved upon it such a way that the words can be read in270or2024different ways, depending on which source you believe.
Silo, Prince of Oviedo, or King of the Asturias, succeeded Aurelius in 774, and died in 785. “No doubt,” observed Barkham Burroughs, in his Encyclopaedia of Astounding Facts and Useful Information, published 1889, “the above inscription was the composition of some ingenious and learned Spanish monk.”