Cryptic Headstone Puzzles Visitors

Genealogists, family researchers, Find A Grave volunteers, and cemetery visitors will sometimes stumble upon an unusual headstone, one that leaves you scratching your head. Perhaps it displays an unfamiliar symbol or includes an inscription that is written in a language other than English.  

But this headstone stands out from the rest — it is a literal puzzle. Henrietta and Susanna Bean’s monument, which marks the side-by-side burying place of the two wives of Samuel Bean, stands in the Rushes Cemetery in Wellesley, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

Original Monument from 1867

Inscribed on the monument is a cryptogram that is 15 letters across and 15 down, carved on a white marble stone. A cryptogram is a type of puzzle that consists of a short piece of encrypted text. Generally, the cipher used to encrypt the text is simple enough that the cryptogram can be solved by hand. But this secret message remained unsolved for 80 years. 

The Bean Family Biography

Genealogy research has revealed some interesting biographical information about Rev. Samuel G. Bean, M.D. and his family. 

Samuel G. Bean was the son of Abraham Bean (sometimes spelled Biehn or Beau) and Susannah Graybill. He was born March 24, 1842, at Huron, Canada West, Canada. 

He lived and studied for a time in Pennsylvania, where his mother was born. It was in Pennsylvania where Samuel enlisted on Aug. 5, 1862, for the Civil War. He was mustered out on Aug. 12, 1862, as a private in the 129th Pennsylvania Regiment, Company “C” Infantry. 

In 1863, he married Henrietta Furry. Henrietta was born June 9, 1842, in Philadelphia. Following the wedding, the couple left the country and moved to Canada. Henrietta died there on Sept. 27, 1865. Henrietta Bean’s funeral card was also a puzzle, with 19 letters across and 19 down. It read: 

“In memoriam Henriettah Furry Bean Born in Penn. married in Philadelphia to Samuel Bean, M.D. and went with him to Canada leaving all her friends behind – Died in Linwood the 27th of Sep. 1865 after an illness of 11 weeks, aged 23 years, 2 months and 17 days, she was a model wife, 1 of 1000 – much regretted by her sorrowing husband and all who knew her – Lived a Godly life for 5 years and died happy in the Lord – Peace be to her ashes – So mote it be”

Samuel married his second wife, Susanna Clegg, daughter of William Clegg and Rachel Irwin, on July 16, 1866, at Perth, Ontario, Canada. They had one daughter, Susanna H.A.T.E.R. Bean. Mrs. Susanna (Clegg) Bean died during childbirth on April 27, 1867, at age 26.  

Notice Samuel’s fascination with letters and the initials he incorporated into his children’s names. 

For some years, Samuel taught school, and then he decided to enter the medical profession. His medical card appeared March 8, 1867, “Samuel Bean M.D. Graduate of the Eclectric College of Pennsylvania is now permanently located in Linwood and prepared to practice Physic Surgery and Midwifery.” He practiced medicine for a short time before becoming a Wesleyan Methodist minister. 

Samuel left Canada in 1867, traveling with his infant daughter and settling in Rome, Oneida, New York. It was in New York, where he was active in the Methodist Conference and met his third wife, Anna Maria Wankmiller, daughter of Ludwig Friederich Wankmiller and Jacobena. The couple married in 1871. 

Rev. Samuel Bean, M.D. and his wife, Anna, had four children: Samuel S.A.L.E.M. Bean, Caroline D.O.R.N. Bean, Maria M.A.C.E. Bean, and Jesse A. Bean. 

As a self-described “Preacher of Gospel,” in 1885, the family moved westward and made their home in Larchwood, Lyon county, Iowa. Rev. Bean was active in the Iowa Methodist Conference. It was also in Iowa where his youngest son, Jesse, was  born. 

The family eventually moved to Bronson, Levy, Florida, their last home. He practiced medicine there and was engaged in fruit farming. On Jan. 28, 1904, on a return trip from Cuba, the boat he was sailing in capsized and he was lost at sea. It was reported that all efforts to recover the body were made, but to no avail. 

Anna Maria (Wankmiller) Bean died a few months after her husband, on June 14, 1904. 

Solving the Puzzle  

To solve the 225-alphanumeric epitaph on Henrietta and Susanna’s monument, one must read the entire inscription in a spiral fashion, recognize that some letters in words are displayed zig-zag between two lines, and accept some spelling discrepancies unique to the period it was written. 

According to legend, the monument was first decoded by a cemetery caretaker, John Hammond, in 1947. However, he never revealed the answer. In the 1970s, a 94-year-old woman solved the code and revealed the message lovingly written by Samuel for his two wives, and eventually to those that could decipher it. 

A New Monument

The epitaph on the headstone drew many curious visitors over the years. Unfortunately, the countless rubbings of the inscription, along with the weather and softer marble material, caused the inscription to become almost entirely illegible.  

So, the Wellesley Township and Wellesley Historical Society decided to have a replica made. Unveiled in a ceremony on Oct. 17, 1982, the new monument is made of a more durable gray granite. The letters are blackened, so anyone wishing to read and solve the puzzle can do so with greater ease, without causing additional harm to the original monument. 

WARNING: Read no farther if you would rather decipher the code yourself. Scroll up and look at the headstone again. 


To solve the puzzle, begin on the seventh character of the seventh row down and read in a spiral fashion. To help you get started, I have highlighted the names of both wives. Beware, the zig-zagging pattern becomes a bit more complicated at each corner of the spiral. 

The inscription reads: 

“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. READER MEET US IN HEAVEN.”


  • Vol I A Biographical History of Waterloo Township and other townships of the county : being a history of the early settlers and their descendants; mostly all of Pennsylvania Dutch origin…, 257.
  • Census, marriage and other records used to create a Bean family tree on Ancestry
  • Find A Grave, memorial ID129674485


Your Guide to Cemetery Research, By Sharon DeBartolo Carmack
Cemetery Iconography: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism, by Cassidy Madariaga
Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A Field Guide for Historic Graveyards, by Tui Snider and H.E. Cameron

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: