Two dead wives, one mysterious crossword.

Mac Armstrong/Flickr

What do you do if your wives keep dying on you? Devise a near-uncrackable code to print on their joint tombstone, of course. (Let’s not even walk down the decision-making path Dr. Samuel Bean must’ve trod to think a two-for-one grave for Wifey 1 and Wifey 2 was a good call.)

Bean, who was born in 1842 and lived in Ontario, married his first wife in 1865. Mrs. Henrietta Bean enjoyed her husband’s company for seven short months before passing into the great beyond. He quickly remarried to a woman named Susanna. Then she kicked it, too. Both women were laid to rest in Rushes Cemetery, near Ontario. Distraught, Dr. Bean did the only thing a rational man can do when so tested: He commissioned a marble headstone with both women’s names and a 225-character grid that appeared to be a nonsense jumble of numbers and letters.

Nobody could coax answers from Dr. Bean about the puzzle’s meaning (if indeed any existed). Then, during a 1904 vacation to Cuba, Bean fell off the side of a boat and drowned. (Unfortunately, Davy Jones claimed the doc’s body — he was unable to join his wives in their mysterious plot.) The secret to his gravestone cipher perished with Dr. Bean.

Decades passed. Drawn by the mystery of Susanna and Henrietta’s resting place, amateur codebreakers flocked to the cemetery. Nobody was successful until 1942, when the cemetery’s groundskeeper claimed to solve it. He refused to share the answer, though (a likely story), and died before anybody could yank it out of him.

Finally, in the 1970s, a nonagenarian living in a nearby retirement home cracked the case. (If you want to solve it on your own, use this treasure hunt site to get going. Also, stop reading now.)

Starting at the top left corner, the old woman counted seven in and seven down. Then, using a sort of haphazard zig-zag, she was able to unfurl the following message:

In memoriam Henrietta, Ist 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 so to meet them there. Reader meet us in heaven.

See you there, Doc.