Sunday, March 3, 2013

Okay, Maybe It Wasn’t That Bad

Imagine the shock and horror a mother would experience, hearing her ten year old son had just been shot in the gut.

Today: yes, I can imagine it. That would be terrible.

A century ago? Times like that were evidently part of a different world.

If you are a long-time follower of A Family Tapestry—long enough, that is, to have been with us since the beginning of this blog’s tenure on—you may have remembered a post about another young man who suffered the same fate. Mercifully, Samuel William Bean’s outcome was much less serious.

As for seeking the truth about what exactly happened to Leon Bean’s son, though, it is apparent that this gunshot wound would not be the cause of his son’s blind and deaf condition—though it may have been an early warning of some sort of accident-prone tendency.

A resolution to the conflicting reports repeated in family stories might be found in an article discovered online by one long-time reader here—Intense Guy, who is generally known online by his shortened moniker, Iggy. A while back, Iggy sent me a link to an article he found on a chess website. The article featured a story about—surprise/small world/these things do happen—none other than this Samuel William Bean, the son of Leon Bean of Palo Alto.

In the article, Sam Bean explained in his own words what happened to cause his condition:
I was watching some boys on a playground when I was thirteen. One of the boys picked up a rock and threw it, only playing. It hit me on the head, causing intense inflammation and destroyed the optic and auditory nerves.
While I’ve found some newspaper articles making mention of the antics of the twin boys throughout their youth—which would handily give credence to the alternate report featuring the more innocent-sounding scene-turned-tragic of the ball game—you can’t deny a subject’s own report.

On the other hand, I’ve heard people romanticize or dramatize episodes of their own life story so convincingly that it can be taken for point-blank fact.

It did assure me, though, to find this slip of a mention, just about the time of the occurrence, in a newspaper closer to home. In a report from Palo Alto published in the San Francisco Call on December 17, 1909, the article was headlined, “Schoolboys Maimed in Chapter of Accidents,” and went on to recount two schoolyard injuries, including that sustained by Leon’s son. 

Schoolboys Maimed in Chapter of Accidents
Lad Falls and Loses Hearing and Another Loses Eye
(Special Dispatch to The Call)
            PALO ALTO, Dec. 16.—Two serious accidents to grammar school pupils occurred late this afternoon, and as a result William Jones, who lives at the corner of Waverly and Everett avenue, has lost his hearing, and Samuel Bean, son of L. S. Bean, has had the sight of one eye destroyed.
            Jones was swinging high on the rings when he lost his hold and fell, striking on his head. His hearing was destroyed.
            Bean was accidentally struck in the eye by some sharp missile thrown by George Kirksey.
And just as our culture and times would react so very differently to news of a ten year old boy being shot in sport, so would we have looked differently at one young George Kirksey, moments after the “sharp missile” released from his hand had met its target.

Now, his parents would be the subject of a lawsuit—especially if this were the son of the Palo Alto household of Charles Kirksey who listed for his occupation, “own income.”

Back then, the family of the victim would devise a more socially graceful alternate story to pass down through the generations.

A baseball game.

Much more American.


  1. Today we would also question whether we should have such playground equipment, whether the area should be closed, whether there had been any safety inspections, and where were the parents???? But back then, boys will be boys.

    1. There used to be a time when I wondered how we survived childhood, what without all those safety measures in place.

      Now...I just wonder how the parents survived parenthood!

  2. Accidents..with such long lasting consequences..sad but "stuff" happened:)

    1. In this case, it did turn out to be devastating. The more I find from newspaper reports, the more I read that reveals Sam's early perspective on that radical change in his life.

  3. No matter how "safe" humans try to make things - things will never be anywhere near so - and to let it stop one from "living" is ridiculous.

    I'm sure the boy that through the rock never forgot - and felt at least a twinge of guilt each time it came to mind. I was swinging a baseball bat one day when I was 10-11 years old when the girl next door came up behind me unknownst to me. I swung and hit her in the eye - learning she was there only when I heard her scream in pain.

    I remember that day like it was today (and in fact better than things that happened this morning). I was so relieved to learn later than night that the eye surgery saved her vision - and she was "ok" - and was back to school several days later. I would have and would never had dream of hurting her willingly or by negligence. She was the best of friends and a kind-hearted soul. Knowing I gave her a horrible black eye and caused her pain was torture to me.

    1. Iggy, I can imagine how horrible you must have felt. And I'm sure this boy implicated in the event that took Sam's sight must have felt just as bad.

      I was rather shocked to see his name was even revealed in something as public as a newspaper report. Of course, being that it happened in a small town, it might have been something that everyone would know about eventually, even without the newspaper's forwardness.

      The one major issue that made Sam's situation so different than similar accidents in our own times is that it predated the use of penicillin. According to Sam's family, it was actually infection, spreading from the original wound, which caused his loss of both sight and hearing, not necessarily the original impact of the strike, itself.

      While I'm grateful that our current medical advances help prevent many more of such physical losses, these injuries still do occur--and bring with them the emotional pain and regrets suffered by people of all times who have gone through such difficulties. I am glad that, in your friend's case, the outcome was mercifully so much more hopeful.


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