Thursday, March 7, 2013

Where Do These Stories Come From?

Leave it to the newspapers…

Well, this time, I can’t say it was the fault of the journalists. You know my rant about how newspapers can’t seem to get things right. I have to admit: it isn’t that way this time. I’m almost sure of it.

But putting a story in the paper that might not be entirely true is not helping—not helping me, at least.

Remember how I mentioned the Bean family had passed down two conflicting stories as to how Sam Bean lost his eyesight and hearing? I have no idea why there were two versions circulating in the first place.

I’ve already pinpointed a news article in print about the time of the injury. It seemed to finger the less-honorable version: Sam being caught in the crossfire of a rock fight. Well, let me amend that; Sam may have been an innocent bystander, caught by the “sharp missile,” or he may actually have been a participant—worse, an instigator.

I hadn’t found any corroboration for the second story—that of being injured in a baseball game—up until recently. Thanks to a rather lengthy article on Sam and his progress at the Berkeley School for the Deaf, I found the possible source for perpetuating the second version of the story.

Thanks to the search capabilities at, I came across the article, originally published in the Sunday morning edition of the Oakland Tribune on May 5, 1918. (For those with membership, you may access the full article, on page 60, here.)

According to this version of the story, it all started with a case of mistaken identity.
Kept after school by mistake because of the pranks of a twin brother, young Sammy vented his wrath at the world by refusing to go home and by attending a ball game instead.
I’m not sure the “sharp missile” of the previously-published story out of Palo Alto matches up with the “errant baseball” of the Oakland Tribune’s report, but according to this later report,
Young Bean’s sight and hearing were lost when an errant baseball at an Alameda high school game struck him in the head, paralyzing his faculties.
Of course, it is fairly easy to deconstruct this element of conflicting family history reports. For one thing, Sam’s injuries pre-dated his residence in Alameda. While both Alameda and Palo Alto are considered Bay Area cities, in the early 1900s, before the advent of our interstate highway system, the distance between the two cities would have been considered much more of a travel hindrance. It is unlikely that young Sam—as precocious as he may have seemed with his hunting hobby at age ten—would have found a way from his Palo Alto grade school to the Alameda High School ball field all in one afternoon.

Of course, inserting “Alameda” for the name of the high school may have been an assumption on the part of the reporter, not knowing the family had moved since the injury. Maybe the “missile” that struck young Sam actually was a baseball. Maybe the two incident versions are describing the same scene.

If not, I certainly wonder how the second version came to be. I can hardly nurse my grudge toward careless newspaper reporters in this instance. It would be a doubtful scenario for a reporter to totally fabricate an entire episode in an interviewee’s life. Someone had to be the source for that story.

Though I will probably never uncover the explanation for this case of the two versions, the experience does bring up a point: never assume anything you find in print—or even set in stone—about your ancestors is exactly the way it really was. Genealogy research is not only science—with all the requirements for proper search techniques, citation requirements, and documentation—but it is also interpretive art. Somehow, in the midst of all the versions of the history of “what happened,” we can hope that we may draw close enough to it to finally say, “There lies the truth.”


  1. What a great story! Wouldn't it be great if we could just ask the person? You are doing a fantastic job of finding the real story.

    1. Yes...if only I knew to ask at the time...but we never really know that when we have those opportunities, do we?!

  2. Sometimes, one just has to accept that the truth (with the capital 't') is going to remain 'out there' and just settle for sorting out what is fact and what is possible (or hopefully 'probably').

    I'm confused - didn't one story say he was shot in the stomach (or maybe he was and this wasn't the cause of the blindness?)

    I agree with one thing 100% though, the media seems to hire some really inept reporters! I'd be embarrassed to be publishing half a newspaper just listing "corrections"!

    1. Sorry for the confusion, Iggy--and you are not the first to mention this. Sam did get shot in the abdomen, from which he (obviously) recovered. I stumbled upon this surprise news article while searching for the "real" story on what caused his blindness. I thought it interesting in an odd sort of way to see that the rock-fight-um-ball-game was not Sam's first injury.

  3. Oh as you well know because you've commented on my blog, my moonshiners's story as reported by the paper certainly presented a different guilty verdict than that recorded at the prison---frustrating because sometimes the newspaper is the best we can get at times. (I do need to make a trip to the archives to research the actual court documents I realize, but it won't be for some time yet.)

    I guess the flip side is that sometimes if it wasn't in the newspaper, we wouldn't know a thing about the event at all. You really did a good job at tracking down a second story about him!

    1. Good point, Michelle. For what it's worth, the newspapers provide us our first hints at times. In your moonshiner's story, though, I wonder what the motive might have been for the newspaper's different version. There must be more to that story! Hopefully, you will be able to make that trip and uncover the rest of the story.

  4. Some reporters embellish a bit. We have a local reporter that used to work for the National Enquirer..she writes some dozeys:)

    1. Now, isn't that the case?! I'll have to keep that one in mind!


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