Sunday, May 5, 2013

Becoming a Serious Contender

Just two years after winning his local chess club’s tournament, Samuel Bean had his photograph in the Oakland Tribune again. This time, he was being awarded the silver loving cup as Alameda’s best chess player for the year.

Perhaps it is the novelty of thinking that someone both blind and deaf could so soundly whip every other chess player in town that landed Sam that many column inches in the Oakland newspaper. After all, newsprint comes at a premium price—especially considering the trouble brewing all around the world that year.

The February 26, 1940, article did play to that theme. The caption below his picture mentioned, “Sam Bean of Alameda has not seen for 30 years, but he was awarded the silver trophy as Alameda’s best chess player today.”

The headline to the article below his picture repeated the motif: “Blind, Deaf Alamedan Awarded Trophy as Chess Champion.”

What has now become a familiar litany of Sam’s loss of eyesight and hearing followed in the article, though the article also picked up some new notes. It mentioned Sam’s two sons, for instance. It also gives us an idea of how Sam was earning his living—after all, just like booklets of poetry, there are only so many restrung tennis rackets that one can sell.

Overall, the story repeated the themes of optimism and good cheer that have been Sam Bean’s hallmarks ever since the first newspaper articles that covered the Berkeley student so many years before.
            Alameda, Feb. 26—Sam Bean, 43, 1807 Santa Clara Avenue, blind and deaf for 30 years, was today given the silver loving cup which is annually awarded Alameda’s best chess player.
            A rock thrown by a school mate at 14, cost one of Bean’s eyes, and infection shortly after took the other and attacked the auditory nerve, robbing him of his hearing also. This twin affliction would have downed many another, but Bean is cheerful, keeps busy endeavoring to make his own living by stringing tennis rackets, repairing chairs and making brooms. He has two sons in school, keeps in touch with the world by reading Braille books and magazines. He is a keen conversationalist, having kept his tone inflections remarkably well for one who has not heard speech for 30 years.
            He “hears” by having words and whole sentences spelled out on the palm of his hands which are highly sensitive and Bean usually devines [sic] a sentence from the first few words before his friends have had time to write it on his hand with their fingers.
            Bean was the proudest man in Alameda today, when given the silver trophy donated by W. J. Heisler, pharmacist, by Mrs. Olive Nagel, recreation department aid and past president of the Alameda Chess Club.


  1. I don't know, Jacqi, I'm really torn about all these newspaper articles talking about Sam like a circus side show, like some animal doing tricks. I know people were amazed and inspired by Sam. I'm sure the publicity helped him sell his books and tennis rackets. But it always seems the emphasis was on his disabilities and I wonder how he felt about that. Maybe I'm just being overly sensitive today for some reason.

    1. Wendy, not at all. I don't think you are being overly sensitive. There is something to all that. However, I wonder how much is attributable to our point of view, given our current way of thinking of such things, clashing with the viewpoint of the 1940s (and before). Sam does seem to come across as "Exhibit A" in these articles--or at least the Boy Wonder to be marveled at in a zoo-keeper sort of way.

      On the other hand, given Sam's propensity to be a people person--not to mention, the need to promote his projects--it might have seemed quite natural to him to seek out center stage through an endless stream of newspaper reports.

      Yet, while Sam himself did have an agenda--to demonstrate that "handicapped" is a misnomer and that he could be as independent as the next person--in an ironic sort of way, it did come across just as you said: like talking about a circus side show.

      ...and on top of all that, how very strange to put it all in this light, considering the newspaper article I have planned to share in a post next week...

  2. What excellent news. With two sons in school, I'll bet Sam is a kind of hero for them. A contender, indeed.

    I think you could write a book about Sam and his family! He's clearly an inspiration to those who follow the news.

    1. One area I never delved into was that of Sam's relationship with his two sons. Because of the Marfan syndrome, I knew a lot about the difficulty of his grandchildren losing their father at an early age, but I never explored the fact that that father (and his brother) lost their own mom when they were quite young, too.

      While I never heard anything about the dynamics between Sam and his sons, I do know that his grandson revered him--making an effort, even though Sam was by then long gone, to learn American Sign Language in remembrance of his grandfather.

  3. Brooms..that is what the blind made here in Minnesota:)

    1. For all Sam's elaborate dreams and goals, it seemed it was a convenient fall-back plan to work for the organization already working with the blind. Being an independent businessman or contractor--let alone itinerant poet--is challenging nowadays. For a blind and deaf man back then? Though he had energy, momentum, goals and connections, between Sam's private set-backs and the nation's economic woes, in the end, I suppose being a "company man" made more sense for him, even if it was for an organization "for the blind."


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