Friday, May 31, 2013

Not Left Alone

He is survived by his wife, Marilyn.

With all the losses that befell the Bean family in 1955, it seemed the family was dwindling to nothing. Yet even though it seemed, with Earle Raymond Bean’s obituary yesterday, that his wife Marilyn was now left alone, that is not entirely so.

For once, I’m rather thankful that newspapers make editorial mistakes. In this case, it was an error by omission: Earle and Marilyn had two small children.

To think that this would be good news—considering those small children in question were then aged four years and fourteen months—is not quite what I mean. Rather, that Marilyn was not left entirely alone was one form of comfort. Yes, it was a difficult future that faced the small family. But as hard as it seemed, they had each other to pull into that future.

On the other hand, tracing the trajectory of the Woodworth family’s health tendencies owing to Marfan syndrome, that future had its dark side, too. Considering that Earle had lost his mother, Maud, when she was barely thirty five—and even his own brother, who was thirty four at the time of his death—Earle himself had not even made it that far. He was only twenty nine when he passed away.

If Earle’s son Gregory had had the same level of medical care that had been available during Earle’s generation, he would have made it only to his twenty fourth year. Thankfully, by the 1970s, things were different. What at that time was called “open heart” surgery became the new game-changer for victims of Marfan syndrome.

In Greg’s case, the moment of his own health crisis came on the afternoon of October 1, 1974. How well I remember that day—and that miracle. Though it became only the first of several such cardiovascular surgeries, the blessing was that it hadn’t been the last. As Greg often commented, himself, despite the health struggles he faced, he was so appreciative of the opportunity to have a life. And with the heritage he had in his great-grandparents on both the Bean and Woodworth sides, passed down through his grandparents and their family, he had a lot of life to live—and to give. Thankfully, after that heart-stopping moment in 1974, he had the opportunity to extend that full life another fourteen years.

Of course, you would expect, after that point, to see me post yet another obituary in this long tale of life that all of us eventually share. I’d like to say I’m not going to post that obituary in deference to the privacy of those who still remain. But I can’t really say that now. You see, the only one left whose mention would violate that respect of privacy would be the one writing this post.

A while back, a reader—Intense Guy, dubbed online as “Iggy”—asked for a recap on all the relationships. In answer to his comment, “I’ve lost the thread; how are you related to these folks?” I deferred the answer until later. Strangely, I found myself having such a hard time keeping that promise.

It wasn’t because I didn’t know the answer. On the contrary: I know the answer all too well.

Perhaps what caused it to be so difficult to say has something to do with the very same reason why Sam Bean could only comment, “I had a swell wife.” Coming to Sam’s defense at the time, some of you were so perceptive to pick up on that possibility on his behalf. Iggy had mentioned,
I suspect his brevity when speaking of his wife was due to pain of loss—my grandfather would only say "she was a saint" of my grandmother after she passed away.
Agreeing with that sentiment, reader Far Side commented,
I have met people who will not speak of the dearly departed. It is too painful for them.
While I couldn’t see it at the time—until you all had put words to it—I was still going through the same process, myself. Oh, I had alluded to it in places. Like when that “fourteen month old baby” passed away last November, triggering the idea in my mind to work on this series. And again, with the official first post, “Starting This Story at the End,” where I introduced Earle’s son, Greg.

Now that you’ve mentioned it, yes, I can heartily agree with the explanation for the way Sam put it about his own wife. It is too hard to put into words.

Even after all these years.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Still Same as Sam

While Earle Raymond Bean trailed his older brother, Samuel William, by nearly five years, the two shared so many similarities. Their appearance, for one: tall, lanky, big-footed, narrow-faced, and topped with dark, curly hair.

And oh, there was one other similarity: they both had Marfan syndrome.

Perhaps it was owing to that last irregularity that, only nine days after bidding Sam Bean goodbye, the family was gathered around his younger brother, repeating the same unbearable process.
            Funeral services will be held tomorrow for Earl R. Bean, 29, of 48 Via El Monte, San Lorenzo, who died Sunday in an Oakland hospital.
            Mr. Bean's death followed by 11 days the death of his brother, Samuel W. Bean Jr., 34, former associate of the Ice Follies.
            A native Californian, Earl Bean formerly lived in Alameda. A Marine Corps veteran of World War II, he was a member of Oakland Lodge No. 324, Loyal Order of Moose.
            He is survived by his wife, Marilyn.
            The funeral will be held at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow at the Fowler-Anderson Mortuary, 2244 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda. Interment will be Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Chased Cross Country

You’ve probably heard it said, “News travels fast.”

Sometimes, it doesn’t travel fast enough.

By the time Samuel Bean had wrapped up his hour-long interview with Oakland Tribune reporter Wood Soanes for his August 7 feature story and left San Francisco for the next stop on the Ice Follies 1955 season tour, an urgent message regarding his last doctor’s visit began trailing him across the country.

In a time so similarly modern yet so vastly different from our own, Sam’s Bay Area doctor had no recourse in contacting him than to send a message trailing his tour route.

I remember Sam’s sister-in-law, Marilyn Sowle Bean, telling me about it. There were no cell phones, no email, no Skype or other online conveniences at the time, of course. Even long distance telephone calls, while available, were considered an extravagance and not commonly used. While telegraph services were still readily available, evidently sending messages after Sam only seemed to get to their destination just after the company train pulled out of the station.

Now that I’m so many years removed not only from the incident but from the person who told me about it, I find it hard to reconstruct the story. The more I think about it, the more questions it brings to mind. Suffice it to just let me lay out the story the way I remember it.

You probably remember my suspicions about why Sam lost his mother, Maud Woodworth Bean, so early in life. You may recall, also, my speculations about Marfan syndrome and how it may have been manifested in others in that and preceding generations of the Woodworth family. With a link that was genetic in nature—and evidenced by Sam’s own elongated frame—that Marfan syndrome was likely to strike yet another generation after Maud’s own passing at the age of thirty five.

According to Maud’s daughter-in-law, Marilyn, doctors found something they were gravely concerned about during Sam’s most recent check up. They wanted Sam to come back for a second look. While Sam’s Ice Follies troupe played city after city, that medical message chased him until he finally arrived back home in Alameda. At that point, Sam was taken into surgery to see if anything could be done for him—and then closed back up with the verdict that, no, there was nothing that could be done. While medical advances had equipped doctors to better be able to diagnose the problem now than in Maud’s generation, they had not yet provided the technology to resolve that problem.

And so, after the flurry of messages chasing the cheery entourage of the Ice Follies across America, and after the surprise rush to rescue yet another generation’s victim of Marfan syndrome, the family had to once again repeat the sad story of a premature goodbye.
BEAN—In Oakland, December 2, 1955, Samuel W., Jr., beloved son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Samuel W. Bean; loving brother of Earl R. Bean; nephew of Mr. and Mrs. William S. Bean and Mrs. Leona Grant; a native of California; aged 34 years.
In a footnote to the story of a life lived after choosing first to avoid that sense of being "hemmed in" by city sights, Sam was returned to his beloved Oakland Hills in his final resting place at Mountain View Cemetery, not far from the ranch where his career first began.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Don’t Worry,
We’ve Got Them Outnumbered

Samuel Bean may have seen his addition to the Shipstads and Johnson's Ice Follies as “rather funny at the time,” but his ability to be “patient” with show animals became his ticket into the very world of cities which he had previously sought to escape. Touring around the continent with the one hundred forty member company on the Ice Follies’ own specially chartered sixteen car Great Northern train, Sam and his poodles—and the rest of the crew, of course—appeared in cities as far flung as Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Milwaukee, New Haven, Minneapolis and Montreal.

Of course, the Ice Follies wasn’t always such a big production. The originators, brothers Eddie and Roy Shipstad and Eddie’s friend, Oscar Johnson, got their start in Minnesota. Branching out from local opportunities in their home state, they took their show on the road first to Tulsa, Oklahoma. That was in 1936.

Serendipity was not always a part of the Ice Follies story. Though the timing might have been right for the entrepreneurs’ new brand of entertainment, the Shipstads and Oscar Johnson’s new brainchild company arrived in Tulsa on the heels of a polio epidemic. Understandably, not too many people turned out for opening night—so few, in fact, that after peeking out to view how full the house was, Oscar Johnson returned to deliver his legendary line to the waiting cast, “Don’t worry, we’ve got them outnumbered.”

Thankfully, after that opening fiasco, the company saw success, city after city—and then, season after season.

When Sam joined the troupe in the late 1940s, the company’s reputation was well established—as was their routine. I’m not sure how a quiet, sensitive individual like Sam—who talked about feeling “hemmed in” by city life—found himself adapting to the glitz of stage life and the demands of cross-continental travel. Perhaps it was his love for his furry charges that kept him dedicated to his task, despite these drawbacks.

Though the Ice Follies name continued for decades, the originating partners sold their enterprise in 1954. When the Oakland Tribune reporter Wood Soanes wrote the feature article on Sam’s work with the Follies in 1955, the company was headed into a season under new ownership.

Perhaps that explains the strange note at the conclusion of the Tribune article:
Bean is approaching that period when he can achieve an old ambition of having his own pet shop in the East Bay where he can train and groom anything from poodles to percherons.
An odd note, indeed, for Sam Bean was hardly reaching retirement age. At that point, he was only thirty four.

Monday, May 27, 2013

How a Long Talk Found Sam His Future

When Samuel W. Bean, junior, graduated from Alameda High School in 1940, he was like many American high school students: unsure of what the future might hold for him. War was brewing in Europe—though that seemed so far removed from teenaged life in California—and Winston Churchill, who meant business, had just become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the face of Germany’s westward advances.

It was nearly a year and a half before Sam’s country would become embroiled in the war, and even though his younger brother eventually enlisted in the Marine Corps, Sam didn’t head in that direction.

Sam found his own path, guided by a sense of what fit for him. He hardly chose what would be considered the entry level for a promising career. Explaining to Oakland Tribune reporter Wood Soanes how he arrived at his position at the Shipstads and Johnson’s Ice Follies productions, Sam made it all sound so simple—and so reasonable.
Cities have always bothered me—I feel kind of hemmed in, so when I got out of high school, I went on the horse trail. I worked as a handler and eventually became an assistant trainer on the harness horse circuit.
Since Sam’s family lived in Alameda, it seemed a reasonable route for him to seek employment at stables up in the Oakland Hills, east of the city. High above the bay with a vista that surely brought Sam that sense of not being “hemmed in,” the hills were nevertheless home to a number of places offering city dwellers a quick escape into the quiet serenity of nature.

One of those places was an equestrian center called Skyline Ranch. Built for retired food merchant Stanley Cosca in 1949, the business is still in operation at the same location on Redwood Road as it was when Sam worked there as a horse trainer.

It was at that point that serendipity intervened in Sam’s career path. Evidently, one of the Ice Follies namesake principals, Oscar Johnson, had been seeking a solution for one of the problems with that year’s scheduled acts. As Sam explained in the Tribune article,
they were having trouble with a pony that had been trained to draw a celluloid carriage containing the Scotvold Twins for some flash act in the show. The trouble was the Texas fellow who did the “training” didn’t do it. The pony, who looked like a shrunken Palomino, just wasn’t doing his job.
That’s when Sam’s reputation, combined with word of mouth action, connected Sam—then out at Skyline Ranch—with the Ice Follies’ Oscar Johnson. As Sam remembered it,
Somehow or other Oscar Johnson heard that I’d had some success with show horses so he gave me a ring. I went over to see the pony and we had some long talks. There wasn’t anything wrong with him except that he hadn’t got the original idea. We palled around together for a couple of days and presently he was performing his chores right pretty.
That “long talk”—Sam’s philosophy of animal training—must have been just the right fit for the challenge. As Sam explained it in the Tribune,
When you’re working with what people generally call a dumb animal, you first have to take into consideration that he isn’t as dumb as you think, because if he were left to his own devices he’d be able to live off the soil and there’s not many of us humans who could turn that trick.
With his unique, gentle approach, Sam Bean seemed to work miracles with the show animals. At least, as far as Oscar Johnson was concerned, Sam filled the bill for the Ice Follies. And yet, he seemed so humble about it all. About his big break into the “show biz” world, Sam put it this way:
I stayed on with the show as a sort of chambermaid to this pony and the first thing I knew I was listed on the payroll as an “animal specialist.” It seemed rather funny at the time but...I guess I really qualify for the title.
Sam saw his animal charges not so much as animals, but more like “so many individuals to be cherished and, if necessary, to be argued with.” To him, his work in animal training was “nothing more than a matter of understanding and patience.”

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Fifteen-Minutes-a-Day Philosophy

If blind and deaf poet Samuel William Bean, the father, could be billed as a philosopher, then perhaps it was genetics that played a part in Sam junior’s philosophical outlook on his career as animal trainer.

Working with Shipstads and Johnson’s Ice Follies through the early 1950s, Sam encountered his fair share of challenges in the variety of tasks he was called upon to handle.

For the acts in 1954 and 1955, as we’ve already seen, Sam’s charges were a set of toy poodles, but they weren't always the focus of his duties. His round-the-clock care for the undaunted dozen dogs—who literally pranced their way through their fifteen minutes of fame each time the show played in cities across the country—was preceded by a variety of other assignments. Sam’s repertoire included the predictable role of training horses and ponies, true. But that wasn’t all. Added to that list were a pig, a goat, a seal and some penguins—“and we all got to be close friends.”

A pig?

As Sam explained to Oakland Tribune reporter Wood Soanes in an August 7, 1955, feature article,
I worked with the pig for fifteen minutes each day and by the third day he was getting the idea; by the sixth day he was doing his work like a professional.
While his father, the elder Samuel W. Bean, developed his own life philosophy out of the difficulties he faced when a freak accident turned his life permanently upside down, the junior Sam saw his own philosophy evolve when he faced the call of creating fifteen minute acts with partners whose natural inclinations in no way included performance on stage—no matter how brief the occasion.
I think perhaps my success, if that’s what you want to call it, has been due to the fact that I don’t believe in manhandling animals, and I certainly don’t believe in trying to rush them with lessons.... I try first to win their affection and then I try to win their respect. Once I’ve got them on my side, the battle is won. They probably say to themselves: We better try to get this chore done or poor old Sam Bean will lose his job!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

And Then They Were Eleven

Samuel Bean, junior, might have been working with a dozen toy poodles for the Shipstads and Johnson’s Ice Follies in 1954, but come time for the 1955 season, the canine crew was down to eleven.

They were evidently still a spectacular hit, judging from not one, but two mentions in the Oakland Tribune.

A feature length story on Sam and his eleven charges appeared in the August 7, 1955, “Entertainment and the Arts” section—along with a photograph to up the adorableness factor, of course.

The poodles, appearing along with the Ice Folliettes in a 1954 act billed as a “sophisticated French race track number,” had so won the hearts of Ice Follies audiences that they returned—well, all but one of them—for the 1955 season. The more recent Tribune article, most likely, coincided with their appearance that year at the Winterland in San Francisco.

While Sam’s eleven adorable charges were out prancing on the ice—you didn’t suppose they wore ice skates, now did you?—Sam kept a low profile backstage. His poodles—“among the bright particular stars” of the show—usually kept fairly close to their training routine.

There were exceptions, of course. As Tribune reporter Wood Soanes put it, Sam was the “unseen and usually unsung hero” responsible for the poodles’ training—and, as intelligent as poodles might be, they didn’t always stick to the program.
They get the plaudits from the throngs at each performance; he gets the headaches because it seems that poodles, even toys, have minds of their own.
With apologetics befitting a proud parent, their trainer Sam explained,
I have my ideas; they have theirs; we sort of talk it out. Nine chances out of ten I win, but no matter what it says in the books, a poodle is a rugged individualist and there are occasions when it takes a good deal of convincing and a man has to have a heap of patience to come out of the business top hand.
One of those insufferable four-legged headaches must have been Pierre. An unrepentant lover of children—though he had his particulars—Pierre would occasionally ditch the scripted version of the show and ad lib his way through the act…in the lap of an unsuspecting front-row spectator.

Patient as ever, Sam was quick to cover for Pierre’s little quirk:
            Pierre likes kids—not just any old kid, but some kid that takes his fancy. Now Pierre knows the routine of the show as well as I do but let Pierre spot a kid that he likes in the crowd and I’m licked.
            I’ll be standing back stage looking through the peep-hole to see how the kids are doing when oops, there goes Pierre jumping over the railing into the lap of some youngster. There isn’t much I can do about it except wait until he makes up his mind to come in. That’s when the lights go out to clear the stage for the next number.
            If the lights stayed on for any length of time, as they did once when we had a short and the circuits wouldn’t break, Pierre would stay with the audience for the rest of the evening. The fellow’s a ham actor, that’s all there is to it. I talk to him and try to explain that he’s a paid entertainer and he listens very carefully but, frankly, he doesn’t seem to give a hoot.
After a season like that in 1955, the poodle cast might soon be down to ten…

Friday, May 24, 2013

Hams At Heart

Only two years after Samuel Bean’s passing, the Oakland Tribune was at it again, publishing stories about someone named Samuel W. Bean.

No, this wasn’t a case of reincarnation. And it wasn’t in memoriam. These were articles about another man with the very same name: Samuel William Bean.

It was Sam’s son.

While, thankfully, Sammie junior did not need to depend on severe handicap for his claim to fame, he did present an unusual story line: he had become animal trainer for the toy poodles featured in Shipstads and Johnson’s Ice Follies.

“Dogs in an ice show?” you may be wondering. Yes, indeed—although a late add. The original traveling ice show, Ice Follies got its start in 1936 with a production in Tulsa, Oklahoma—though the principals were from Minnesota. Billed eventually as a variety show on ice, the Ice Follies added Rockettes-like line dancers on skates—the Ice Folliettes—and then followed with other entertainment innovations.

Young Sam found his way onto the payroll almost by accident, as we’ll discover in a few days.

I had remembered, years ago, Sam’s brother Earl’s wife, Marilyn, telling me about her brother-in-law’s unusual career. In fact, she had shown me pictures—large glossy studio photographs which, unfortunately, were not among those passed along to me.

So…what does a six foot, four inch, one hundred sixty pound man do when he works for an ice skating extravaganza?

He tends poodles. Twelve of them.

Each of his charges—with big, soulful, brown eyes and fluffy white coats—made their debut in the early 1950s at the tender age of two months, never to miss a performance since then. They came with impossible names—Pierre, Cherie, Kiss Kiss and Lover Boy, for instance—and an equally prima donna lifestyle.

Their trainer, Sam, prepared them for a surprise role in one Ice Follies act in 1954 that got special coverage in an Oakland Tribune article. Claiming that his canine stars were “poised and gracious with strangers,” Sam explained in the Tribune article that
the dogs are highly intelligent performers who know their cues and love to be in the arena. “They’re wonderful clowns,” he said. “Just little hams at heart.”

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Skinning the Woolfe

Long after his last game—long after his passing, even—Samuel W. Bean was remembered among those in the chess clubs he frequented for tournaments and other events.

In 1979, one of his former opponents—Emil Stephen Ladner, a fellow deaf competitor sixteen years Sam’s junior—joined with Juan F. Font to catalog the history of selected members of The Berkeley Chess Club For The Deaf and other chess clubs, which they published in a book.

A segment, posted online and found by A Family Tapestry reader Intense Guy (“Iggy”) reveals Sam’s story as included in that publication. For those of you who enjoy—or even understand—the finer points of chess, the article lists the moves to two of Sam’s games.

The authors explain how, considering his physical limitations, Sam managed to play the game:
Naturally he used a specially constructed board so that he could feel the pieces. Since he had to play slowly, his opponent usually set up another board for his own use while Sam was busy wandering all over his own board. Sam won most of his games and was quick to congratulate anyone who defeated him.
Considering my surprise at reading in Sam’s obituary how he had placed so highly in a “world tournament” of the blind, it was reassuring to read Font and Ladner’s confirmation of at least his participation in that type of occasion:
At chess Sam became an expert player and won club and county championships. He also played in North vs. South matches and in tournaments for the blind of the world.
In one of the games listed in the article, Sam played an opponent listed as “C. Woolfe.” This Mr. Woolfe was considered “one of the best players in Northern California.” Despite that promising reputation, in this case, he had to resign to his opponent—Sam—after his fifty-first move.

Noted the authors, “After this game Sam was heard to chuckle, ‘I skinned the wolf.’”

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hardly Expected This to Happen

Remember the other day when I was so certain I had found documentation showing Samuel Bean had married a second time, late in his life?

Remember how I so clearly remembered seeing documentation—clear enough to remember the name Hazel—and yet, couldn’t reconfigure the steps to find the forms once again?

Remember how the experience seemed so clear that when I couldn’t replicate what I first saw, I thought I must have been hallucinating?

Well…I think I’m beginning to regain my sanity.

In preparing for yesterday’s post—in which I finally brought myself to say the final goodbye to a stellar human being—I pulled up my file which included his obituary.

What do you suppose slammed me in the face when I opened that file?

Three days after Samuel William Bean passed away in Oakland, California, on August 9, 1952, his hometown newspaper, the San Mateo Times, ran his obituary. In yesterday’s post, I shared part of that newspaper article with you.

I confess: I left out one sentence. I had to reserve it—to savor it—in a post of its own.

Though it isn’t a marriage certificate—and, true, newspapers don’t always get all the details correct—and while it wasn’t something I found on or any other online genealogical site, it does mention the one item I remembered.

See for yourself:
He is survived by his wife, Hazel; a sister, Leona Grant of Alameda and two sons, Samuel Jr. of San Francisco and Earl of Alameda

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

You Knew This Was Going to Happen…

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.

As much as we have spent the last several months cheering on Samuel Bean after he saw his boyhood dreams turn from bright and promising to silent and dark and then, thankfully, back again—at least in spirit—we’ve come to the end of Sam’s timeline. Not that that means we won’t review any more information on his story, but for now, we’ve got to bid a remarkable man adieu.

How Sam’s story came to its end, I don’t really know. He was long gone before I ever showed up on the scene. All I knew of him at the start was from what family members told me—and, understandably, no one likes to talk about death or dying.

That doesn’t mean I never took the opportunity to search online for what information I could find. Of course you know I would do that!

What I found amazing, though, was the lack of any final stories on Sam in the very newspaper which had spent over three decades breathlessly broadcasting every tidbit of Sam’s life that could be printed.

Perhaps this lack of remembrance was owing to a glitch in online archives of the Oakland Tribune. I’ll be circumspect and give them the benefit of the doubt. Up to this point, I’m struggling to find any mention of Sam’s passing in his local newspaper.

Back in his hometown, though, the small newspaper there got the scoop on the mighty Trib. Maybe it was their turn to go all breathless. After all, this was their boy they were talking about—born and raised in San Mateo County…well, and just across the county line in Palo Alto in those fateful early teen years.

Whether the San Mateo Times was able to resist the urge to employ hyperbole, I’m not sure. The editorial tone seemed to convey pride in their hometown boy. A few of the details on Sam’s life seem to fall neatly into place. Others, though—well, let’s just say, “That’s news to me.”
            Funeral services for Samuel Bean, 57, a native of Redwood City and a world-famous chess champion, were held today at the Fowler-Anderson funeral home chapel in Alameda. Interment was at Mountain View cemetery.
            Bean, a resident of 1807 Santa Clara avenue, Alameda, died Saturday in Merritt hospital, Oakland. He lost his sight and hearing when he was 13, yet became an accomplished chess player. At the time of his death he was carrying on 13 games by mail. He missed out on the world chess championship for the blind by only two victories during his prime. He was a salesman for products made by the California Industries of the Blind in Oakland.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Saying “I Do” Again

I was looking for something else when I found it, so I resisted the urge to veer off on that rabbit trail and stuck to the moment’s mission. When I went back to recreate the search, it was gone.

I know I saw it.

Well, at least I thought I saw it.

I had found what I thought was documentation of a second marriage for Samuel W. Bean in Alameda County, California. Of course, I saw it before all the big changes at And, of course, I didn't write anything down.

Now, things are so different. It almost seems like they’ve installed a Google-esque algorithm, anticipating a visitor’s search terms based on previous searches. Now, no matter what I do to create a search on Sam and his mystery companion, all FamilySearch will serve up are results for marriages in Nevada. How did I get that far afield of my stated search request?

Though I’ve reconstructed my path—admittedly in the newly-revised FamilySearch site—I cannot replicate the result that told me that, sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s, widower Samuel Bean got married a second time.

The family had never mentioned such an event to me, those many years ago when I knew Sam’s grandchildren, daughter-in-law and even his twin brother and sister. But surprises do pop up occasionally when we pursue family history via documentation. Not to mention, Sam could definitely be a lady’s man, judging from the newspaper article regarding his suave moves on the dance floor—and echoed in his twin’s equally adroit approach to social matters.

Thinking perhaps I had seen the proof of the matter on another website, I desperately scrutinized all the usual haunts:,, even Over and over again. I went back to FamilySearch and headed for the geographic listing of resources, thinking I’d find it tucked away in one of the as-yet-un-indexed volumes. No luck.

Bad technology day? Trespass into some time warp? Hallucination?

Perhaps it’s time to take a break from genealogy research (my feverish response: No! No! No!).

Wait…before they call in the nice young men in their clean white coats to take me away…I just need to tell you…

I know she was there. I saw it.

Her name was Hazel.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Saying “I Do”

Earl Bean Marilyn Bean seated outside at park during early spring in northern California
Somewhere in the midst of Samuel Bean’s winning streak in the local chess tournament scene, his younger son was embarking on a winning streak of his own. Now safely back across the Pacific and honorably discharged from the Marine Corps after the war in 1946, Earle Raymond Bean had made his way back home to Alameda, California. Some time after that point, he made the acquaintance of a young lady from Southern California by name Marilyn Sowle.

How Earle and Marilyn met, I have no idea. Though she was born in Wisconsin, Marilyn was living with her parents, David and Olive Brague Sowle, in the southern California city of Anaheim by the time of the 1940 census—though she was hard to find, courtesy of a census worker who evidently heard her name as “Maryland.”

Some time after that point, Marilyn’s parents divorced, her mother remarried and moved up to northern California. Though Marilyn favored her father and remained in the Los Angeles area through her high school years, perhaps it was on a visit with her mother in the north that she may have had opportunity to meet Sam’s son.

I can only guess, though. Despite the many opportunities I had in the past to ask, I never did hear the story of how they met.

Worse, I still can’t find any record of her marriage to Earle Raymond Bean—or Earl Ray, or whatever other version of his name might have been used. It could have been a small ceremony in Alameda. Or Los Angeles. Or anywhere in between. Who knows; maybe they made a run for Reno. The maddening thing is that there is absolutely no mention of them in’s index of California marriage records up through 1952.

Why would I suspect a limit of 1952? Because by March of 1951, they were already the proud parents of a firstborn son.

Sam’s first grandchild had made his appearance.

Greg Bean one year birthday cake

Saturday, May 18, 2013

More Chess

Moving into yet another decade, Samuel Bean gains his competitive edge, despite his double challenge of being both blind and deaf.

The East Bay metropolitan area finds itself boasting the possibility of a new chess champion, as Sam outpaces the defending champion, a student at the University of California at Berkeley.

Still living at the same address—though his mother, Ella Shields Bean, is by now no longer with him there—Sam is now fifty four years of age. Just moving into his prime, he surely must have thought as he pulled within grasp of first place in yet another chess tournament.

Perhaps a bit prematurely for the scoop on the end result, the Oakland Tribune moves in to report Sam's progress in a brief announcement on May 10, 1950:
            Sam Bean, a blind and deaf salesman of 1807 Santa Clara Avenue, Alameda, is one of the leading contenders in the 1950 chess tournament of the Oakland Chess and Checker Club, club officials announced today.
            Bean has played ten games with eight wins and two draws. Larry Ledgerwood, University of California geology student and defending champion, has won four games, lost one and had two draws.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Another Loss For Sam

Despite Samuel Bean’s rising star in the Bay Area’s world of chess tournaments, all his success in business, personal life and even positive attitude couldn’t protect him from suffering any more losses.

Ella Bean 1807 Santa Clara Avenue Alameda CA
Ella May Shields Bean, Sam’s perseverant and ever-attentive mother who had seen him through every possible life challenge, was now eighty three years of age.

It was only a matter of a few months after the wonderful article on Sam’s life that he had to face the inevitable. After an “extended illness” that eventually landed her in a local hospital, Ella Bean passed away on November 1, 1948.

I can only begin to imagine what a sea change that must have been in the life of the blind and deaf man for whom she had been such a powerful mainstay.
            Alameda, Nov. 3.—Funeral services were held today for Mrs. Ella May Bean, 83, who died Monday at a local hospital after an extended illness. A native of Illinois, she lived in Alameda 35 years. The family home is at 1807 Santa Clara Avenue.
            Surviving are three children, William S. Bean, Alameda automobile dealer; Samuel W. Bean and Mrs. Leona Grant, Alameda; and two sisters, Mrs. Flora Montague, Fresno, and Mrs. Lillie Taylor, Rodeo. There are two grandchildren, Earl R., and Samuel W. Bean Jr.
            Services were conducted at 2:30 p.m., at the Fowler-Anderson Mortuary, 2244 Santa Clara Avenue, by the Rev. John W. Glasse, Presbyterian minister. Interment was at Mountain View Crematorium.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

“A Swell Wife”

It is sometimes interesting, in having reviewed a man’s life, to go back and take a look at it in retrospect—from the eyes of the subject, himself.

In the case of Samuel Bean, the Oakland Tribune feature gives us that opportunity. Written in 1948, when Sam had turned fifty two, the Hayes article provides a glimpse into Sam’s life as a review. Keeping in mind—as we’ve seen countless times in the case of other newspapers—that the reporter might have gotten the story wrong, we could just chalk up any errors or revisions to editorial negligence. However, in this case, I think some of the discrepancies we are about to review are more telling about Sam’s stage in life than the reporter’s prowess in getting the story right.

Like rehearsing a litany, Sam got the tale of his injury down pat—though we’ve certainly read different versions over the last several years of newspaper records.
“I was watching some boys on a Palo Alto playground when I was 13. One of the boys picked up a rock and threw it, only playing. It hit me in the head, caused intense inflammation and destroyed the optic and auditory nerves.”
Likewise, Sam’s take on his early years after the injury was straightforward:
Bean is the son of a former Palo Alto contractor and builder. After his accident his mother brought him to Alameda and he became a student at the California School for the Blind in Berkeley.
After that section of the article, Sam seems to stray from what we’ve already learned as the orthodoxy of his personal history. I can’t help but wonder what those discrepancies might be attributed to. What was he thinking? What caused him to remember some details so clearly, while others only incompletely?

Take Sam’s teacher at the California School for the Deaf and Blind. Her philosophy evidently was firmly imprinted on Sam’s mind—he was a dutiful disciple of her progressive views on the handicapped in society. One could almost say she made the man.

And yet, he couldn’t fully remember her name. Admittedly, the reporter inadvertently could have slipped the last portion of her name from the final copy. I wonder, though: could it have been Sam who didn’t fully remember Mary White Eastman?
“I had a wonderful teacher, Miss Mary White. She was blind herself,” Bean said. “She taught me that a handicap is a handicap only in the degree in which you allow it to master you.”
It was from this article that I first found mention of what had become of Sam’s wife, Maud Woodworth Bean. If you recall, I had had trouble locating any records online of her passing. While I tend to doubt the accuracy of the diagnosis Sam gave as the cause of her death—a case of rheumatic fever—if she had prematurely lost her life owing to Marfan syndrome, as I suspect, there would have been little chance that anyone would have known that in 1933.

And yet, having been married to Sam for twelve years—not to mention, being the mother of his two sons—one would think she’d merit at least a mention by name. Though the narrative rehearsed the usual—that he met her while she was serving as a teacher at the school Sam was attending, and that their marriage was a happy one—all Sam said about her was, “I had a swell wife.”

Perhaps I’m being too hard on Sam at this point. Maybe it was the newspaper that was getting it wrong. After all, Sam was already misrepresented as having “had two years of study at the University of California” instead of the California School for the Deaf and Blind in Berkeley.

Despite the article’s flaws, it was here that I also found more details on the evolution of Sam’s business life. According to the Tribune, Sam had “expected to be a cabinet maker but the lure of living among people led him to become a salesman.”

The article also included a photograph of Sam with his “business companion,” Fred Schieff. The two worked in tandem for the Industrial Home for the Blind, where Sam was billed as star salesman of their products.

The Tribune article also confirmed other reports about Sam’s earlier business travels with his wife—those many times in which the two had toured, promoting his writings. The article closed with a taste of the simple sayings Sam used to remind himself to focus on the can-do, positive side of life.
            He and his wife traveled from coast to coast, Mexico to Canada, giving wide circulation among other things, to his philosophy:
            “The time to be happy is now; the place to be happy is here; the way to be happy is to make others so.”
            He presented to customers a little booklet, “Light in Darkness,” of his own poems. One states his theory:
            “Let grouch and pessimist depart—
            I want a happy cheerful heart.
            No matter if things go dead wrong,
            I’ll smile, or whistle, sing a song.
            I’ll rise in joy to greet the morn.
            And bless the day that I was born.”

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Philosophy and the Fox Trot

“He plays chess as he does everything, wholeheartedly. Although he is so limited actually, he isn’t fanatically, preclusively engrossed in it, or anything. He does other things also.”
As Samuel Bean’s updated life story unfolded for yet another generation with the July 5, 1948, version published in the Oakland Tribune, an unnamed fellow chess player, as we read yesterday, alluded to the fact that Sam had other interests besides chess.

That would not be surprising—even for someone as focused on chess as Sam was. It takes a hefty amount of discipline to exclude all but one interest from a person’s life. Besides, as the news story mentioned, Sam “reads Braille, keeps up on current events and historical novels, and goes fishing and camping whenever the opportunity presents itself.”

Sounds pretty much like most every other person I know. Well…except for the “reads Braille” part.

What really got me was the next section of the article. Apparently, among the “other things” that Sam liked to do was one surprise—at least considering we are discussing a man who was both blind and deaf.

Evidently, though he couldn’t hear one note of the music, Sam liked to dance. The Tribune explained:
One partner reported that he merely asks whether it is a waltz or fox trot, swings into it and seldom bumps into other couples. She said that she tapped the tempo on his shoulder and they got along famously.
And why not? Since Sam was already attuned to people tapping in his hand as a form of communication, tapping on a shoulder to help him keep connected with the beat wouldn’t be much different. Dancing became another practical way for Sam to exhibit his confidence in life despite the barriers he faced.

That upbeat philosophy that kept Sam going “famously” on the dance floor may have been infectious in more ways than one. In retrospect, it gets me wondering who that nameless partner on the dance floor with Sam might have been.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Grueling Four-Hour Heat

In considering blind and deaf Samuel W. Bean and his later-life fascination with the game of chess, some reader comments brought to my mind one character quality I had observed in the Bean family. Keep in mind that I’ve never had the opportunity and privilege to meet Sam—I’ve never even met either of his two sons—but I did know his twin brother, William S. Bean, and their sister, Leona Bean Grant.

From this association, the one feature I’d say was prevalent in each of their personalities—and even in Sam’s grandchildren—was that of intensity. Bill Bean took that intensity and focused it on his business dealings, becoming in his prime quite successful. Although quite eccentric in her old age, Leona had that same headstrong manner and colorful personality.

Keeping that in mind, it is no surprise that Sam poured all his energy into his newfound interest: the game of chess. Although it was an avocation for him—in addition to his family responsibilities, Sam did hold down a job, as well as pursue various business opportunities on the side—even as a hobby, chess is simply an activity that requires a great deal of attention if one is to develop any skill in its pursuit.

In the July 5, 1948, Oakland Tribune article we’ve been discussing, perhaps reporter Elinor Hayes saw a blind and deaf chess player as an anomaly. She certainly took enough time in the piece to discuss his chess-playing prowess. Of course, as she noted, “He does other things also.”
            His life and position toward it possibly is given its best example in his prime hobby—chess.
            Bean not only plays chess. He is a champion. He ranks fourth or fifth always among the 100 players of the Oakland Chess Club, they report.
            When Northern California played Southern in a test at Atascadero recently, Bean took his special raised board into No. 24 spot, which indicated he ranked in that place among the 50 boards in play.
            He won his match after a grueling four-hour heat.
            Fellow players regard him as an excellent team player.
            One of them discussed his attitude toward the game thus:
            “He plays chess as he does everything, wholeheartedly. Although he is so limited actually, he isn’t fanatically, preclusively engrossed in it, or anything. He does other things also.”

Monday, May 13, 2013

The World Through Sam’s Hand

After taking a hiatus from the narrative of blind and deaf Samuel W. Bean of Alameda, California, to celebrate everything from this blog’s anniversary to everyone’s Mother’s Day, let’s return, for a few more days, to close out Sam’s story.

While Sam hadn’t enjoyed as much media attention in his family-man phase of life as he had in his earlier student years, apparently the Oakland Tribune had a few more good words to put in on his behalf, once the war was over.

We’ve already read the November 1, 1947, announcement of the new edition of his poetry book. This was followed, only eight months later, by a feature article in the Tribune. Under a two-part headline stating what had by now become the traditional portrayal of the man—“Alamedan Prospers, Plays Despite Blindness, Deafness”—reporter Elinor Hayes (or a nameless editor) added a poetic touch: “Black and Silent World Conquered By Samuel W. Bean.”

The story beneath this predictable pronouncement seemed to take up the old breathless affect. The reporter rehearsed all the usual introductory remarks: that Sam was both blind and deaf, that he hadn’t been able to see or hear anything since the age of thirteen—yet despite that, he had managed to hold to a cheerful, can-do attitude.

Still at the same address after all these years—1807 Santa Clara Avenue—the fifty-two year old man was again billed as a salesman and poet. There were a few additions, though. For this sketch, Sam’s reputation was expanded to include the labels “chess champion” and “philosopher.”

Of the “philosophy” angle, Sam’s interviewer explained,
He gets along with a philosophy and joy that would do credit to the most fortunate man in the world.
The reporter observed,
His world is completely black and silent, or so it would seem. In it he has made himself a bright, prosperous citizen. His hand, and this is characteristic of his whole attitude toward life, is his only contact with life and is held out as gaily as that of a candidate.
Considering that “not a sound or sight but memory has entered his life since he was thirteen” and that he hadn’t “heard a word in thirty nine years,” it may be no surprise that the Tribune article, once again, took on that aura of amazement. Here was another reporter, taking on the assignment of interviewing the same man we’ve had the opportunity to know and observe through nearly a full lifetime. Perhaps that was awe-inspiring for a first-time encounter.

After all, as the reporter observed,
He never saw his wife or two sons. All their smiles, affection, problems and normal family expressions could only be brought to him through their fingers tapping words out into his hand.
A new theme seemed to emerge with this story—though perhaps we could sense this message coming through in earlier articles. The reporter explained, “He regards himself as ‘master of my fate’” which Sam demonstrated “by the fact that he goes out alone whenever he wants to play at the Chess Club…or anywhere else.”

Chess, of course, had become the new love in Sam’s life, ever since he had lost his wife so many years ago. This July 5, 1948, Oakland Tribune story, itself, ran fifteen years almost to the day after Maud Woodworth Bean’s passing. With the same level of energy he and Maud had once poured into touring to promote his writing, Sam was now consistently focusing on the world of chess tournaments.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother’s Day Greetings
From Another Age

With nary a mark to tell where she got it, or who might have bestowed it upon her, Agnes Tully Stevens’ keepsake card bears a familiar verse that even I remember hearing, so long ago, being recited.

Unlike the card I posted Friday, appearing older than the hidden mark that revealed its date of 1979, this card is undated and appears yellowed. I have no idea where Agnes might have gotten the card—somewhere in Chicago, I presume—for there is no publisher's information affixed to the cardstock.

There is no listing of author, but using a segment of the first stanza to search for further information online, I found a longer version attributed to the poet, Ann Taylor. Apparently, Ann Taylor wrote the original version of the poem in her earlier years, revising the concluding stanza much later in life. She also saw selected stanzas of the rather long poem set to the artwork of James Pollard with a working title the same as the opening line of the version of Agnes Tully Stevens’ card. The Pollard artwork—a young child kneeling and praying in her bedroom—was estimated to have been created and published some time between 1820 and 1850. Since Ann Taylor was born in 1782, the poem must have been known some time before James Pollard chose it to accompany his artwork.

Whether Agnes Tully Stevens’ card was inspired from the publications of those earlier years—perhaps passed along by her own mother—or served as a later testimony of the enduring sentiments expressed in the original poem, I have no way to tell. Regardless, it is a fitting way to pass along those wishes for a happy Mother’s Day, from our Tully ancestors, through Agnes, to her grandchildren—and now to you!

Who taught my infant lips to pray

My Mother

Who taught my infant lips to pray,
To love and serve God every day,
And walk in wisdom’s pleasant way?
My Mother!

Who ran to help me when I fell
And would some pretty story tell,
Or kiss the place to make it well?
My Mother!

How could I ever cease to be
Affectionate and kind to thee
Who wast so kind to me?
My Mother!

Ah! no, the thought I cannot bear,
And if God pleased my life to spare
I trust I shall reward thy care,
My Mother!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Remembering Mothers

With Mother’s Day coming up tomorrow, everyone seems to be scurrying to get their gifting plans in place, and make last minute arrangements to be there on that special day.

In a picture-perfect world—or, maybe, in the make-believe world of advertising—that may seem like a happy scenario. However, I have to keep in mind that, as I find it myself, for others, this is not a happy occasion. Some, of course, only see it as a yearly reminder of how they are—as blogger Laura Cosgrove Lorenzana puts it—the last leaf on their branch. Others—and I now fall into this category—can only give the gift of passing along remembrances, for their years of bestowing tangible gifts to their own moms is now past them.

Leafing through the pages left behind by my husband’s grandmother, Agnes Tully Stevens, I found some of those tangible items tucked away. Evidently, Agnes cherished the cards given to her for Mother’s Day, and added them to her stash of keepsakes and letters.

Within that holiday bundle were some other cards that may have been passed along by her own mother. One of those items didn’t seem to fit this grouping, though. It was an older card, barely three inches by four inches. It was odd in that the artwork was printed on a translucent material like a plastic. Also unusual was the artwork and written sentiment—more fitting for a funeral keepsake than a Mother’s Day card.

Perhaps this was a token that Agnes kept to remember her own mother. Not something upon which one could affix a signature—the material was too slick—it leaves us no clue as to what its original purpose was. Found among her Mother’s Day cards, though, gives a hint as to how she saw the card’s simple message:

Remember me near her!

Friday, May 10, 2013

From a Long Line of Mothers

Along with the war correspondence of the men in the family, Agnes Tully Stevens—the woman from whose pack rat tendencies I gained a treasure trove of family documentation—also passed along the dainty keepsakes only a mother could love.

While I’ve mentioned before that I’ve come to the end of the many letters she passed along, there are several other cards and items I’ve reserved for the special occasions they were originally intended to commemorate.

Some of these are cards for Mother’s Day. Whether they were presented to Agnes by her own children, tokens tucked away by her own mother—or her mother—or fanciful items she just purchased for the sentiment or presentation, I don’t know. Today through Mother’s Day, I’ll bring these treasures back out from their storage spot to share for the occasion.

This gilt card, tinted in lavender and printed in purple, seems to come from a former age that appreciated simple beauty. Thanks to Photoshop, though, I was able to enlarge the picture to read the barely perceptible marking just below and to the left of the verse. Though my eyes can hardly be trusted, the line seems to contain the date 1978, and the name, “A. M. Davis Co.” If that is so, printed only a few years before Agnes, herself, passed away, could the card have just been something that caught her eye? Or did a family member tuck it inside a Mother’s Day card—yet not sign or date the enclosure?

Whatever the story behind this little remembrance, to my eye, it looks like a token of a time long since past.

With Love for Mother

Your love is like a sunbeam
That gives its warmth to me.
And brightens every pathway
Where I may chance to be.
Because I have the blessing
Of love so good and true,
It always makes me happy
To tell my love for you.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Finding That Old Stash of War Letters

Anyone who has been following the progress here at A Family Tapestry knows how old letters call my name. No, actually—warning to digital tailgaters!—I brake for old letters.

There is no describing the breathtaking moment when a family member handed me a stash of old World War II letters home. I was in awe. You may have followed along here as I began posting transcriptions of the notes from Frank Stevens as he made his way through boot camp, then specialized training, then across the Pacific to some serious action in places like Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

So you can imagine how attentive I was when faithful scout and reader, Intense Guy (or, as we call him, Iggy for short) sent me a link to a Yahoo! News article about a stash of war letters.

If genealogy’s thrill of the hunt is still deep in your heart, you absolutely must take a look at this report. Better yet, go beyond the brief recounting at Yahoo! News to the source—the original publication in the Tulsa World—and read the saga of not only one uncovered stash of World War II letters, but of two.

This story within a story lays out the marching orders for anyone with a penchant for poking through old genealogical documents. I couldn’t resist, myself. The Tulsa World’s Michael Overall described how by a chance purchase at an estate sale fifteen years ago, a woman uncovered a stash of nearly two hundred fifty letters from 1940 onward—then, not knowing what to do with them, tucked them back onto a closet shelf.

Until now. For some reason, discovering a newspaper story about another found stash of letters was enough inspiration to try again to find the family of letter writers Eural and Robert Harvill of Creek County, Oklahoma.

Since we’ve tried our hands at this sort of thing so many times—think crowdsourcing the solution to finding descendants of orphan photographs' subjects at Forgotten Old Photos, for instance—you know it is no great challenge for us to locate online records that provide ample clues. While you’d think the name Eural is unusual enough to increase chances of an easy find, it does introduce some challenges for online searching, though, such as when the 1930 census taker for Creek County mistook that “Eural” for “Cural.” And since our Eural was evidently named after his own father, as son, he was called by his middle name, hence recorded as “Dale” in 1940.

Eural and Robert, the two letter-writing Harvill brothers, both have military records readily accessible online—Robert’s enlistment in 1940 indicating that he would be the one responsible for the earlier letters home, as Eural’s age precluded his enlistment until much later.

Knowing how much I yearn to discover such artifacts from my own family history, I so sincerely hope these wartime letters find their way home to a Harvill relative in short order.

Thankfully, there's now a heartwarming update, just in time for Memorial Day weekend festivities: the letters have made their way home to Eural Harvill's now-adult children.

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