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The Mass Media

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February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

The origin behind Boston’s legume-inspired nickname: The Beanosaur

A+recreation+of+the+ancient+Beanosaur%2C+which+inspired+Boston%E2%80%99s+nickname%3A+Beantown.+Illustration+by+Eva+Lycette+%2F+Mass+Media+Staff
A recreation of the ancient Beanosaur, which inspired Boston’s nickname: Beantown. Illustration by Eva Lycette / Mass Media Staff

A lone figure sits hunched over, delicately picking away at a thin layer of sediment along the dried banks of the Charles River. The basin is usually muddy, making this kind of work near impossible, but it was an exceptionally arid summer, allowing for the carefully guarded layers of Mother Nature to be peeled back. For those willing to rise to the challenge, this provided a rare chance to look past the narrow annals of our history into an era in which little is known. 

Unfortunately, for this tepid explorer, it seemed as though Mother Nature had nothing to show. In frustration, he drove his small pick into the Earth, and then… eureka! The year was 1841 and former snake-oil salesman, Edward Cannellini, just made a discovery that would reshape, not only Boston, but the history of the world. He discovered the first Beanosaur fossil.

So why is Boston called Beantown? Is it because beans were once a popular dish that people cooked with molasses? No, of course not! Those are lies spread by Cannellini’s skeptics. The truth lies deep in the past, before the rise of mammalian life and before the reign of the terrible lizard. This was a time when another class of creature ruled the Earth. This order of life was bean-based and its crowning jewel for which our city was named was, of course, the Beanosaur. 

Cannellini theorized that at some point during the Precambrian era, bean-based life emerged to become the most abundant lifeform on the planet, far surpassing those sorry little amphibian things that crawled out of the sea. The Beanosaur then went on to reign supreme for millions of years, its rule unquestioned, before being wiped out by the cruel forces of nature. The secret to its success was its unique genetic structure. Unlike the rest of the land-dwellers, Beanosaurs were composed of plant cells, meaning they absorbed nutrients through the sun using the process of photosynthesis, giving them a leg-up over all other mobile lifeforms. 

The most unique aspect of the Beanosaur, however, was its unusual physiology. Consisting of four stubby legs, and a bulbous bean body, every Beanosaur looked exactly the same as the next, differing only in size. Being plant monsters, they lacked the features most common to other life such as eyes, ears, noses and mouths. Out of the five senses, the Beanosaur couldn’t detect any of them. This was because the Beanosaur was pure. Cannellini famously said at the 1841 Beantologist Convention: 

“On the first day, God made the stars in the sky. On the second day, he made the Earth and all the dirt and the worms. And on the third day, his work was done because it was on this day that he made the beans.”

Unsurprisingly, not everyone in the scientific community shared Cannellini’s passion for bean history. Within a year of his initial discovery, after countless other supposed Beanosaurs had been dug up, English biologist Richard Owen alleged that Cannellini was simply misidentifying the fossils. You see, Cannellini was faced with a most curious problem in regard to the Beanosaur skeletons: they were all different. While each Beanosaur looked the same on the outside, they had vastly different skeletons on the inside. To put it simply, if a Beanosaur was charging at you, there would be no way of telling whether it was a Beanosaurus Rex or a Brontobeanus unless you had X-ray vision.  

Cannellini hypothesized that the difference in bone structure, “didn’t count because it’s not like you’d be able to see the skeleton anyway.” However, Owen proposed that the skeletal variance was due to the fact that the Beanosaur did not exist, and Cannellini had attributed the bones of multiple ancient creatures—which Owen would dub dinosaurs—to one made-up, fantasy beast. 

Cannellini vehemently denied Owen’s claims, going as far as to accuse Owen of slander and defamation of character. Against the wishes of every single Bostonian at the time, Cannellini decided to sue Owen in what would become one of the most infamous multinational lawsuits in both American and English history. Represented by a lawyer who went only by “Lenny,” Cannellini lost brutally and was forced to not only pay Owen’s court fees but also admit that his insistence on the existence of the Beanosaur was nothing more than a hoax to garner attention. Cannellini stood proudly and passionately by his beliefs, and because this was the 1840s, he was promptly sentenced to death.

On the day of execution, the townspeople gathered in what is now the North End to see Cannellini brought to justice. As he stood atop the gallows, a noose tied around his neck, Cannellini made one final claim. Actually, it was less of a claim and more of a curse. He warned that the people of Boston would meet a fate similar to that of his beloved Beanosaur, which according to him, had been made extinct by way of a giant, molasses-filled asteroid. A “molasstroid,” if you will.   

The people of the day scoffed at Cannellini’s bizarre threat, thinking him completely mad. Of course, his so-called curse would come to fruition nearly 80 years later on Jan. 15, 1919, when a storage tank filled with two million gallons of molasses burst, flooding the streets of Boston. Twenty-one people were killed and over 100 were injured. This disastrous event would become known as the Boston Molassacre, popularized by the 1968 Bees Neez hit single of the same name.      

While Edward Cannellini died defending his beliefs, it was not for nothing. Despite his embarrassing loss in the court of law, the name Beantown has stuck around, as have the followers of his bean-based, alternative history. Following the Boston Molassacre, there was a slight uptick in people who started to take Cannellini’s work seriously again. Whether through fear of death, or the desire to be different, this crowd of people insists, well into the 21st century, that Beanosaurs once walked the Earth. 

Whether these Beanlievers are right—they insisted on the name—we may never truly know, but Cannellini’s story continues to captivate audiences to this day. He was a simple man, digging for snakes on the Charles who ended up leaving a long-lasting legacy of mystery and intrigue in his wake, and hey, you know what? That’s a lot more than most of us can say. So whether you’re a Cannellini cultist or a scientist, one thing is for certain: Beantown has a history equally as absurd and contentious as the people who live there, and I mean that as the highest compliment.   

About the Contributor
Joe DiPersio, Humor Editor