William Graffam – Puzzle Editor

William H. Graffam (1853-1934)

Puzzle Editor of West Scarborough, Maine

By Larry Glatz of (East) Scarborough, Maine — 31 August 2022

W.H.Graffam Store
Photo courtesy R. Laughton Collection

For most who knew him locally, William Henry Graffam was a successful grocer and sometime postmaster at Dunstan’s Corner in the western part of Scarborough, Maine. To many others—in Detroit, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and elsewhere—he was the busy editor of puzzle columns in their hometown newspapers. At one time or another, Graffam edited no fewer than nine columns in various publi­cations, and all from his home or storefront in West Scarborough.

Like many of his aging peers, Graffam was no doubt sorely disappointed in the early 1920s when what we now know as the standard crossword puzzle so captivated the public that the earlier world of “Puzzledom”—as it was known in Graffam’s earlier days—vanished into antiquity.

A column managed by William H. Graffam would include six to ten different types of puzzles. Each had a specific form and well-known rules. There were enigmas, charades, anagrams, acrostics, drop-letters, beheadments, curtailments, transpositions, and many other “word” puzzles. There were also dozens of types of “pattern” puzzles, in which clued words were arrayed into diamonds, squares, cubes, elaborate crosses, and the like. In addition, many of the puzzles were presented poetically, and it was common to see the answers given poetically as well. But most importantly, the puzzles were not syndicated or copied from one paper to another. Each paper’s column had its own puzzle editor, who received and reviewed submissions from readers, announced contests and prizes, conducted “chats” with contributors, and published answers to last week’s posers.

To get a feel for Graffam’s world of “Puzzledom,” it may be helpful to see an example of the period’s simplest puzzle form—the “charade.” Although there were a number of variations, a charade most often involved a word of just two syllables. Each syllable was required to have its own clue and meaning, with the two syllables together having a separate—but ideally related—meaning. This, for example, is from a magazine of 1825:[1]

          “To a Lady”
My first I hope – you are.
My second I see – you are.
My whole I know – you are.

The answer here is welcome. That is, “I hope you are well. I see you have come. I know you are welcome.”

Here’s a somewhat cleverer one from the same period:[2]

My first is French,
My second English,
And my whole Latin.

Where the answer is, in fact, the word Latin, whose first syllable is “la” and the second is “tin.”

Those interested in learning more about alphagrams, double-letter engimas, right and left crowns, and so on, can either rummage through used-book stores for early manuals, or join the National Puzzlers’ League (www.puzzlers.org), which strives to keep the faint flame of early puzzledom aglow.

Eldridge Waterhouse & William Graffam on Route 1, by their stores, c. 1902. (Before the trolley was installed.)

But to return to our principal subject: William H. Graffam was born in Scarborough, Maine, on November 17, 1853. He was from a family of farmers who had lived for several generations in Scarborough. His education was limited to that afforded by the local schools, but he eventually established himself as a general store merchant at Dunstan’s Corner and served stints as a local school board member, town treasurer, and postmaster. It is difficult to say whether puzzling was a sidelight to his local duties or whether his more mundane business responsibilities were secondary to his avocation as a puzzler; but the fact is that between about 1878 and at least 1892, Graffam edited the puzzle columns of at least nine newspapers—from the New Age of  Augusta, Maine, to the Post and Tribune of Detroit. (And it’s likely that others await discovery.)

Unfortunately, archives of early newspapers are difficult to locate, and only a few of those are readily accessible online, so the full story of Graffam’s work as a puzzle editor can probably never be known. But records of three of the papers for which he worked have been digitized, and these sources tell a great deal about Graffam’s labors in the land of Puzzledom. In two of those papers—the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune and the Indianapolis Journal, Graffam numbered the puzzles from first to last, and the total items moderated by him in just those two publications totaled over forty-five hundred.

Throughout his columns, he strove to offer his readers new and interesting puzzles. In the “chat” sections at the bottom of each column, he encouraged, complimented, educated and corrected his contributors on their work. He directed puzzlers to authoritative sources and published brief essays by other aficionados of the puzzling arts. And because so many of the puzzles of his day were presented poetically, he—like many of his colleagues in the business—was particularly drawn to that genre of expression. Many of his columns contained poems by others—always on the subject of puzzling—and he presented a number of his own compositions well. The following three examples may provide an appropriate frame for a proper picture of the puzzle editor William H. Graffam.

The first is an excerpt from a poem written by Graffam himself as a spur to his contributors. Entitled “What’s Accepted,” one stanza reads:

So, in fact, the puzzle corner
     Of this very welcome press,
Does admit all work of honor,
     And no good ideas suppress.
The puzzle department is voracious,
     Has an appetite quite keen;
And its room is quite spacious,
     In which all good things are seen.

The second was written by a West Virginia contributor who imagined all of Graffam’s puzzlers gathering to honor him in his hometown. It opens with…

Hark! what music-drums are beating,
    Sweet and gentle sounds the strain;
All the Mystic Knights are meeting,
    Meeting at West Scarboro, Maine.

And the last is a work entitled “The Puzzle Editor,” written by “Towhead” (Edward William Dutcher) for a student publication of Beloit College. Its fifty-four lines describe the numerous duties and challenges of the newspaper puzzle editor, and it ends…

And the weary man of puzzles fain to all the world would tell,
That what is worth the doing is worth the doing well.
Ah! here is one that pleases, how well the letter pays!
With all the answers neatly made, also a mead of praise;
Some tangles, too, from proper texts and deftly conjured rhymes.
A joke or two to give it zest just suited to the times.
And so it goes from week to week, no time for halt or breath,
And so ’twill go, no rest between, till the mystic puzzle death.

When death did come to William H. Graffam on the Fourth of July, 1934, it found him in the western Maine village of Andover, where he was residing at the home of his daughter Idella and her husband, Rev. George M. W. Keyes, who was the pastor of the Congregational Church there.

Graffam’s remains were returned to Scarborough and interred in the Dunstan Cemetery, beside those of Delia, his wife of forty-six years, who had died six years earlier.

William and Delia had been married in Portland on June 6, 1882. Delia Frances Powers was the daughter of Dwinal and Jane Powers, farmers of Topsham, Maine. At the time of the 1880 census, Delia was listed as a servant in the household of Alfred H. Berry, a wholesale boot and shoemaker of Portland. (Perhaps the couple met while William was prospecting for a supply of footwear to be sold at his general store.)

William and Delia had two children: Idella Mae, born April 6, 1883, and Leslie Preble, born June 10, 1888.

Delia was herself a busy puzzler. Writing as “D. F. G.,” she contributed quite a number of her enigmatic works to William’s columns over the years.

Another prolific puzzle-writer of West Scarborough appeared in William’s columns first as “Xoa” and later as “Aunt Xoa.” The fact that she adopted the “Aunt” at about the time of the birth of the Graffam’s son Leslie suggests she may have been one of William’s siblings, either his younger sister, Eva A. Graffam (Phillips) (1863-1903), or his older sister, Abbie Ann Graffam (1849-1929), who did not marry, but lived in William’s household until her death in 1929.

It is interesting—and a bit puzzling—that when William passed away, no obituary appeared in the Portland papers. His daughter and son-in-law would certainly have possessed both the knowledge and ability to memorialize his numerous and noteworthy accomplishments. Perhaps they thought it appropriate to leave as his legacy an enigmatic and Sphinx-like silence.

*  *  *

Notes on puzzle columns edited by William H. Graffam (likely an incomplete list):

Note: The directories of both “Gus”[3] and “Nutmeg” list “Boff” as the nom-de-plume of William H. Graffam, however, he seems to have used this name only when publishing “seed” puzzles in his earliest columns. Others of his puzzles were sometimes signed “W. H. G.” or more commonly, “Uncle Will,” and it’s likely the triple asterisk “***” was also his.

Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, “Our Puzzle Corner”

    Graffam’s first column in the paper ran on July 21, 1878 (p. 12). Of the eight puzzles appearing there, three were certainly by Graffam himself (writing as “Boff,” “Uncle Will,” and “W. H. G.”); two were unsigned (so likely by Graffam); two were by “Winton,” and one was by “J.R.H.” Addresses were given for none of these contributors. Readers were instructed, “All communications should be… plainly addressed to Wm. H. Graffam, Scarboro, Maine.”

Graffam’s column ran weekly from the above date through 6 August 1882, which would have been just over five years.

Why or how Graffam became associated with the Cincinnati newspaper is unknown.

In response to questions from “R. O. Chester” in his column of 5/29/1881 (p. 3), Graffam says  “’Our Puzzle Corner’ came into existence in July 1878….. It will be seen that since the establishment of O.P.C., we have published 1325 puzzles, the numbers having run continuously.” By the time Graffam ended his feature in the Commercial Tribune, he’d published 1,811 puzzles there. (In the 1890s, “R. O. Chester” [Charles H. Coons, of Rochester, N.Y.] became puzzle editor of the National Tribune of Washington, D.C., and as a feature of his column, he published a lengthy series of biographical sketches of prominent puzzlers. Although he certainly gathered information from Graffam, I’ve not been able to find any subsequent notice of him by “R. O. Chester.”)

In his column in the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune of 2/1/1880, Graffam announced separate contests for the Daily Commercial and the Weekly Commercial, and he asked participants to specify on their entries whether they were subscribers to one or the other; so it seems he edited separate columns for each edition. An 1880 listing of puzzle editors by “Nutmeg” has Graffam as the editor of the feature in the Sunday Commercial of Cincinnati. This was likely the Weekly mentioned above.

Note the article from 10/9/1881, with a lengthy essay on puzzledom by “Aspiro.” (Other cites have Aspiro being of DeBois, Illinois. “Gus” identifies “Aspiro” as M. Durant.)

See also the poem “The Puzzle Editor,” by “Towhead” which Graffam printed in his column of 11/23/1879.

In the column of 12/18/1881, is the article “Puzzledom Not Dying Out,” which mentions a piece in the Watchman of Boston by “Uncle Will” in which he “scouted” the argument that “Puzzledom was dying out, as some anti-puzzle people had predicted.” In response, “N.W.F.” strongly argued the opposite.

Gazette (DC), “Uncle Will’s Puzzle Column” (listed by both “Gus” and “Nutmeg”)

Like most of the following papers, archival issues are not readily available online. As a result, much further research would be needed to establish the details of Graffam’s work here. But since the column is listed both by “Nutmeg”—whose directory was published in 1880—and by “Gus”—whose list appeared the following year—it’s certainly the column ran for at least some time during both of those years. Similar conclusions would apply to any of the following columns listed by “Nutmeg” and/or “Gus.”

New Age, Augusta, Me., “Our Puzzle Drawer” (listed by “Gus”)

Post and Tribune, Detroit, “Echos from the Sphinx” (listed by both “Gus” and “Nutmeg”)

Telegram, Baltimore, “Uncle Spec’s Puzzle Department” (listed by both “Gus” and “Nutmeg”)

Times, Dubuque, Iowa, “The Mystic Arena” (listed by “Gus”)

Philadelphia Press, “Puzzlers’ Realm” (listed by both “Gus” and “Nutmeg”)

Racine (Wisc.) Journal, “Our Nut Basket” (listed by both “Gus” and “Nutmeg”)

Issues found on Newspapers.com:

11/12/1879 – no puzzles
11/19.1879 – no puzzles
11/26/1879 (p. 2) – appears to be Graffams’ first column in this paper; the puzzles are by “Boff,” “Uncle Will,” Rosa F., of Cincinnati; and “El Capitan,” of East Dedham, Mass.; i.e. none from Racine.
12/3/1879 (p. 2)
12/10/1879 (p. 2) –  puzzles by “Boff” and ***
[Not searched between these dates.]
2/4/1881 (p. 4)
3/2/1881 (p. 4) – this appears to have been Graffam’s last column in this paper.
3/9-3/23/1881 – no puzzles

Indianapolis Journal, “The Young Folks’ Column. The Puzzle Department.”

Since archival issues of this paper appear in the Chronicling America database of the Library of Congress, many details of Graffam’s work here can be readily studied. The record, however, is incomplete in that it isn’t until the issue of 14 April 1883 that all pages of each issue of the Journal appear in the database. Helpfully, as was the case with his columns in the Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, Graffam numbered his puzzles sequentially, and as of 14 April 1883, he’d edited 689 for the Indianapolis paper. Since eight to ten puzzles appeared in the column each week, it’s likely Graffam’s first column had been published about a year and a half prior—or about October of 1881. But the fact that Graffam’s column in this paper is listed by both “Nutmeg” (1880) and “Gus” (1881) suggests it may have run even earlier.
https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn82015679/issues/
(accessed 8/27/2022)

(“All correspondence to be sent to W. H. Graffam, West Scarborough, Maine,” as noted in the column of 2/16/1884, p. 12.) The column ran on Saturdays from about October 1881 through at least 12/26/1891, when the final puzzle was numbered 3,699. In the later columns, almost all of the puzzles were by “D. F. G.” (Graffam’s wife) or “Aunt Xoa,” who was most likely one of his sisters.

Note: Both “Xoa” and “D. F. G.” of West Scarborough contributed puzzles to Graffam’s columns. “D. F. G.” is almost certainly Delia Frances Graffam, the editor’s wife, “Xoa” changed her nom-de-plume to “Aunt Xoa” as of about January 1888. Could she be Graffam’s younger sister, Eva A. Graffam (Phillips) (1863-1903)? He also had an older sister, Abbie Ann (1849-1929), who didn’t marry.

If Scarborough’s “Xoa” was the same person who used that nom-de-plume when contributing to the 1875 Nut-Crackers’ Monthly of Auburn, Maine, it would argue in favor of Graffam’s older sister, who would have been 26 at that time, as opposed to his younger sister, who would have been only 12.

Earliest sighting in the Indianapolis Journal of “Xoa:” 9/15/1883, p. 4, three puzzles by “Xoa.” Graffam says in his “Foot Notes,” “Xoa’s work is very welcome. We trust she will be seen in this department very often.”

In the final months, Graffam’s “Foot Notes” section withers, prizes disappear, answerers aren’t listed, contributors’ addresses aren’t given, and almost all of the puzzles appear to have been homegrown, that is, the authors are either “Uncle Will” [Graffam], “***” [probably also Graffam], unsigned [again Graffam], “Aunt Xoa” of West Scarborough [possibly one of Graffam’s sisters] or “D. F. G.” [Graffam’s wife, Delia Frances Graffam]. Examples:

4/16/1892, 4 puzzles: 1 by “Aunt Xoa,” 2 by “DFG,” 1 by “Oriana” [no addresses given]
4/23/1892 [column not found]
4/30/1892, 5 puzzles: 3 by “Aunt Xoa,” 1 by “Oriana,” 1 by ***
5/7/1892, 5 puzzles: 1 by “Aunt Xoa,” 2 by “DFG,” 1 by “Oriana,” 1 by ***
5/14/1892, 6 puzzles: 1 by “Aunt Xoa,” 3 by “DFG,” 1 by “Oriana,” 1 by ***
5/21/1892, 5 puzzles: 1 by “Aunt Xoa,” 1 by “DFG,” 1 by “Oriana,” 2 unsigned.
5/28/1892, 6 puzzles: 2 by “DFG,” 1 “Aunt Xoa,” 1 “*”, 1 “Oriana,” 1 “Eva Epps”
6/4/1892, 5 puzzles: 2 by “Aunt Xoa,” 1 by “DFG,” 1 by “Oriana,” 1 ***
6/11/1892, 5 puzzles: 4 by “Aunt Xoa” and 1 by ***
6/18/1892, 5 puzzles: 2 by “Aunt Xoa,” 1 by “DFG” and 2 unsigned.
6/25/1892, 5 puzzles: 3 by “Aunt Xoa,” 1 by “DFG” and 1 unsigned.
7/2/1892, 4 puzzles: 2 “Aunt Xoa,” 1 “Oriana,” 1 ***
7/9/1892, 5 puzzles: “Aunt Xoa,” “DFG,” ***, and 2 unsigned.
[Final column; puzzle #3837.]

Total in his final three months:
60 puzzles: 22 “Aunt Xia,” 14 “D.F.G.,” 8 ***, 8 “Oriana,” 7 unsigned, 1 “Eva Epps”
That is, likely 59 “plants” and 1 public contributor.

8/27/1892 – no column
12/31/1892 – no column.

Oriana – 9/12/1885, p. 3, puzzle by “Oriana” of West Scarborough, Maine. In his “Foot Notes,” Graffam says, “Oriana—We are thankful for the transpositions. Come again soon.”

In the issue for 1/30/1886, p. 7, the contributor who signed as “***” is addressed by Graffam as a “newbie” female from Indianapolis, but this may well have been a “set up,” since noms-de-plume were almost always unique to a single puzzle-writer, and the same “contributor” had appeared in Graffam’s columns in the Racine Journal at least five years earlier.

Genealogical records:

LDS (FamilySearch.com): “Maine births and christenings records [from Scarborough town records]:”
Graffam, Josiah, born 2 July 1818
Son of Jeremiah and Abigail [Burnham] Graffam

Jeremiah [b. 1777] is said to have been the son of Josiah (c. 1725-1804), who was born in Greenland, N.H., married Catherine Whitten, and died in Scarborough.

LDS “Maine births and christenings records [from Scarborough town records]:”
Graffam, William H.; born 17 Nov 1853, Scarborough, Maine
Son of Josiah and Susan J. [Sanborn] Graffam

Note: This conflicts with the Findagrave entry, which says Graffam was born in Raymond. However, there was a 45 year-old William H. Graffam and his son, William H. Graffam, age 8, polled in both Raymond and Naples (Edes Falls) in the 1860 census, while “our” William H. Graffam, age 7, was polled with his parents, Josiah and Susan, in Scarborough. In short, the Findagrave entry is erroneous.

1860 Scarborough, family #196
Graffam, Josiah, 41, farmer
     Susan J., 31
     Abby A., 16
     William H., 7

1870 Scarborough, family #283
Graffam [listed as “Graffan”], Josiah, 52, farmer
     Susan J., 42
     Apna[?] A., 2
     William H., 17, “attended school within the year” is checked [no occupation listed]
     Eva A., 7

1880 Scarborough, family #162 (all born in Maine, with parents born in Maine)
Graffam, Josiah, 62, farmer
     Susan J., 51, wife
     Abbie A., 30, daughter
     William H., 26, son, farmer [born circa 1854]
     Eva A., 16, daughter [could this be “Xoa”?]

1900 Scarborough, family #1 [1st residence on Rt. 1, Saco line?]
Graffam, William H., 46, b. Nov 1853, grocer
     Delia F., wife, 43, b. March 1857; 2 children, both livng.
     Idella M., daughter, 16, b. Apr 1884
     Leslie P., son, 11, b. June 1888

1910 Scarborough, family #1
Graffam, William H., 56, merchant
     Delia F., 52
     Susan P., 81, mother
     Abbie A., 60, sister

1920 Scarborough, family #27, State Road
Graffam, William H., 66, merchant, general store
     Delia F., 62, wife
     Abbie A., 70, sister

1930 Scarborough, family #131
Graffam, William H., 75, retired merchant
     Keyes, Idella M., 26, daughter
     George W. M., 52, son-in-law, clergyman, congregational

W.H.G. was town treasurer for several years [at least 1892 through at least 1897]
West Scarborough postmaster, 1893-97
School committee member [for how many years?]

Boston Journal, 12/19/1896, p. 9, “Biddeford, Me., Dec. 19—Last night burglars robbed the store and Post Office of W. H. Graffam, Dunstan Corner, Scarborough, of $60, blew open George W. Knight’s store safe, but got nothing, and escaped.” 

Findagrave: William Henry Graffam (11/17/1853-7/4/1934); Dunstan Cemetery

This entry says Graffam was born in Raymond, Maine, 11/17/1853; and died in Andover, Maine, 7/4/1934. There was another William H. Graffam, born about 1854, in the Naples/Raymond area, but he does not appear to have been the William H. Graffam of Scarborough.

Portland Press Herald, 7/6/1934, p. 2, death notices:

Graffam, William H. – In Andover, Me., July 4, William H. Graffam, age 80 years. Funeral services Saturday at 3 pm from the West Scarborough Methodist Church. [An identical note appeared in the Portland Evening Express that same day. Nothing found in the following Sunday’s paper.]

On the day Graffam died, the two Portland dailies ran only one puzzle each: a syndicated cross-word puzzle. And the following Sunday’s paper had no puzzles at all.

From Andover, Maine, obituaries (accessed 8/25/2022):

Rev George W. M. Keyes, Abt. 1875 – 1944 (Obituary from an unidentified and undated newspaper)

Rev. George M. W. Keyes, 66, died suddenly Thursday [May 4, 1944] at his home in Scarboro. He and Mrs. Keyes attended the annual meeting of State Congregational churches at Bangor, Tuesday and Wednesday. He retired in 1941 after 11 years as pastor of the Andover Congregational church. A clergyman 35 years, he also served as Boothbay Harbor’s Superintendent of schools.

He is survived by his wife, Mrs. Idella M. Keyes; two brothers, Roy and Ralph Keyes of New York and a half brother, Truman P, Andrews of Berwick, where Mr. Keyes was born.

Idella M. (Graffam) Keyes, 1883 – 1962 (Obituary from an unidentified and undated, but probably Portland-area newspaper)

Mrs. Idella M. Keyes, 79, widow of the Rev. George W. Keyes [pastor of Andover First Congregational Church from 1930 to 1941] of 17 Deering St., died yesterday in a local nursing home after a long illness.

She was born in West Scarborough, April 6, 1883, daughter of William and Delia Powers Graffam. She was a member of the First Congregational Church, South Portland. Surviving is a brother, Leslie P. Graffam, Kennebunkport…. Interment will be in the Dunstan Cemetery.

Note: So it appears William H. Graffam died at the home of his daughter and son-in-law in Andover. Graffam’s wife, Delia, had died six years earlier (10/29/1928), supposedly in Biddeford.

An image of Graffam’s Store at Dunstan’s Corner is available at Digital Maine. 


[1]   The Minerva (New-York), 2 July 1825.

[2]   Juvenile Miscellany (Boston), September 1826, p. )

[3]   “Gus,” [A. C. Gruhlky], The American Puzzlers’ Directory (1881); “Nutmeg” [E. E. Hamilton], The Knights of the Mystic Arena: A Complete Directory of our American Puzzledom (1880).

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