Friday, April 24, 2009

Old Mysteries from Great Beds

Great Beds Lighthouse in January 1918, when Raritan Bay was frozen solid. (Men played golf on the ice!) See story here.

In doing research for the Mid-Atlantic Lighthouses map, I came across some tantalizing old New York Times articles about two hapless keepers at Great Beds, NJ (named for the "great beds" of oysters on its shoal, not the cramped tower's sleeping accommodations). All spellings sic.

May 1, 1883

Matawan, N.J., April 30--Searching parties from Keyport, South Amboy, and Perty Amboy are dragging the waters of Raritan Bay, Raritan River, Cheesequakes* Creek, and Matawan Creek for the body of George Brennen, the missing keeper of the lights of Great Beds Light-house. Brennen rarely visited the shore except to obtain provisions or draw his pay. One day last week he visited Perth Amboy Custom-hosue and received his pay, after which, accompanied by some friends, he paid a visit to South Amboy. In the evening he started in a row-boat for the light-house, but it was noticed that the light did not burn that night. The next morning Brennen's boat, upturned, was washed up on the beach. the police believe that Brennen was followed to his lonely abode on Great Beds and was murdered and thrown into the Bay, or that while trying to reach the light-house in an intoxicated state his boat capsized and he was drowned. Brennen always bore the reputation of being of sober habits, and strictly attended to his work. John E. Johnson, of Perth Amboy, has been appointed keeper of the light-house until Brennen's fate is knows.

May 16, 1883

The body of Col. Brunnan, the keeper of the Great Beds Light-House, in Raritan Bay, was found yesterday in Staten Island Sound, off Tottenville. Col Brunnan disappeared about 3 weeks ago. He had in his possession 3 months’ pay, amounting to about $150.** Toward evening he started from Amboy, New Jersey, in his boat for the light-house. The next morning his boat was found bottom up drifting in the Sound. Only $40 in money was found on the body.

August 28, 1883


John E. Johnson, a resident of Tottenville, Staten Island, and keeper of the Great Beds Light-house, has mysteriously disappeared. Johnson was last seen on Saturday night, Aug. 18, when he was on duty at the light-house. His boat was found moored at the light-house. His coat was in the boat. The keys were found inside of the light-house on a table. Some think that Johnson drowned himself by jumping into the bay, while others think he has disappeared for a reason. He has a wife and four children. A former keeper of the same light-house disappeared last Winter and his body was afterward found in the Sound.

*One of my favorite names ever.
**Even in 1883, $50/month wasn't great pay.

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