Monday, July 15, 2024

Stratford: The Stories We Tell

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…..And Now For The Weather

By David Wright

Stratford Town Historian

…And Now for the Weather

Stratford’s longest serving lighthouse keeper was also Stratford’s most revered storyteller. Born in 1849, Theodore Judson (aka “Thene” or “Thede” to his friends) became the eighth keeper of the light in 1880. During his 41 years of service, he raised four children, established a game farm at Stratford Point, rescued numerous foundered vessels and their passengers, reported seeing a 100 foot long sea monster, did battle with an outsized chicken stealing fish, endured clouds of ravenous mosquitoes, and set up primping stations for mermaids on the rocks at Stratford Point.

Always quick with a story, friends, neighbors, and newspaper reporters would journey to what was then a very isolated part of Stratford to experience Thede’s quick wit and storytelling prowess.  Lighthouse keepers were federally appointed, so Mr. Judson requested permission to retire from President Woodrow Wilson in 1918. President Wilson, apparently, preoccupied with World War I, did not respond to the request, so Thede labored on until 1921.

Looking back on Theodore’s reports of events at Stratford Point, it’s difficult to determine if his stories were told tongue-in-cheek, or if he actually believed all of his curious reports of the goings on at the lighthouse.  In their May 1935 obituary for Theodore Judson, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle eulogized him as “a teller of salty tales of the sea”.

Upon his retirement from lighthouse keeping duties, Thede purchased a home at 904 East Broadway, where he became something of a resident weather observer and forecaster. In January 1928, The Bridgeport Telegram interviewed Mr. Judson on his experiences with weather over his many years of life and living at Stratford Point:

About 50 years ago, he declares, it was a common thing to experience extreme cold here. Zero conditions were common in those days and no-one cared much or worried. Since that time, however, there has been a steady improvement in the winter weather generally, with the exception of a very infrequent cold snap or heavy snow fall.

“When “Uncle Thee” [sic “Thede], as Mr. Judson is affectionately called by his Stratford friends, was keeper of the first Stratford Point lighthouse — that is, of the first approach to a modern beacon, the winters were extremely severe. There were times, he says, when we had to be up all night cutting ice off the windows of the lantern room. Very frequently the ice would form in solid cakes all over the glass, several inches thick, and covered, with snow would form a serious obstruction to the light seawards.”

“It was a very frequent occurrence several decades ago when the weather was extra severe, says Mr. Judson, to take sleigh drives round the Bridgeport lighthouse. Picnic parties; would gather there, light huge fires on the ice and regale themselves with feasting and merry-making.”

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