Monday, July 15, 2024

The Stories We Tell

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Before the Flappers There Were Flippers

By David Wright
Stratford Historian

Before the Flappers There Were Flippers

These are the stories we tell: acts of heroism; acts of courage; acts of kindness; tales of love; tales of fear; and legends. Some of our very best legends were told by our longest serving lighthouse keeper, Theodore Judson. Mr. Judson lived with his wife Kate, and their four children, at the Stratford Point light from 1880 until his retirement some forty years later.

You’ve all likely heard of the “flappers” of the 1920s, young women known for their energetic freedom, embracing a lifestyle viewed by many at the time as outrageous, immoral or downright dangerous. But the decade prior, the “19 teens”, at least in Stratford, could have been known as the decade of the “flippers”.  It would be very hard to produce a more fully featured tale of those long ago Stratford Point flipping denizens than that given to us by the Bridgeport Herald 75 years ago this month.

The Bridgeport Herald

June 5, 1949

All Kiddin’ Aside

This is the sad saga of a Stratford lighthouse keeper who, after 40 years, finally captured a mermaid but let her slip from his grasp because he was too late to collect the $20,000 reward offered by P. T. Barnum for a live mermaid.

For almost 40 years “Thene” Judson had kept at his dreary post as keeper of the Stratford Point Light—hoping to capture a mermaid and win the Barnum prize.

But it wasn’t until two decades after the great showman’s passing that the lighthouse keeper made his great catch.

“It was on July 4, 1915,” he told The Herald at that time. “It was late in the afternoon. I was out on the rocks facing Long Island Sound when I sighted a school of mermaids, off Lighthouse Point.”

“There were as many as 12 or 15 of them, their yellow hair glistening and their scaly tails flashing.”

“The sky was thickening. I crept closer, and all of a sudden, I noticed one mermaid sitting all by herself on the rocks.”

“Her hair was wet and she was brushing it to get it dry.

“She had lovely gazelle eyes and a fair skin, and she was bare to her waist, and below that all silver-spangled scales. Her tail was about three feet long. She weighed, all told, about 75 pounds.”

“As I grabbed her she didn’t scream or speak, but she had a tongue and beautiful white teeth and the only sound she made was a hissing noise.”

“In a second she slipped out of my grasp like an eel and into the water to vanish. When I looked around, the other mermaids had disappeared, too.”

The keeper’s friends believed his story and none accused him of being a psychopathic case.

“If Judson was wrong mentally he’d never been able to hold his responsible job so long,” snapped his wife, who produced a hairbrush which she said was used by the mermaid.

It was a very ordinary wooden-back hair brush of a cheap type— but on the back of it was an oyster shell, the many layers testifying to a good old age.

Judson argued that mermaids get their brushes from the state rooms of wrecked steamers.

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