By Paul Goldfinger (reprinted from Blogfinger, July 2009, when we had about 50 people visiting per day and again in 2011).
It was the summer of 1892 when Fred, his girlfriend Betsy, and a few friends visited the Sunshine Hotel on Main Avenue in Ocean Grove. Fred had just turned 18, and they were celebrating with popcorn and lemonade on the porch, when an itinerant photographer came along and snapped a fateful photograph. They laughed and talked, reminiscing how Fred had first appeared in Ocean Grove back in January of 1888. Fred was 14 years old back then, when he left his family in New York City and signed on as a cabin boy on a three master schooner, the “Mabel Thomas,” a rugged ship that was transporting goods back and forth from the Carolinas. Fred’s family was Irish, and one uncle had died, taking a musket ball in the head at Gettysburg.
It was on January 9, to be exact, in 1888, when the” Mabel Thomas” got swept up by a nasty storm and ran aground on the beach at Main Avenue in Ocean Grove. The winds then drove the wreck south where it went high and dry, with the hull breaking up in the vicious waves. Fred was a strong swimmer and somehow he made it to shore, where some local folk threw a blanket on him and took him back to their wooden cottage on Heck Avenue. There they gave him warmth, food, clothes, friendship and lodging.
He liked Ocean Grove and returned the following summer on the new train line, which dropped him in Long Branch. From there he took a buggy ride into the Grove. He stayed with friends in a tent and he enjoyed swimming, boating and carousing. He felt that his rescue was a miracle, so he liked to attend prayer services with the organ and choir music. One time he even met the Rev. Stokes, an imposing man who was a powerful preacher. Fred thought, “Someday they’ll put up a statue of that man.”
After that, Fred returned every summer, supporting himself by working in the Auditorium and being a handyman for the Camp Meeting Association. When he was 16, he met Betsy, a pretty young lady from Philadelphia, the daughter of a missionary. That summer, in 1892, Fred became a policeman with the Ocean Grove police. He made quite a few arrests including three men for public intoxication, four pack peddlers, three organ grinders and one horse thief.
But Fred was restless, and a few days after the porch photo was taken, he signed onto a large ship, the “General Sherman,” that was traveling the long route from Virginia to the Far East. Betsy promised to wait for him. His letters described the exotic places he visited, and he once sent Betsy a letter where he said he missed her…in authentic Mandarin Chinese writing. After that, there were no more letters. Then the Camp Meeting office received a letter from a missionary in New Guinea. He said that Fred’s ship had stopped there for a while, and Fred had gone on an expedition into the jungle with some missionaries. Their group was attacked by cannibals, and Fred was fried. . .
Betsy missed him, but a few years later she met someone else. She got married in the Thornley Chapel and eventually had 7 children. One day she came upon the photo of her and Fred from 1892 on the porch of that hotel. Fred is seated on the right. She wrote on it: “Fred’s Last Summer; Ocean Grove 1892.” Eventually the photograph was found by a guy named Blogfinger who was rummaging through some postcards in Ocean Grove, at the Auditorium Pavilion in 2008. He scanned the photo and put it on his blog so that 21st century Grovers could know a bit about one man who enjoyed the town 117 years ago.
Photographic historical note: A few years before Fred’s photo was taken, a new dry plate method of photography was developed using silver salts and gelatin. This gave photographers more freedom to go around and take pictures. Before that, they literally had to carry their wet darkroom wherever they went (as Matthew Brady did during the Civil War, schlepping heavy glass plates and chemicals all over the country on donkeys. Ironically, modern photographers carry their gear in bags made by a company called Domke).
THE GREENCARDS. ”Time” (From the album Weather and Water)