Dear Mr. Stemmer,
I apologize in advance for this lengthy email, but I read about your recent lecture regarding the Crab Island Fish Factory, and I thought you might be interested in some information I have to share.
My name is Craig White. My parents have owned a summer home in the Holgate section of LBI for almost 40 years where I spent most of my summers as a youth (we lived in Berwyn, PA during the winter). I am 44 now and live in Annapolis, MD with my wife and 3 children. We still visit the island often, and I am still as interested as ever in the island and surrounding area’s history. In particular, the old fish factory is still a strange fascination and poses somewhat of a mystery to me.
The reason for my email is that I have been ‘haunted’ by some treasures that I found there at low tide under the western-most bulkhead during a five-year period in the 1980’s. I think your research has provided me with a potential clue as to the source of the treasures (e.g. the island’s use as a possible dumping ground by the Atlantic City Garbage Co. in the 1920’s). I was hoping you could confirm my guess or provide me with any additional ideas.
Very briefly, I’ll give you the story of my visits there and then a description of some of the items. My childhood friend Jerry Zodl (Jerry now lives in Tuckerton) began visiting the fish factory in our early teens on days off from clamming for his parent’s clam ‘stand’ business on the island. We would drive my old 13 foot whaler over there at low tide. At first we wandered and explored the factory buildings, office (a free standing building at the rear quite a way back that few knew about) and dormitories. All the main buildings used to be very accessible until the fires in the 80s and 90s. On one trip we happened to explore the small beach on the western-most side of the plant. It is next to the bulkhead/pilings where most curiosity seekers tie up their boats. At low tide, although it was somewhat dark, you can walk under the pier/decking. In a stooped or kneeled position, poking through the mud, eyes scanning the ground intently, wearing our “fish factory sneakers” is where we spent most of our time on future, frequent visits to this spot. Serious erosion has impacted this section along the bulkhead/shoreline over the years which leads me to speculate the treasures we found are products of the material dumped there by the A.C. Garbage Co. which is now washing out of the banks.
We dragged back thousands of items over the five-year period that we frequented the place. I still have boxes of carefully packed items – many junk. But, some of the more interesting items I found and still have in my possession include:
· Various silver coins – earliest date 1898, latest date 1926
· 2 separate sets of gold dental caps with bits of human teeth intact (MORE ABOUT THIS BELOW)
· 3 rings (one gold with initials ECC, another gold, and one silver with Chinese lettering)
· Various pieces of silverware, many with names of hotels stamped on them (ones says Hotel Knickerbocker. I think this was an A.C. hotel)Knickerbocker Hotel in Atlantc City
· Various child’s toys (glass marbles and lead cars and trains)
· Various small bottles of all types (many medicine bottles), including many that still had corks intact that appear to have been preserved in the sludge from which they protruded. One such bottle is a cobalt blue Milk of Magnesia bottle dated 1906 which sits on a shelf in my office today to remind me of the good times I had “treasure hunting”.
I enclose a few pictures of some of the above items.BottlesCoinsRings & Teeth
My friend Jerry had equally impressive finds (although no gold teeth!) including a gold-engagement style ring (missing the stone), silver coins and an Atlantic City Taxi Cab badge.
As you can imagine, the rings and teeth have me truly puzzled. If it had been just one single such ‘find’, I would have chalked it up to the strong currents there washing ashore an item dropped from a boat. But, in this case there seems to be a pattern with the numerous items. And, this is only what we found ... every trip seemed to turn up something new... I am sure there is more laying there unfound. The gold teeth were found on separate trips several years apart although within 20 yards of each other. The larger set of teeth sends a shiver down my spine as it appears to have been fit over several molar teeth (4 in all). It is hard to imagine this slipped out of a living or conscious person’s mouth. Over the years my family has joked with me that I have Jimmy Hoffa’s teeth, and that I best “lay low.” I recall that there were old bones there under the pier but most looked to be from animals. On occasion, I have considered contacting the area police to see if there are any old, unsolved missing person’s cases in the area. Although, with the information about the A.C. Garbage Company’s use of the property in the 20’s, this gives me a new direction to consider.
Well, that’s my story and information. Any guidance or suggestions you can offer with respect to the mystery of the gold teeth is appreciated. I have many more details of our visits. I would be happy to share more details with you if you are interested.
Thank you for your time.
How to add a posting below . . .
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Saturday, September 25, 2010
John Simkins in the Great Swamp in Washington Township stands by a large cedar tree that is immense by today's standards but smaller than the ancient cedars buried in the muck and swamps of southern New Jersey.
A BURIED CEDAR FOREST
MINING FOR LOGS IN A NEW JERSEY SWAMP
NOVEL INDUSTRY AT DENNISVILLE IN DIGGING UP VALUABLE TREES COVERED UP MANY AGES AGO
DENNISVILLE, N.J. Oct 5 – An industry the like of which does not exist anywhere else in the world furnishes scores of people in this part of New Jersey with remunerative employment, and has made comfortable fortunes for many citizens. It is the novel business of mining cedar trees – digging from far beneath the surface immense logs of sound and arematic cedar. The fallen and submerged cedar forests of Southern New Jersey were discovered first beneath the Dennisville swamps 75 years ago, and have been a source of constant interest to geologists and scientists generally ever since. There are standing at the present day no such enormous specimens of the cedar anywhere on the face of the globe as are found embedded in the deep muck of the Dennisville swamps. Some of the trees have been uncovered measuring six feet in diameter, and trees four feet through are common.
Although ages must have passed since these great forests fell and became covered many feet beneath the surface, such tress as fell, according to the scientific theory, while they were yet living trees are as sound today as they were the day of their uprooting. Such trees are called “windfalls” in the nomenclature of the cedar mines, as it is thought they were torn up by the roots during some terrible gale of an unknown past. Others are found in the wreck that were evidently dead trees when they fell, and to these the miners have given the name of “break-downs.” The peculiar action of the wind and the water in the swamp has kept these break-downs in the same stage of of decay they were in when they fell as the same agency has preserved intact the soundness of the living trees.
The theory of those who have made this mysterious collection of buried cedar trees a study is that they in some unknown age formed a vast forest that grew in a fresh-water lake or swamp that covered this portion of New Jersey the properties of the soil of which were necessary to the forest's existence. According to Clarence Deming and Dr. Maurice Beasely, eminent geological authorities in Southern New Jersey, the sea either broke in upon the swamps or the land subsided and the salt water reached the trees. This destroyed the life of many of them, and subsequently some prehistoric cyclone swept over the forest and leveled it to the earth. The heavy trees gradually sunk into the soft soil of the swamps until they reached the substantial earth or rock beneath it, where they reposed, unknown and undisturbed, until their presence was accidentally discovered in 1812. Ever since ten the logs have been mined and have been an important factor in the commercial and business prosperity of South Jersey.
The buried forest lies at various depths in the swamp, and the uncovering of the trees or working the “cedar mine” is done in a very simple and easy manner. The log miner enters the swamp and prods in the soft soil with a long, sharp iron rod. The trees lie so thickly beneath the surface that the rod cannot be pushed down amiss on its testing errand, for the prodding is not so much in search of a tree as it is to test whether the tree is a “windfall” or a “break-down.” When the prod strikes the log the miner chips off a piece with the sharp point of the tool, which brings the chip or splinter to the surface when drawn out of the muck. By the appearance and order of this chip the miner can tell at once whether the tree he has tested is a sound or dead one. If the former, he quickly ascertains the length of the trunk by prodding along from one end of it to the other.
That ascertained, he proceeds at once to raise the log from its hidden bed. He works down through the mud a saw similar to those used in sawing out ice in filling an icehouse. With this he saws the log in two as near the roots as he cares to. The top of the tree is next sawed off in the same way, and then the big cedar stick is ready to be released from its resting place. A ditch is dug down to the log, the trunk is loosened by cant hooks, and it rises with the water to the surface of the ditch. A curious thing is noticed about these logs when they come to the surface, and that is they invariably turn over with their bottom sides up. After mining the log is easily “snaked out” of the swamp and is ready for the mill or factory.
These ancient trees are of a white variety of cedar, and when cut have the same aromatic flavor intensified many degrees that the common red cedar of the present day has. The wood is of a delicate flesh color. One of the mysterious characteristics of these long-sunken trees is that not one has ever been found to be waterlogged in the slightest. It is impossible to tell how many layers deep these cedars lie in the swamps, but it is certain that there are several layers, and that with all the work that has been done in constantly mining them during three-quarters of a century the first layer has not yet been removed from the depths. At some places in the Dennisville swamp the soil has sunk in several feet and become dry, and there the fallen cedars may be seen lying in great heaps, one upon the other. No tree has ever been removed from the Dennisville swamp from a greater depth than five feet, but outside the limits of the swamp they have been found at a great depth, which shows the correctness of the deep-layer theory. Near the shore of the Delaware, eight miles from Dennisville, white cedar logs have been exhumed from a depth of 12 feet. At Cape May, 20 miles distant, drillers of an artesian well struck one of the trees 90 feet below the surface. It was lying in an alluvial deposit similar to the Dennisville swamp. Another log was found at Cape May 20 feet below the surface, and a third at a depth of 70 feet. These deeply-buried logs were among the largest ever brought to light and their location so far away from Dennisville marsh indicates the great extent of that ancient forest area.
The uses to which the cedar logs are put are many. The principal use is the making of shingles and staves. The longevity of articles made from the wood is shown in shingles, tubs, pails, and casks made from it over 70 years ago, and which have yet to show the slighest indication of decay. The shingles and staves are worked into shape entirely by hand, the only machine work that is permitted in manipulating the cedar logs being sawing of them into proper lengths for the uses to which the lumber is to be put. The Dennisville cedar shingles command a price much higher than the best pine or chestnut shingles.
What it is in the amber-colored swamp water and red muck at Dennisville that preserves these trees so that, after the lapse of centuries, their fibre is as clean and smooth and strong as it was when the green branches of the cedar were waving over the swamp is a mystery that scientific men have yet been unable to solve.
New York Times – October 5, 1888
[ Transcribed by Peter H. Stemmer.]