In Episode 146, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger head to the Stratford, Connecticut, coast by the Stratford Point Lighthouse in search of a mermaid sighting that was reported in great detail by lighthouse keeper Theodore Judson in July of 1915. Mermaid fever had gripped the region decades earlier thanks to another local Connecticut guy name P.T. Barnum who introduced the world to the Feejee Mermaid in the 1840s.
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[OCEAN WAVES SEA GULLS]
JEFF: Ray, imagine you get your hands around something unlike anything the world has ever seen before. Something no one would believe unless they saw it for themselves!
RAY: I pretty much imagine that every week, Jeff. We’ve chased some pretty crazy legends, and sometimes it’s hard to believe some of these things could actually be true.
JEFF: I get that. Well, this week’s adventure may stretch your skepticism to its outer limits.
RAY: Okay, I’m ready. This is a pretty spot on Long Island Sound here in the Lordship section of Stratford. What are we looking for?
JEFF: We’re on the Connecticut coast, heading to Stratford Point Lighthouse.
RAY: What is it about lighthouses, Jeff? We’ve explored many over the years. They all seem to be haunted. What ghost are we looking for here?
JEFF: Not a ghost this time, Ray. We’re heading down to the rocks near the lighthouse in search of a mermaid.
JEFF: Hey I’m Jeff Belanger and welcome to Episode 146 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger, thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every single legend in New England one story at a time. And we can’t do what we do without the help of our patreon patrons! These legendary people kick in just $3 bucks per month…
JEFF: though some add a little more because they’re awesome…
RAY: They are! And they get early access to new episodes, plus bonus episodes and content that no one else gets to hear. Just head over to patreon.com/newenglandlegends to become a bigger part of the movement.
JEFF: Also, I’d like to remind everyone that my ongoing story tour has moved into the virtual realm since this whole quarantine thing started. But I have a ton of programs coming up and the good news is most of them are free, and you can attend from anywhere. You can find a list of dates, times, and places on my Web site, or the New England Legends Web site.
RAY: Okay, Jeff. We both have daughters.
JEFF: We do.
RAY: We’ve both seen pretty much all of the Disney movies.
JEFF: We have.
RAY: That includes Little Mermaid.
JEFF: It does.
RAY: So now I have all of those songs stuck in my head, thankyouverymuch.
JEFF: (SINGING) Under the sea…
RAY: Don’t sing another note or we may have to pay a billion dollars to license something.
JEFF: Good point. Okay, The Little Mermaid movie we all know and love was based on the 1837 story written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, and the original is definitely a bit darker. Check out this line.
RAY: Ooof, yeah. Andersen wrote: A mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more.
JEFF: There’s also the whole: only-a-man-can-save-you trope he plays into.
RAY: This line from the book says: A mermaid has not an immortal soul, nor can she obtain one unless she wins the love of a human being. On the power of another hangs her eternal destiny.
JEFF: Not the message you want to give to your daughter.
RAY: Right, that only a man can save you. And to get a man you have to change everything that you are.
JEFF: But we’re not here to debate the merits of the old story or Disney princesses. Hans Christian Andersen based his star character on the legendary mermaid.
RAY: We’ve explored other half-human half-animals before.
JEFF: We have. Bird men, half-moose men, and so on. Folklore is full of accounts of half-human/half-fish, from the sirens of Greek mythology to the more traditional mermaid. In folklore, these creatures aren’t always nice, and they’re not always beautiful. They often call sailors to their doom.
RAY: I get all that. But there was a mermaid in Stratford, Connecticut?
JEFF: Yup, right in this neighborhood, if you believe the newspaper account.
RAY: Lordship is aptly named. These are some swanky houses for sure.
JEFF: To find our mermaid we’re going to explore the rocky shore, and then travel back to July of 1915 to set this up.
JEFF: It’s July 4th, 1915 here at Stratford Point Lighthouse. For the last 35 years, the lighthouse keeper has been Theodore Judson, but his friends call him Theed.
RAY: Theed may just be a little bit crazy.
JEFF: Come onnn… why do you say that?
RAY: For one, his friends may call him Theed, but many Stratford locals call him “Crazy” Judson.
JEFF: Because he lives here all isolated at the lighthouse?
RAY: Maybe that’s part of it, but this lighthouse is different than some of the many others we’ve explored in the past. This lighthouse is located on the mainland. So it’s not like he’s stuck out in the ocean. They call him crazy, because he’s prone to seeing strange things.
JEFF: Like what?
RAY: In 1886, he claimed to have spotted a sea serpent right off of Stratford Point. This is how he described it.
JUDSON: The monster was easily 200 feet in length, with whiskers that were the rich, deep green color of bog hay.
JEFF: Well, okay, but he’s not the first or last person to spot a sea serpent off the coast of New England. Maybe there’s something to it.
RAY: Theed also claims he’s spotted mermaids near his lighthouse. He says it’s been ongoing for years, it’s just tough to get close before they swim off.
JEFF: Which is why we’re here. Mermaid fever gripped this entire region decades ago because another local guy you may have heard of.
RAY: Who’s that?
JEFF: He’s the former mayor of nearby Bridgeport, Connecticut.
RAY: Hmmm… I need another clue.
JEFF: He was born not far from here in Bethel, Connecticut, in 1810.
RAY: Still not getting it.
JEFF: He’s considered the greatest showman who ever lived, and he once said, “There’s a sucker born every minutes.”
RAY: Of course! Phineas Taylor Barnum!
JEFF: Exactly. Old P.T. Barnum once offered a $20,000 reward for the capture of a mermaid. He figured with so many folklore and mythology stories out there, plus strange tales from sailors and those who live along the shore, there MUST be something to it.
RAY: It was 1842 when Barnum announced he had in his possession an actual taxidermied mermaid! The Fiji mermaid, as it came to be called, was not sexy or alluring in any way. It was small, with an ugly monkey-like face and arms, and its lower half was a fish.
JEFF: Funny you mention the monkey-like upper body because most skeptics claim the Fiji mermaid was nothing more than parts of a monkey, fish, and maybe even a few other animals expertly pieced together to look like a creature resembling a mermaid.
RAY: The Fiji mermaid was eventually lost in a fire, but folks never stopped thinking about it and wondering. Could there really be some species of human-like fish near our shores or in our oceans?
JEFF: Back to Theed Judson of Stratford. It’s July 4th of 1915 when Theed runs to the local newspaper to tell of his mermaid encounter by the lighthouse earlier that week.
JUDSON: I was busying myself about the place on Monday when I heard a voice, angelic, it seemed to me, and stranger than any songstress I had ever heard, coming from the vicinity of the point. I proceeded to investigate and from the bluff saw a mermaid seated on one of the rocks, her hair hanging in golden tresses down her back, and she brushing it. I made up my mind to capture her, and in order to do so realized that strategy was necessary, so I made a circuit of the ground to the west and getting to the water’s edge crept stealthily toward the rack.
Unmindful of the approach of anyone, the angelic creature sung her love ditty and I am free to admit that no music I have ever heard so enchanted me. I dodged behind rock after rock, stopping from time-to-time, fearful least she might hear my approach until at last all chance of seclusion for me was gone, and with one bound I made for the mermaid and seized her about the waist. With a scream she struck at me with her brush, landing on my forehead and knocking my cap into the water. Then, with a swish of her tail she caught me on the chin.
RAY: Judson is pointing to his chin. I see a little red mark, but really it could be a cut from a shaving razor or even a fingernail. It’s barely a scratch.
JUDSON: Another instant, she had seized me by the hair. All this time I was struggling with her and had started for the shore, but when the prize was fairly within my grasp, she gave a wiggle, and slipped like an eel out of my arms, dove into the water, and with a tantalizing laugh, dove out of sight.
This is a true mermaid story, and if you ae inclined to doubt it, or anyone else, I have the hair brush that I picked up with my cap from the water to prove the truth of what I tell you.
JEFF: Yes, that is indeed a hairbrush. It looks like an ordinary wooden hairbrush, but there’s an oyster shell on the back of it. Judson claims mermaids get their hairbrushes from the staterooms of sunken ships, which is why it looks so ordinary.
RAY: Of course. So this story makes the rounds in the newspapers, and pretty soon locals remember the tale Judson told of seeing the sea serpent decades earlier, and those who know him around Stratford again bring up his nickname of Crazy Judson, until people shrug and believe what they want to believe anyway.
JEFF: And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: I love this story, Ray. It’s got sea monsters and mermaids…
RAY: And what seems like a pretty unreliable witness, Jeff.
JEFF: Yeah, I get that too. But still, mermaid stories have been around for many centuries, and they’re not going away. It’s funny how we have a way of turning the unknown into what suits us.
RAY: What do you mean?
JEFF: Being out at sea is a lonely occupation.
RAY: It was true then and it’s still true today.
JEFF: I imagine some sailors have a wandering eye to whatever siren might call out them by the shore…
RAY: Or in the local tavern when they’re in a foreign port…
JEFF: Wives and girlfriends back home may be all too happy to talk about mermaids. How they’re lovely creatures, but deadly if you fall under their spell and song.
RAY: If the mermaid doesn’t kill, your wife back home will.
JEFF: Exactly. Which makes Theed Judson’s a cautionary tale. Maybe it’s best to avoid mermaids.
RAY: Which even further explains why we’ve never caught one!
RAY: You legendary listeners can catch us every single week on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeartradio, or wherever you get your podcasts. It’s free, so please subscribe so you don’t miss a thing.
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RAY: We’d like to thank Jim Harold from the Paranormal Podcast for lending his voice acting talents this week, and our theme music is by John Judd.
VOICEMAIL: Hey, hey legendary listeners Andrew Warren out of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Wanted to say that we are a legend in a community. I love you all be safe out there. Remember the bizarre is closer than you think.