In Episode 246, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger row out to Penfield Reef Lighthouse in Fairfield, Connecticut, to search for the ghost of lighthouse keeper Frederick Jordan, who drowned here in 1916 trying to get home for the holidays to see his family. Bound by duty, his ghost has haunted the lighthouse and these waters ever since, still helping people to safety.
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[SEA GULLS / OCEAN WAVES]
RAY: I love that it’s warming up outside. Spring feels like it’s finally here. It’s a great time to hit the beach, Jeff!
JEFF: I agree. It feels so good to be back by the ocean here at Penfield Beach in Fairfield, Connecticut.
RAY: Why do I get the feeling this is too nice of a spot for us to stay here for very long.
JEFF: Because that’s not what we do, Ray. We like to get in the muck.
RAY: And why are we walking toward that rowboat by the water?
JEFF: Because we need it to reach our destination just about a mile out that way.
RAY: Okay, I see a lighthouse on a tiny island.
JEFF: That’s where we’re heading. The Penfield Reef Lighthouse… because they say… it’s haunted.
JEFF: Hello, I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: I’m Ray Auger, and welcome to episode 246 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about.
JEFF: Thank you for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. We do that through this weekly podcast, through the New England Legends television series that you can watch right now on Amazon Prime, through our super secret facebook group that you can join… if you can find it, and our free New England Legends smart phone app that you can download right now. We’re a community of legend seekers, and we’re glad you’re with us. Don’t forget to keep listening at the end of the story for After the Legend segment where Ray and I take a deeper dive into this week’s story, and sometimes we go on tangents…
RAY: Us?! Never. Now, before we go searching for the ghost of Penfield Reef Lighthouse, we want to take just a minute to thank our Patreon Patrons!
JEFF: Our Patreon Patrons are an amazing group of insiders. Not only do they get early access to new episodes, plus bonus episodes and content, they get to be the first to hear all of our news, new ideas, and they get samples of new projects we’re working on.
RAY: The costs of producing this show has grown over the years. There’s hosting and production costs, plus marketing and promotion. Our patreon patrons keep us going and growing.
JEFF: We’d love to have your support and help. Just head over to patreon.com/newenglandlegends to sign up.
[OCEAN / ROWING]
RAY: Okay, Jeff, so we’re taking a row boat a mile out into the ocean to get to Penfield Reef Lighthouse?
JEFF: We are. We’re going old school today. And considering the seas are relatively calm, it shouldn’t take us that long to get out to the lighthouse.
[OCEAN / ROWING]
RAY: I can see the lighthouse. It’s really pretty. It sits on a tiny island made up of a pile of boulders. The lighthouse building is a square, two-story stone house perched on a round foundation, with the actual light sitting on top of the house. There’s pretty much no land here to walk on. You’re either in the house or on the rocks.
JEFF: The lighthouse was built in 1874 at a cost of $55,000 dollars, and is one of the last offshore masonry lights. Most lighthouses built after this one were cast iron. Penfield light is well-placed, because this can be one of the most treacherous pieces of water in western Long Island sound.
RAY: And they say it’s haunted?
JEFF: They do. So many lighthouses have haunted reputations. If you think about it, this can be a pretty boring job, but a critical one. People’s lives and cargo depend on this light staying lit at night and in bad weather. On calm, clear days like today, this job is boring. But when the seas turn rough, you risk your life here. So let’s head back to the winter of 1916, and meet the lighthouse keepers.
RAY: It’s December of 1916, and we’re standing in front of Penfield Reef Lighthouse. The two people stationed here at the moment are Keeper Frederick Jordan and Assistant Keeper Rudolph Iten. Their job is to tend to the light during storms and at night, and maintain the facility. Given this tiny island is just a pile of rocks, there’s not much else to do. It’s not like you can go for walks or anything like that. There’s a lot of down time.
JEFF: Plus, it’s a lonely life, especially for 38-year-old Jordan, whose family is on the mainland in Port Jefferson, Long Island. He hasn’t seen them for weeks because a series of storms has made it impossible for him to take the small dory boat to shore in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he can catch a ferry over to Long Island to see his wife and two children. In his down time, Frederick has been making some handmade gifts as Christmas presents. As December wears on, he’s eager to get off this tiny island, and celebrate the holidays with his family.
RAY: Each man takes shifts at the lighthouse. And each time it’s been Frederick’s turn for shore leave, the weather hasn’t cooperated. The morning of December 22nd, looks promising. It’s bitterly cold, and the seas are a little rougher than Frederick would like, but he’s determined to get home with his handmade gifts, and see his family for Christmas.
[OCEAN / ROWING]
RAY: It’s just after 1PM, when Frederick sets off in one the island’s dory boats. He’s rowing for Bridgeport, about two miles away. He’s aiming for the docks at the foot of Fairfield Avenue.
JEFF: The dory is about 18 feet long. It’s basically a row boat made for the ocean with high sides, a flat bottom, and sharp bow. The ocean swells are a little large, but he’s not thinking about the ocean right now, he’s rowing for shore, and thinking about his family. If he can pull the oars at a good pace, he can cover that two miles in maybe 30-40 minutes.
RAY: Frederick is rowing only a few minutes into his journey when the waters start to churn.
RAY: Out of nowhere, a gale force wind whips up, sending swells and waves toward Frederick’s dory!
RAY: Frederick looks up in horror as a huge wave crests… and then breaks right on top of him. Frederick is thrown from his boat into the icy waters of Long Island sound.
JEFF: Back at Penfield Reef Lighthouse, Assistant Keeper Rudolph sees the whole thing. He’s horrified to see how quickly Frederick’s dory is being pushed away from him. Rudolph knows he only has minutes to act if he’s going to save his friend. He’s runs to the small dock where they have a second dory boat. He heaves the boat into the water… and jumps in.
JEFF: Rudolph is rowing as fast as he can to save his friend, but the winds are blowing him back toward the jagged rocks of the lighthouse. Already, Frederick had been pushed almost a half mile away from shore by the wind and driving surf. Rudolph tries again to row against the storm, but now it’s clear his own life is in danger. Rudolph has no choice but to get his dory back to the safety of the lighthouse. He can only watch helplessly as Frederick slips out of sight.
[SLOW FADE ON STORM AND WAVES]
RAY: Frederick Jordan’s body washes up on shore a mile up the coast. An investigation rules that Rudolph Iten was not at fault for failing his rescue attempts. And Frederick’s family lays his body to rest in Long Island. That should be the end of the story… but it’s not.
JEFF: Weeks go by. Rudolph Iten has been promoted to head Lighthouse Keeper at Penfield Reef Light. He’s shaken, but still has his duties to perform. But inside the lighthouse… he’s uneasy. It always seems to feel cold now. And then Rudolph notices something in the doorway of Frederick’s former quarters….
RAY: Look! There’s a hazy mist floating by the door!
JEFF: So strange.
[DOOR OPENS / CLOSES]
RAY: One afternoon Rudolph walks into the lighthouse and finds the Keeper’s journal on the floor. He knows he left the journal on the shelf where it’s always placed when you’re not making an entry. But there it is on the floor, lying wide open.
JEFF: Ohhhh wow… look at that!
JEFF: The keeper’s journal is open to December 22nd… and there’s the last entry Frederick Jordan entered in the book. Rudolph Iten is creeped out. He’s also now seeing that misty figure up near the entrance to the light tower. It would seem this lighthouse is haunted.
RAY: Not just the lighthouse, the nearby waters have also started to attract attention. Years later, a yacht was attempting to navigate some rough weather and waters. The captain wasn’t sure of the location of the reef, when suddenly he sees a man in a rowboat guiding him through the channel to calmer waters. As soon as the seas calmed down, the captain looks up only to find the rowboat is nowhere to be seen.
JEFF: From here we jump ahead to 1942, when a couple of young men are fishing in their rowboat near Penfield Reef Lighthouse.
JEFF: Watching their fishing lines instead of the ocean, a large swell suddenly capsizes their boat!
JEFF: The boys swim to the surface trying to get their bearings when a man standing on the edge of the Penfield Reef Lighthouse rocks calls out to them. He directs them to the safest place to swim to the tiny island. When the boys pull themselves safely onto the rocks, they make their way to the lighthouse building to dry off, and to thank the keeper who helped them.
[DOOR OPENS AND CLOSES]
JEFF: But once inside, they’re told there’s no keeper here that matches the description of the man they saw. And that’s when the boys glance at a photo on the wall inside the lighthouse. It’s a photo of Frederick Jordon. One of the men points to the photo and says, “That’s the guy we saw…” And that brings us back to today.
RAY: Man oh man…. I just got a chill.
JEFF: I know, right?
RAY: Why does it feel like every lighthouse is haunted?
JEFF: We’ve covered quite a few haunted lighthouses over the years.
RAY: We have. I looked it up. Ready? There’ Seguin Island Lighthouse in Maine, Matinicus Rock Lighthouse also in Maine, Stratford Point Lighthouse in Connecticut, Rose Island Lighthouse in Rhode Island, Bass Harbor Light in Maine, Newport Harbor Lighthouse in Rhode Island, and there have been others as well.
JEFF: Running a lighthouse is one of those jobs where the routine is almost like an assembly line. You do the same tasks at the same time of day, over and over. Once in a while, the adrenaline gets pumping when there’s a bad storm or a ship in peril. It takes a special kind of person to be a lighthouse keeper. One bound by duty to protect his little corner of the ocean.
RAY: Maybe that’s why some lighthouse keepers, like Frederick Jordon, continue to perform their duties long after they’re gone.
JEFF: Sometimes that’s exactly what a ghost is. It’s like a movie that plays over and over again and only some of us can see it.
RAY: And that takes us to After the Legend, where Jeff and I take a deeper dive into the story
JEFF: We’re thrilled to announce that After the Legend is brought to you by our newest sponsor, Seaside Shadows! If you’ve listened to even one episode of New England Legends, you know that we love history and haunts!
RAY: We do.
JEFF: And so does Seaside Shadows. They offer a blend of history and mystery on their guided tours of southern New England. We can’t think of a better way to walk into a community’s past, than through its ghostly tales. Seaside Shadows takes you there.
RAY: Joining us this week from Seaside Shadows to tell us about a Mystic, Connecticut, haunt, is company founder, author, historian, and storyteller, Courtney Reardon!
COURTNEY: Hey Ray and Jeff, thanks for having me. I’d have to say one of my favorite haunts in Mystic, is the Captain Daniel Packer Inn. The Inn calls itself home to several resident spirits, including a little girl named Ada Clift, who perished there in the 19th century from Scarlet Fever. Staff and visitors alike have reported hearing her giggles, and watching her play pranks. Several have seen her in her full human form – a full-bodied apparition, if you will – in Colonial dress, interacting with those in the establishment. Some even think she’s alive!
JEFF: Ray, this sounds like a place we HAVE to check out.
RAY: Then Seaside Shadows would be the people to take us there. Head to SeasideShadows.com to learn about all of their walking tours, virtual tours that you can take online right now, plus, they offer private tours and events including murder mystery dinners, pub crawls, special investigations, and more.
JEFF: SeasideShadows.com is the place to find out about all of their upcoming events, tours, and you can book your experience right online. Head over to SeasideShadows.com to start your tour of local legends, lore, and true history.
We’d like to thank our new sponsor, Seaside Shadows, we’d like to thank our patreon patrons, and our theme music is by John Judd.
Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.