No. 653
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
May 27, 2024

New Jersey’s Great Wash Day.

Farmers with their wives and buxom daughters enjoy their annual bath in old ocean, at Spring Lake Be
August 18, 2015
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The archives of the Humble Oil & Refining Company are about the last place where you’d expect to run across a first-rate poltergeist account, but it just goes to show that we live in a funny old world.  In 1948, a folklorist and historian was browsing through the company’s papers when he came across a letter that had absolutely nothing to do with oil.  It read:Jan [illegible] '
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Strange Company - 5/27/2024
Included in yesterday’s trip to Fall River was a stop at Miss Lizzie’s Coffee shop and a visit to the cellar to see the scene of the tragic demise of the second Mrs. Lawdwick Borden and two of the three little children in 1848. I have been writing about this sad tale since 2010 and had made a previous trip to the cellar some years ago but was unable to get to the spot where the incident occured to get a clear photograph.  The tale of Eliza Borden is a very sad, but not uncommon story of post partum depression with a heartrending end. You feel this as you stand in the dark space behind the chimney where Eliza ended her life with a straight razor after dropping 6 month old Holder and his 3 year old sister Eliza Ann into the cellar cistern. Over the years I have found other similar cases, often involving wells and cisterns, and drownings of children followed by suicides of the mothers. These photos show the chimney, cistern pipe, back wall, dirt and brick floor, original floorboards forming the cellar ceiling and what appears to be an original door. To be in the place where this happened is a sobering experience. My thanks to Joe Pereira for allowing us to see and record the place where this sad occurrence unfolded in 1848. R.I.P. Holder, Eliza and Eliza Ann Borden. Visit our Articles section above for more on this story. The coffee shop has won its suit to retain its name and has plans to expand into the shop next door and extend its menu in the near future.
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 2/12/2024
When these photos from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York were taken at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery at the end of May in 1899, Memorial Day didn’t exist. “Decoration Day,” however, was an established holiday celebrated every May 30. The idea was to visit the final resting places of thousands of […]
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Ephemeral New York - 5/27/2024
An article I recently wrote for the British online magazine, New Politic, is now available online. The article, “The Criminal Origins of the United States of America,” is about British convict transportation to America, which took place between the years 1718 and 1775, and is the subject of my book, Bound with an Iron Chain: […]
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Early American Crime - 12/17/2021
John Wesley Elkins.11-year-old John Wesley Elkins was slight of stature—four feet eight inches tall, weighing 73 pounds. He was intelligent and well-spoken, and he had never caused trouble until the day he murdered his parents. At 2:00 am, on July 24, 1889, while his parents were sleeping in their Iowa farmhouse, he shot his father in the head and then beat his mother to death with a club.
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Murder By Gaslight - 5/25/2024
CHIEF OF CONSThe Morning Times(Cripple Creek, Colorado)February 15, 1896Courtesy of Mitch Morrissey ig Ed Burns robs a dying man?      Mitch Morrissey, a Facebook friend and historian for the Denver District Attorney’s Office, found and published an interesting newspaper piece on "Big Ed" Burns, one of the most notorious characters in the West. Burns was a confidence man and
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 4/2/2024
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately … Continue reading
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
Cowboys Lassoing the Ballet. | An "Efficient Police."

New Jersey’s Great Wash Day.

Jersey Wash DayFarmers with their wives and buxom daughters enjoy their annual bath in old ocean, at Spring Lake Beach, N. J. 

Once a year the New Jersey farmers and their families have an annual wash in old ocean. They enjoyed this luxury at Spring Lake Beach, N. J. last week. They drove to the beach in wagons from all over the surrounding country. Fully 5,000 bathed. Farmers’ wives forgot the flight of time, forgot their dinners and their offspring and just sat around in groups in the moist Atlantic and gossiped.

But the prettiest sight of all, the most original bit in this whole study of farmer life, was the girl who came to the shore, like Sheridan, from twenty miles away, in her bathing suit and wore that same suit all day. She was wet all the time, but her head was dry and clear, and on that head she wore the best creation of her rural milliner’s art.

There were five thousand farmer folk and more than that number of visitors at the washing place. The beach was black with wagons of every imaginable variety. There were hundreds of buggies in which person about to be married had driven over to the cleaning ground. There were mule wagons and wagons that spend the best part of their narrow history carting hay; there were ox teams and dog teams and goat teams and push carts. Every one of these was loaded down with farmers and their chubby offspring. As soon as the beach was reached the horses or mules as the case might be, were unharnessed and their heads turned to the wagon body. Harness was piled on the ground and all minor considerations gave way to the grand work of the occasion.

Those who didn’t come in bathing suits proceeded in this fashion to prepare for the great event. A sheet was stretched about the rear end of the wagon and within this enclosure an entire family disrobed and donned their bathing suits.

All good things, however, must end somewhere and “Salt Water Day” ended for the farmers “after the ball,” that is, after their youngsters had danced themselves tired on the extemporized waltzing platform. Then oat-filled steeds were reharnessed to the wagons full of sleepy children and the journey to distant homes begun.


Reprinted from National Police Gazette, September 2, 1883.