The Turtle- The First Combat Submarine

7 minutes

Submarines. When most people think of submarines in combat, they think of World War I or World War II. And to be fair, World War I was the first time that submarines were widely accepted in combat. That wasn’t the first time they were used in combat, however. People have been dreaming of submarines for a long time. What better way to surprise your naval enemies than to sneak up underneath them?

Enter the Turtle:

Geni, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Turtle submarine is a one-person submarine designed to allow the driver to attach bombs to the bottom of boats. It was used briefly during the American Revolutionary War, in 1776. It wasn’t until 1900 that submarines became accepted in combat, with the formation of the US Navy Submarine Force. 125 years after the first combat submarine was used. So what was the Turtle, and why was the idea abandoned for such a long time?

The Turtle Submarine’s Beginnings

David Bushnell designed the Turtle over several years while he studied at Yale. Between 1771-1775, he worked on the design. He also made prototypes of underwater explosives that would make his submarine a feasible weapon. His final design met all the requirements for a modern submarine: it could submerge completely, move independently underwater, had enough air to support the operator, and could carry out an attack against another vessel.

His designs, of course, went nowhere at first. It wasn’t until Johnathan Trumbull, the governor of Connecticut, wrote to George Washington in 1775, that Bushnell finally received the funding he needed to bring his designs to life.

Isaac Doolittle was an inventor near Yale, and ended up helping Bushnell to design and invent a good number of the brass pieces that made the Turtle work, including the oars, the hatch, and the detonator for the mine.

The Design

The Turtle was a small vessel, measuring only seven and a half feet wide, and six feet tall. Designed for a single person, it was meant to attack a nearby ship. It was not designed for any sort of long-term underwater mission. The operator of the Turtle would only have a half hour of air before having to resurface. A mine was attached to the back, filled with gunpowder. This gunpowder was Bushnell’s design as well, and could be detonated even underwater. The Turtle was to be used to sneak up on a ship, attach the mine with its’ time delayed detonator to the ship in secret, and get away again without being spotted.

It got its name from its resemblance to two tortoise shells pressed together. Dr. Benjamin Gale describes the Turtle Submarine best in a letter to Sileas Deane in November 1775:

Excerpt from Dr. Gale’s letter to Sileas Deane- November 1775

“The person who navigates it enters at the top. It has a brass top or cover, which receives the person’s head as he sits on a seat, and is fastened on the inside by screws. In this brass head is fixed eight glasses, viz. two before, two on each side, one behind, and one to look out upwards. In the same brass head are fixed two brass tubes, to admit fresh air when requisite, and a ventilator at the side to free the machine from the air rendered unfit for respiration. On the inside is fixed a Barometer, by which he can tell the depth he is underwater; a Compass, by which he knows the course he steers. In the barometer and on the needles of the compass is fixed fox-fire, i.e. wood that gives light in the dark.

His ballast consists of about 900 wt. of lead which he carried at the bottom and on the outside of the machine, part of which is so fixed as he can let run down to the Bottom, and serves as an anchor, by which he can ride ad libitum. He has a sounding lead fixed at the bow, by which he can take the depth of water under him; and to bring the machine into a perfect equilibrium with the water, he can admit so much water as is necessary, and has a forcing pump by which he can free the machine at pleasure, and can rise above water, and again immerge, as occasion requires.”

Shubol3D, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Turtle Submarines’ First Mission

Once the Turtle had been built and tested, three men were chosen to train with it in the Connecticut River in secret. It was ultimately decided that Sergeant Ezra Lee would operate the Turtle on its’ first mission.

With the British controlling New York Harbor in 1776, the Turtle was directed to attack the HMS Eagle. On September 6, 1776, Lee entered the water with only 20 minutes of air, rather than the expected 30. It was night, and the dark combined with the currents made it difficult to keep the submarine on a steady course toward the ship. Lee had to surface several times over the 2-hour journey to the Eagle. He refreshed his air supplies and checked his course during his time above water.

Operating the Turtle wasn’t easy. It was not truly designed to move easily within the water. It was moved via a front propeller, which the operator had to manually spin. The interior was, of course, nearly pitch black. Any flame that could illuminate the inside would have eaten up the air within. Eventually, Lee was able to surface just behind the Eagle. Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t get the mine to attach to the ship. He was spotted by guards on Governer’s island and ended up releasing the mine to float downriver. The mine did work and produced quite the explosion. But it was nowhere near the Eagle.


The Turtle was used in two more attempted attacks, but few records remain about these attacks. Unfortunately, the Turtle Submarine was sunk when its transport ship was destroyed on October 9th, 1776. It was salvaged from the depths, but never repaired. Three unsuccessful attacks and a high repair bill meant that the original Turtle was never restored.

Submarines were used during both the war of 1812 and the American Civil War. The Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley was the first to sink a ship in battle, the Housatonic, on February 17, 1864. The H.L. Hunley never returned to port after the successful sinking of the battleship. By the early 1900’s, submarines were beginning to be more developed and built by various Navies. In WWI, the US Navy had 72 submarines in active service.

Replica of the Hunley
DrStew82, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Turtle Submarine may not have been effective, but it was an important first step toward submersible craft. It showed the feasibility of underwater craft, and while it never succeeded in an attack, formed the basis for future submarines. It was the first submarine to use water and lead as a ballast for rising and sinking, and the first to use screw propellers.

Bushnell was constrained by the materials available to him, but his genius was recognized in letters from George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. The US Navy also recognized his accomplishments by naming two submarine tenders after him, once in 1915, and another in 1945.

If you want to see a replica of the Turtle, you can visit one at the Connecticut River Museum in Essex. Another replica can be found in Washinton DC, in the lobby of the International Spy Museum.

Want to read more?

Check out these links for more information about the Turtle Submarine!

Here is a link to the Wikipedia Article!

Here is a great resource- the US Naval History and Heritage Command!

The American Battlefield Trust also did a great write-up of the Turtle!

Want to Read about more Strange Inventions?

Read about the horrifying Birthing Spinner!

Or Read about Ben Franklin’s haunting musical instrument!

Strange Inventions-Chicken Glasses

A chicken wearing glasses. It almost sounds like a new meme, but this particular image goes back to 1903 and Andrew Jackson Jr., who was likely not related to the much more well-known President Andrew Jackson. Mr. Jackson, of Munich Tennessee, was the first to file a patent for chicken glasses, and his basic design was used for well over 70 years in farms across the world. But why in the world did chickens need glasses?

The Inquirer
Lancaster, Pennsylvania
04 Feb 1911, Sat  •  Page 2

Chickens need glasses?

As it turns out yes, but not for the same reason as we humans need glasses. Glasses for chickens are more like safety glasses than vision correction glasses. Chickens, as it turns out, can be incredibly violent toward one another, especially in crowded conditions. They can become cannibalistic, especially when stressed. Once one chicken pecks at another and blood is drawn, it can cause a frenzy. The eyes are a particularly vulnerable spot, so in 1903 Andrew Jackson Jr filed patent 730,918 for “Eye Protector for Chickens”. These were, in essence, little protective glasses for chickens. Here’s an image from the patent filing:

These were basic glasses that simply covered the eyes and prevented pecks from damaging or ruining the chicken’s eyes. They were amazingly popular and were sold at chicken feed stores and in the Sears Roebuck catalog, proving that at one point, you could buy just about anything from a catalog. Other versions of these began to pop up, with some held on by straps, instead of a wire frame. Others used small hooks into the nostrils of the chicken, and several inhumane varieties were held on by a pin that had to piece the bone between the nostrils.

Tinted glasses also became popular. It was found that rose-colored lenses would help block out any blood spilled. If the chickens couldn’t see the blood, they couldn’t go into a frenzy. Some firms created lenses that would hang over the eyes until a chicken lowered their head. Once the checked dropped its head, the lenses swung out of the way. Then they could see the ground with no color tinting. If they raised their head, the lenses dropped, and the rose-colored glasses would help them ignore any blood.

Different Varieties

Chicken glasses, Chicken Spectacles, Anti-Pix, or any other of the many names these were called, were sold until the late 1970s. Blinders were also a popular choice, invented in 1935. Rather than protecting the eye and preventing the chicken from seeing blood, these blinders stopped the chicken from seeing directly in front of them. This stops them from being able to look straight ahead to peck at another chicken. It also helps prevent feather picking and egg eating!

Austin American-Statesman
Austin, Texas
03 Aug 1986, Sun  •  Page 77

While chicken glasses fell out of favor, chicken blinders remain popular to this day. They are available not only in farm stores, but also Amazon. The glasses themselves actually became quite the collector’s item! They can be sold for over $100. Not bad for a pair of chicken specs.

Want to Read More About Strange Inventions?

Check out our article on the Glass Armonica! Or, if you like horrifying history, check out the Birthing Spinner!

Ben Franklins’ Glass Armonica

Benjamin Franklin was a man of many inventions. He invented the bifocal glasses, his famous wood-burning stove, is credited with the creation of the modern library and fire department, and many others. Most of his inventions were useful and welcomed by the public. All but one.

The Glass Armonica

The Glass Armonica is a unique instrument. A number of glass bowls are mounted horizontally on an iron rod, separated by cork plugs. The musician plays the instrument by wetting his fingers, then using foot pedals to make the bowls rotate on the rod. They would then lightly touch the rims of the bowls to produce the notes.

Have you ever run your fingers over the rim of a glass of water? If so, you’ve heard the pleasing hum that it can make. The level of water in the glass will change the note produced. The Glass Armonica works the same way. In the picture below, you can see that the bowls are all different sizes- this allows them to produce different notes. When Ben Franklin first invented the Glass Armonica in 1761 it was wildly successful. By the mid-1800’s, it had almost completely vanished. So what happened?

Vince Flango, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Birth of the Glass Armonica

Ben Franklin didn’t come up with his new instrument in a vacuum. The “signing glass” artist Edward Delaval in Cambridge delighted and inspired him into creating the instrument.

Robert Pockrich, an Irish musician, invented the original “music glasses” in 1741. Pockrish would run his fingers over glasses filled with varying levels of water, covering popular songs at the time. He toured Ireland and England. The “angelic organ”, as he called it, was a popular act. Other musicians adopted the glasses and they spread across Europe.

Ben Franklin was often in Europe in the 1700s, acting as a delegate for the newly formed United States. In 1761, twenty years after the singing glasses made their debut, Franklin attended a performance by Edward Delaval in Cambridge. He fell in love with the tones of the glasses, believing them to be sweeter than any other instrument.

In London, Franklin worked with a glassblower to design the instrument. By 1762, they had completed it. There were 37 individual bowls, each marked with a color that corresponded with a note. It didn’t need to be tuned and was relatively easy to play. Ten notes could be played at once, allowing for amazing creativity with chords. This made it popular, and although it was considered a feminine instrument, composers such as Mozart and Beethoven wrote pieces using the Glass Armonica.

Producers of the instrument made about 5,000 of them before rumors, scandal, and controversy halted production.

ReservoirHill or Hugh Pickens, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Scandals

Despite the Glass Armonica’s explosive popularity, scandal quickly began to taint its reputation. Firstly, the instrument has an otherworldly tone to it. Beautiful though it is, it can create an unsettled feeling in those listening to it. In the 19th century people were highly superstitous, and these unsettled feeling would not have been ignored. Rumor had it that the instrument could be used to summon the spirits of the dead and damned. Magic could be performed through it, and players could cause their listeners to later commit suicide.

Secondly, reports started to circulate that the players of the Glass Armonica were falling ill. They would shake, faint, have panic attacks, depression, and muscle cramps. Lead was the main material used to color the bowls, and it was suspected that this may have caused the illnesses. Muscians who played the Glass Armonica may have been prone to lead poisoning, especially since lead was so prevalent in the 19th century. In 1808, Marianne Kirchgessner, a noted player of the Glass Armonica died. Rumor and gossip named the instrument as the cause of her death. Its unearthly tones and lead paint killed her, went the whispers. Understandably, people began to shy away from learning to play it.

Finally, tragedy struck during a concert. A young boy died during a concert where the Glass Armonica was played. Several of the surrounding towns immediately banned the Glass Armonica from being played. With the death of the child, the popularity of the Glass Armonica died as well. Compsitions written for the instrument were rewritten for the flute or piccolo. Few people were brave enough to learn how to play the instrument, and fewer still were brave enough to listen to it.

The Comeback

Ben Franklin never believed any of the unsubstantiated rumors about his instrument. He played until his death. Like with many of his inventions, Franklin made no money from the instrument. He filed no patent, and allowed anyone to produce a Glass Armonica if they wished.

From the 1820’s until the 1980’s, Franklin’s Glass Armonica was mostly forgotten. It was used in Star Trek as a part of Spock’s Theme, as well as in the movies The Minus Man and The Faculty. Some bands, such as the Korn, also used the Glass Armonica in some of their songs.

While it will likely never reach the height of popularity, the Glass Armonica is slowly beginning to be used again. If you are brave enough, listen to composer William Zeitler explain and play it in the video below:

Want to Read More?

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Ben Franklin’s Killer Instrument: The Glass Armonica

Benjamin Franklin Invented The Worlds Most Dangerous Instrument


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Mansfield Bars

Horrifying History: The Birthing Spinner

Mansfield Bars

Mansfield Bars are an incredible, yet simple safety device added to tractor-trailers. I can guarantee you’ve seen them. If you’ve seen a tractor-trailer, then you’ve seen one of the most important safety innovations made to trailers. So, what is a Mansfield Bar, and what exactly makes them historical?

What is a Mansfield Bar?

Attribution:  Mike Mozart via Flickr. Red circle added by me.

Simply put, a Mansfield bar is a large metal bar added to the back of a trailer. They’re also called underride bars or underride guards. Many have red and white paint, although I have seen them without the paint as well. While these look like a handy way to climb up into the trailer, they are actually an incredibly important safety feature.

These bars help stop cars from sliding under the trailer during a crash. If a car rear-ends a trailer without these, there is a high chance the car will be crushed under the trailer. The car will sustain much more damage. And as the bottom of the trailers are right at head height, there’s a much higher chance of dying.

The Mansfield bar catches the car before it can go under the trailer, preventing the cabin of the car from being crushed by the bottom of the trailer. In an era where rear-end accidents are on the rise due to distracted driving, these bars have likely saved hundreds of lives.

Why are they called Mansfield bars?

Before 1967, you may not have seen underride protection. Previously in 1953, the federal government mandated the use of underride guards. However, this legislation had no rules about the strength of the guards, how they were to be attached, or how much kinetic energy they had to absorb.

That began to change on June 29th, 1967. Jayne Mansfield, an up and coming actress, was quickly becoming the darling of Hollywood. She woul never get the chance to be remembered for her acting skills.

Mansfield, her lawyer, driver, and children were driving in New Orleans. It was late and dark. A semi had slowed down on US 90 in reaction to a cloud of mosquito fog. The driver didn’t see the semi, slamming the Buick into the rear of the truck. The Buick slid under the trailer, crushing the cabin. Jayne Mansfield, her lawyer, and her driver were all killed. Her children survived the crash through luck. They had been laying down, asleep, in the rear. As they were not sitting up, they were not crushed. The children were injured and rushed to the hospital. Two of her four dogs were killed as well.

The crash was described as “horrific” by witnesses. The actress was described as “decapitated” but this was refuted by later reports. In actuality, she suffered a shearing injury to her head, causing more of a partial decapitation.

Lake Charles American-Press June 29, 1967

Her death was a shock to the nation. She was being groomed as a counter to Marilyn Monroe. Her grisly death did help spur on greater safety regulations for tractor-trailers. Not long after her death were the underride guards mandated by the government. But that’s not quite the end of the story.

The Story Continues

Despite the mandate for underride guards, many of the Mansfield bars were largely worthless. They were apt to crumble when hit. This made them not nearly as effective as they should have been. They were also not that effective when part of the rear is involved. In 1998, additional rules were put in place. These involved how strong the bars must be and standardized the measurements of the guards.

The IIHS, (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) noticed this in the early 2010’s and began to push for improved safety. They recommended again strengthening the bars and designing ways to ensure the safety of car drivers in low speed crashes and in crashes where the car does not hit the rear dead on.   In 2017 the IIHS started to award the manufacturers for enhancing the safety of these bars.

Others are still not satisfied with underride safety. 2017 also saw the revival of a push for complete underride protection. This would involve side guards as well as the now-standard rear guard.

In 2021, a bill was put before Congress to require side underride guards. This is the third time such a bill was written to mandate the side under guards. The bill is still working its way toward being passed.

As someone who spends thousands of miles on the road each year, additional safety measures are very welcome. With any luck, we won’t need to wait for a celebrity to be killed before new measures are put in place.

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Check out our post on US Patent Number One!

Horrifying History: The Birthing Spinner

Throughout history, there have been some inventions that are just plain horrifying. Some of these made it to production and were actually sold and used. Others, thankfully, never really saw the light of day. The “Birthing Spinner” is one that never went into production, and I’m sure that every woman will thank god for that.

The “Apparatus for Facilitating the Birth of a Child by Centrifugal Force“, patent US3216423A, was filed in 1963 by George and Charlotte Blonsky. It was supposed to be a device to help aid in the birthing process. Instead, it seems to be more of a medieval torture device.

How It’s Supposed to Work

Blonsky’s work is based far more on physics than on actual biology. The premise is this: A woman in labor may not have enough muscle to actually give birth to the child. So to help support the mother and push the baby out of her, Blonsky turns to centrifugal force. A mother in labor is strapped to a large rotating table and a mesh net strapped to her waist. Her head would be near the center of the table. As the machine spins, the centrifugal force would place additional force on the baby in the birth canal, forcing the child out faster and with less strain on the mother. No personnel were allowed near the table while it was spinning. So the net, having been strapped in place, was supposed to catch the baby.

Once born and in the net, the weight of the baby would trigger a bell and activate a lever to stop the motion of the table.

A drawing of the invention from the patent. This does NOT look comfy. At all.

Thank God the Birthing Spinner Never was Used

This is horrifying on several layers. A woman, in labor, is supposed to be strapped down onto a table to be spun around until the baby pops out. She’s basically on her own on the table. Remember that no personnel are allowed near while the table is spinning. So there is no doctor or midwife monitoring the mother or child. Then the baby pops out, into a bag, a bell rings, and the table stops. The doctor can raise or lower the table for the “optimum angle” of birth. Personally, I’d be terrified of ever giving birth if that’s how it’s supposed to go.

At the end of the patent, Blonsky mentions that “the supplementary forces supplied by the patient are zero either because she is too weak to render any assistance at all, or has lost consciousness.”

There is one good thing about this invention. A pillow is provided for the expectant mother.

Strangely enough, George and Charlotte Blonsky never had any children. I wonder why?

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Final Call- Last Public Payphone Removed in NYC

It’s the end of an era. On Monday, May 23, the last public payphone was removed from its home in Times Square. The removal was in the works for quite a while now. In 2015, New York City began removing public payphone booths. They’re being replaced with LinkNYC kiosks, which offer free public Wi-Fi, charging ports, 911 buttons, and screens with maps and other services. Just like the old payphones, they help generate revenue for the city. So far, over 6,000 payphones have been removed, with the one in Times Square being the last standard public payphone.

John-Paul Joseph Henry jiphenry, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

No more will Superman be able to bound into a payphone booth to quickly change outfits, at least in New York. However, the city is keeping four full length “Superman” booths in the Upper West Side, so perhaps Superman doesn’t need to worry too much. Payphones aren’t completely gone from the city. Those that are on private property or privately operated may still be standing. Rumor has it that some of the phones in the subway stations still work as well.

Where is the Last Public Payphone Going?

Thankfully this is not the final end for this pre-digital relic. The Museum of the City of New York has opened an exhibit called “Analog City.” While I haven’t had a chance to check it out, this exhibit looks to be chock full of nostalgia. The payphone that was removed on Monday will be finding new life as a part of this exhibit. The exhibit looks at the city before the digital era, specifically between 1870 and 1970. It opened this past Friday, and is already quite popular. You can read the museum’s description of the exhibition here

What about Other Payphones?

Payphones across the US have been disappearing for decades. In 1999, there were over 2 million payphones scattered across the US. As of 2018, a bare 100,000 were estimated to still exist. Payphones as a whole have had a short life. The first payphone, created by William Gray and George Long, was installed in Connecticut in 1889. By 1902 there were over 80,000 payphones. 1995 saw the peak of the payphone business, with an estimated 2.6 million across the nation. Just a short 6 years later, companies began leaving the payphone business and payphones began to fall out of use.

Even famous payphones weren’t immune. The Mojave Phone Booth, made famous by Godfrey Daniels, was destroyed in 2000. (But if you still want the magic of the Mojave Phone Booth, you can still call the number.)

Amazingly enough, you can still purchase a payphone if you would want one!, based in Houston TX, is still providing payphones. There are pushes to save and conserve public payphones, and some states, like Indiana, will let you request a payphone be installed if there is a “Compelling Public Need”.

Perhaps all is not yet lost for the remaining 100,000 payphones in the US, although time is nearly up for those in NYC

US Patent Number 1

Every year, the US Patent and Trademark Office issues thousands of patents. In fact, just last year they issued patent 11 million. Patents are an incredibly important part of the economy. They prevent anyone else from making, distributing, or selling an invention without permission for a set period of time. Inventors and innovators race to be the first to file a patent for new inventions. Patents are far older than most people think. The first patent recognized is from 1421. The government in Florence issued it for a new style barge. Patents are important enough that the Founding Fathers of the United States included patents in the Constitution. The Patent Office was created in 1790, and US Patent Number 1 was issued.

The First US Patent

The first US Patent was issued in 1790, not long after the US Patent and Trademark Office was created. George Washington signed the patent on July 31, 1790. A copy of the patent is below.

A copy of the First US Patent number 1.
A copy of the First US Patent number 1

The First US Patent was issued to Samuel Hopkins. He created a new recipe for potash. Potash is a mix of minerals and chemicals used in fertilizer. It’s pretty interesting that the first patent granted in the United States was for fertilizer. It highlights that the US was mainly agrarian when the country was first founded. Farmers are still using potash in their fertilizer to this day.

1790 had only 3 patents issued. The second patent, applied for by Joseph Sampson, was for a new way to manufacture candles. The last, applied for by Oliver Evans, was for an automated flour mill.

Despite how few patents were issued that first year, Americans are an inventive people and applications for patents quickly piled up. The young government placed all the records in temporary storage. A new records building was in the process of being built in 1836 to handle the mass of paperwork. The temporary storage caught on fire, destroying nearly all the records in one fell swoop.

The Second US Patent Number 1

With the original warehouse of documents gone, the US Patent and Trademark Office started a numbering system. The Office designated all patents before this point as X patents. You can see the X-number listed in the top right corner of the image above. So the US Patent and Trademark Office issued the “Second” first US Patent to John Ruggles. This is “US Patent Number 1”. Ruggles designed traction wheels for locomotives. The Office granted the patent to him on July 13, 1836. His wheels helped the train to keep traction in bad weather, rather than slipping on the rails.

Thankfully, recordkeeping is much more secure and there is little chance of Ruggles losing his US Patent Number 1 designation.

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5 Historic Lighthouses in New Jersey You Can Actually Visit!

While the Jersey Shore has been made famous by shows such as “Jersey Shore”, “Boardwalk Empire” and “MTV’s TRL”, the New Jersey coastline used to be infamous among sailors. Over a thousand shipwrecks litter the coast, sunk there by mariners who underestimated the dangers of the shoreline. New Jersey has two major port cities near it, New York City and Philadelphia. This led to a high volume of ship traffic around some of the most dangerous areas. The historic lighthouses along the New Jersey coast played a vital role in preventing shipwrecks.

As a result of the many deaths and shipwrecks, New Jersey had a high number of lighthouses. At the height of the lighthouse era, 38 were operating along the Jersey coast, with 6 additional lightships. These warned ships of dangerous areas and guided them safely onto the correct course.

Of the 38 lighthouses that once operated, 18 still remain. Not all of these are open for visits. But those that are open to the public are a great place to visit for a glimpse into the past. The historic lighthouses, all located in New Jersey, are well worth a visit.

Sandy Hook Lighthouse (Highlands, NJ 07732)

Picture of Historic Sandy Hook Lighthouse in New Jersey
Ccrabb1948, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Sandy Hook lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse in the US! It was first lit on June 11, 1764. Isaac Conro designed and built the lighthouse about 500 feet from the shore. Today it stands about a mile and a half from the coastline. The lighthouse has been in continuous operation ever since. The only times it went dark were during the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and both World Wars. It stands at 103 feet tall. Originally, the light was provided by 48 oil blazes. Now it uses a 3rd order Fresnel lens, installed in 1857. TOn October 15, 1966, the National Register of Historic Places added the Sandy Hook Lighthouse to its list.

Sandy Hook Lighthouse is on the grounds of Fort Hancock, which has a bunch of other interesting history on display. A lovely self-guided tour is available of the whole base. I highly recommend it, as it is almost completely flat and has about 40 stops that encompass the history of the base and the area around it.

The light still operates today. The National Park Service administers the lighthouse and offers tours on the weekends.

Cape May Lighthouse (Cape May, NJ 08204)

Picture of Historic Cape May Lighthouse in New Jersey
King of Hearts, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Cape May Lighthouse is one of the most popular historic lighthouses in New Jersey, and certainly one of the most iconic. Built in 1859, this lighthouse overlooks both the Atlantic Ocean and the Delaware River. This is actually the third lighthouse on this site. The ocean destroyed the first lighthouse when it flooded. The second lighthouse, poorly built, succumbed to erosion. The current lighthouse stands at 157 feet tall and is still in use today. Cape May’s lighthouse originally used a first-order Fresnel Lens, the largest available. Today it uses a rotating aerobeacon. National Register of Historic Places added the Cape May Lighthouse on November 12, 1973.

The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts currently is leasing the lighthouse and opened it to the public in 1988. You can visit the lighthouse and keepers station Friday through Saturday, 12-3 PM

Navesink Twin Lights (Highlands, NJ 07732)

Picture of Historic Twin Lights Lighthouse in New Jersey
Lbeaumont, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Navesink Twin Lights are the only lighthouses built in a fortress style within the United States. This alone makes these historic lighthouses well worth a trip. The original Twin Lights were built in 1828. Joseph Lederle built the second Twin Lights that stands today in 1868. The Twin Lights hold the honor of being the first US lighthouse to have a Fresnel lens installed. Fresnel lenses were much more effective at magnifying light and are still used in some places today. Fort Monmouth was involved with the Twin Lights, conducting secret experiments with radar. Keeping with this tradition, the Twin Lights was also a site for some of the earliest radio navigation experiments.

The Twin Lights ceased operations in 1954. Other navigational aids replaced the lights. The lights were converted into a museum after being rendered obsolete and deactivated. The National Register of Historic Places added the Twin Lights on December 2, 1970. The historic lighthouses are still imposing and an amazing landmark.

The grounds are always open to visitors. However, the museum is only open from Wednesday to Sunday, 10-4 PM. Tours are available from Wednesday to Saturday.

Hereford Inlet Lighthouse (North Wildwood, NJ 08260)

Picture of Historic Hereford Inlet Lighthouse in New Jersey
darlingtrk, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Lieutenant Colonial William Reynolds built the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse in 1873. Congress approved the building of the lighthouse mainly for smaller vessels and the steamers traveling around the mouth of the Delaware River.

On May 11, 1874, the light activated for the first time. The tower stands at 49 and 1/2 feet tall. Mariners can see the light for 13 miles. The lighthouse held church services in its early days. The first keeper, John Marche, died only three months into his service. He drowned when his boat capsized as he returned to the island. Due to some intense storms that actually moved the lighthouse off of its foundations, the structure was moved about 150 feet to the west, away from the waters that threatened it.

Like all other historic lighthouses in NJ, the Hereford Inlet light went dark during World War II when the Germans were operating off the Jersey Coast. It returned to service but was decommissioned in 1964, replaced by a metal skeletal structure. By 1982, the local lighthouse society petitioned for control of the lighthouse. They restored both the lighthouse and the amazing gardens that surround it. 1986 saw the light returned from the skeletal structure that housed it, back into the lighthouse proper. It’s been operating there ever since.

Originally equipped with a fourth-order Fresnel lens, the light is now a VRB-25 beacon, installed by the Coast Guard in 2018. The National Register of Historic Places added it on September 20, 1977

The Hereford Inlet Lighthouse grounds are open year-round for visits. The gardens are impressive and well worth the trip in spring and summer. The tour of the lighthouse is self-guided. You can visit the lighthouse between May and October between 9 to 5 PM

Sea Girt Lighthouse (Sea Girt, NJ 08750)

Picture ofLighthouse in New Jersey
King of Hearts, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Sea Girt Lighthouse is quite possibly my favorite lighthouse on this list. The funds for the Sea Girt Lighthouse were planned for 1889, but the lighthouse wasn’t built until 1896. As you can see from the photo above, it’s one of the few lighthouses that has the tower integrated into the keeper’s quarters. Sea Girt was the last lighthouse built in this style on the East coast. The light was first lit on December 10, 1896. The light was a fourth-order Fresnel lens, capable of being seen for 15 miles out to sea.

A radio beacon was installed in 1921. This allowed ships to navigate in poor conditions and heavy fog. Despite the success of the radio beacon, the transmitters were moved to the Barnegat Lightship and the Sea Girt radio beacon was decommissioned.

The Sea Girt Lighthouse played a role in the famous SS Morro Castle disaster. When the ship caught fire on September 8, 1936, it used the lighthouse to fix its position. It also helped the survivors find the shore as they tried to survive the rough seas. As rescuers braved the storm to find survivors, the lighthouse served as a first aid station.

The light went dark with the outbreak of WWII. After the war was over, the lighthouse returned to operation for roughly a decade. 1955 saw the light decommissioned. The Sea Girt Lighthouse Citizens Committee saved and restored the lighthouse in 1981.

Tours are available every Sunday from 2 – 4 PM, from mid-April to Thanksgiving.

Want to Learn More?

Below are some of the awesome sources I used to help put this list together. (Note, the book links are affiliate links, so if you purchase the books I will get a small percentage of the sale. I will never link a book I haven’t purchased and read myself first.)

The National Park Service keeps up the Sandy Hook Lighthouse informational site- See the site here!

The Twin Lights Museum was an excellent resource- check them out here!

The Cape May Lighthouse website doesn’t have a lot of information about the lighthouse but has a lot of cool events listed throughout the year. Check out the calendar!

Hereford Inlet Lighthouse’s website is full of information. Definitely check this one out!

Sea Girt has a wonderful website as well! See it here!

Want some more cool New Jersey History? Did you know that NJ had the first canned beer?

Infographic! A Timeline of Wall Street

Wall Street tends to be a popular topic in the news. ‘Wall Street’ tends to be used as a general way to refer to the economy. People tend to forget that Wall Street is an actual road in New York City, one with a rather long and somewhat sketchy history.

Wall Street started off as, surprisingly, a street with a wall. In the early colonial days of the United States, the Dutch held “New Amsterdam”, or what is now New York City. Fearing an invasion by the English, a wall was constructed. It was 9 feet high and about 2,340 feet long. The road, if it had a name previously, was renamed “Waal Straat.”

From that humble and rather simple beginning, Wall Street has had a history full of twists and turns. A government-sponsored slave market stood on Wall Street in 1711. Just 20 years later, the first attempt at a public library was also on Wall Street.

From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, Wall Street once was home to the Capitol building for the US government, suffered a devastating fire, and withstood multiple terrorist attacks.

Now it is considered the backbone of the US economy. That doesn’t mean its past is forgotten, nor should it be…

Check out the infographic below!

A Timeline of Wall Street!

Infographic about Wall Street

What was the most surprising event of Wall Street History? Let us know in the comments below!

Did you know that just a few miles away in New Jersey, the first canned beer was produced? Over in Jersey City, NJ, the first canned beer was produced in 1933, not long after Prohibition ended! Check out the full history of the first canned beer here!

Love history? Check out the Secretly Historic Facebook page, where I am constantly posting about the past.

The Last Public Execution in the US

Trigger Warning for Violence, Sexual Assault, and Death.

In 2022, the idea of public executions is rather appalling. In a time when there is a massive push to abolish the death penalty, watching a convicted criminal be killed is generally not most people’s idea of a good time. This was not always the case. In fact, the last public execution in the United States was less than a century ago and it had one of the highest attendance rates in the nation.

Rainey Bethea was the last person to have a public execution in the United States. He was hanged in the parking lot of a county garage in Owensboro, Kentucky. The courthouse, which would normally be the site of the execution, requested that the gallows be moved. It was expected that a large crowd would gather and the courthouse had just spent a large amount of money planting new bushes and flowers. To prevent the new landscaping from being damaged, the gallows were moved. At about 5:20 AM on August 14, 1936, died by hanging. He was convicted for the rape of Lischia Edwards. The massive crowd and the spectacle of the hanging led to public executions being banned in Kentucky in 1938, and Bethea the last public execution. But that’s not the whole story.

The Man.

Rainey Bethea, as pictured in the Burlington Free Press in their Aug. 01 1936 issue
Rainey Bethea was the last person publicly executed in the US. CLIPPED FROM
The Burlington Free Press
Burlington, Vermont
01 Aug 1936, Sat  •  Page 11

Little is known about Rainey Bethea’s early life. He was born in 1909 in Virginia. He would first come to the attention of law enforcement when he was arrested and fined $20 for disturbing the peace in early 1935. Just a few months later he was arrested again for attempting to steal the purses of two women. This was a federal crime, as the value of the contents was above $25. He was charged and sent to one year at the Kentucky State Penitentiary in Eddyville. He only served half of his sentence, being released on parole on December 1, 1935. Again, he quickly found himself arrested. This time he was arrested for “housebreaking.” It was later changed to a drunk and disorderly charge, punishable by a $100 fine. With no way to pay the fine, he resided in the Daviess County Jail until April 18, 1936.

The Crime.

Unfortunately, Rainey wasn’t able to keep from crime for long. On June 7th, 1936, he entered the home of Lischia Edwards in the early morning hours. He entered the house from Lischia’s bedroom window and woke her in the process. He quickly choked and raped her until she was unconscious. She was 70 years old. Bethea ransacked her room, taking her valuables and jewelry. As he was doing so, he took off his own black celluloid prison ring and forgot to put it back on as he left. Lischia’s family weren’t able to rouse her in the morning and a neighbor helped them enter her room, where they found her dead. Muddy footprints were all over the room.

The Investigation.

The investigation of Lischia Edward’s murder was rather short, culminating in Bethea’s arrest on June 10th, just three days after Edwards was killed. Police found Bethea’s ring in her room and were able to identify it as Bethea’s with the help of several witnesses who had seen him wearing the ring.

Bethea's ring, pictured in the Messenger-Inquirer on 10 Jun 1936.
Bethea’s Ring
Owensboro, Kentucky
10 Jun 1936, Wed  •  Page 9

A day after she was killed, the family reported that jewelry was missing from her room. A relatively new technology had taken root in police investigations- fingerprinting. In 1911,  Illinois State Supreme Court upheld that fingerprints were a valid and reliable means of identification, and in 1924 the FBI opened the ID Division. This division would receive and file fingerprinting cards from across the nation. Criminals would be fingerprinted when they were arrested and a copy of the cards sent to the FBI. As Bethea had been previously arrested, police were able to pull a copy of his fingerprint record and compare it to fingerprints found on objects from Lischia Edwards’ bedroom. The fingerprints were a match.

A picture of a fingerprint
User: The Photographersehh/info, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Combined with Bethea’s ring, they now had solid evidence that Rainey Bethea had been involved in her death. A warrant for his arrest was issued on June 10th. Rainey was arrested as he tried to board a barge to leave Owensboro. He confessed to Patrolman Raleigh Bristow, Deputy Sheriff L.I. Dishman, and Deputy Sheriff Albert Reisz while being moved to Louisville. Bethea signed a confession at 6:30 PM that night. In his confession, he admitted that he did not know if she had been alive or dead when he had raped her. News of the attack and subsequent arrest spread across the nation quickly, with newspapers from California to Maine reporting the attack and many including information from Bethea’s confession.

The Trials.

The next day, June 11th, Bethea recants his confession, saying that he was drunk when he confessed to the officers and signed the confession. At his arraignment, Judge George Wilson set his trial date for June 22nd, after the grand jury had deliberated for one hour and forty minutes. June 12th, presumably after Bethea had sobered up, he told W. E Crady, a guard at the jail, where he had stashed the things he had stolen. Bethea hadn’t taken them far- only across the street. Investigators found Lischia’s rings, a dress, necklaces, and earrings in the loft of the barn across from her home. The fervor over the crime and the trial began and on June 19th, Owensboro County officials requested help from the National Guard.

A clipping of The Evansville Journal
19 Jun 1936,
The Evansville Journal
Evansville, Indiana
19 Jun 1936, Fri  •  Page 5

A special grand jury had been convened for the trial. Over 111 jurors were summoned, with 21 appointed to the grand jury and 27 to the petite jury. Judge Wilson ordered that all people be searched for firearms before entering the courtroom. Guards lined the halls of the courthouse and the outside. Meanwhile, ten special police officers were present in the courtroom itself to preserve order. Four attorneys were appointed to defend Bethea. William Wilson, WW. Kirtley, William Weils and Carroll Byron. Several hundred people attended the trial, with many of them waiting outside the courtroom. Bethea pleaded guilty, and the grand jury indicted him on the rape charge. This change was pursued over the murder charge, as the conviction for rape was execution. The petite jury had only deliberated for four and a half minutes before delivering the sentence. He was to be hung on July 31st.

The Appeal

An appeal was filed with the court of appeals on July 28 by Stephen A. Burnley. Appeals for these types of cases were not technically allowed, but the court could hear the appeal at its discretion. Judge Elmwood Hamilton issued a temporary writ of habeas corpus and set a new trial date of August 5th. Witnesses were summoned, including his previous defense council. Bethea testified that he never pleaded guilty, that his lawyers would not let him take the stand, and that his requests to his attorney were often denied. He also claimed that he did not know the contents of the confession that he had signed. Ultimately, his bid for appeal failed. His execution warrant was signed on August 6. His execution date was set for August 14, 1936, at sunrise.

The Execution

Rainey Bethea’s execution was mired in scandal, which led it to being the last public execution. Typically it is the duty of the Sheriff to execute punishments as laid down by the court- including arranging and performing executions. Unfortunately, the sheriff for Daviess County had died in April. His wife, Florence Shoemaker Thompson, had taken over his role thanks to “widows succession.” At first, she fully intended to perform the execution herself.

The Morning News
07 Jul 1936
The Morning News
Wilmington, Delaware
07 Jul 1936, Tue  •  Page 2

In 1936, this was a scandal, and many objected that a woman should not have to perform such a duty. Ultimately her hand was not the one to pull the lever and end Bethea’s life. Arthur Hash, a former police officer, offered to be the one to pull the lever, and Thomspon accepted. On the day of the execution, a large crowd had gathered. While the state had expected about 10,000 witnesses, nearly double had decided to attend, despite the early hour. Hash had arrived drunk, and after Bethea had been walked onto the gallows, hood placed over his head, and noose arranged around his neck, was unable to pull the lever. Professional hangman Phil Hanna shouted at Hash, who did nothing. A deputy finally leaned on the lever, springing the trapdoor. Bethea’s neck broke on the initial drop.

The Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati, Ohio 15 Aug 1936,
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati, Ohio
15 Aug 1936, Sat  •  Page 8

During the execution, vendors roamed the crowd of spectators, selling hot dogs, popcorn, and soda pop. Some spectators climbed on nearby roofs, cars, and anything possible to get a good view of the hanging. For sixteen minutes Bethea hung until the doctors declared him dead and he was cut down. Then the crowd, who had been waiting since the night before in some cases, drunk on Kentucky whiskey, charged the gallows. They tore at Bethea’s hood, his clothes. They tore what they could from his body as souvenirs of their time at the hanging. In the crowd, people were robbed, and some lost their lives on the way to the hanging. Just three hours after he was killed, Rainey Bethea was buried in a pauper’s grave, against his sister’s wishes to bury him with family. The last public execution in the US was complete.

The Last Public Execution

Reactions to the execution varied. Some praised that another violent criminal was killed. Others took a very dim view of the circus that the execution turned into. One woman in Kentucky, writing anonymously, wrote that she was “ashamed to be a Kentuckian.” One writer in New York decried the spectacle:

The Daily Messenger
Canandaigua, New York 29 Aug 1936, Sat
The Daily Messenger
Canandaigua, New York
29 Aug 1936, Sat  •  Page 4

People from the country over began criticizing the execution, quickly becoming a complete media circus as more and more people wrote in about their displeasure. From the involvement of Florance Thompson as sheriff to the unruly crowd, the execution was examined and found to be lacking. The next two scheduled executions, in 1937, were ordered to be done privately. Finally, in 1938, the Kentucky State Assembly passed a repeal for the requirement for rapists to be hung. Rainey Bethea was the last public execution in the United States.

Want to Read More?

Check out the newspaper clippings I’ve assembled while researching!

History of Fingerprinting

History of Yesterday also did a great article on Bethea’s execution!

Like This Post?

Let me know in the comments below! If you could like and share as well, that would be awesome! Thank you for reading!