Way Back When... 1916
Just in time for Halloween, a little “Way Back When” ghost story! The shoal that extends from Fairfield Beach is known as Penfield Reef. A lighthouse was built in 1874 to safeguard the area. Penfield Reef Light is a two-story granite-brick-and-wood structure, and was designed to accommodate a full-time keeper and assistant keeper. The light tower, which rises more than 50 feet above the high-tide line, originally featured a revolving cast-iron lantern mechanism that had to be hand-wound.
On December 22, 1916, keeper Fred A. Jordan decided that despite a dangerous winter storm, he wanted to get home to his family to celebrate Christmas. He set out for the mainland shortly after noon, but did not get far before the strong winds and rough seas capsized his rowboat. He clung onto his small vessel and signaled for help. Assistant keeper Rudolph Iten saw the incident and launched another boat to rescue Jordan. Unfortunately, despite his efforts, Iten had to abandon his rescue attempt. Jordan's body was found three months later.
Newly-promoted keeper Iten reported that one evening, a few days after Jordan’s drowning, he awoke to see a grayish figure emerge from the room that had been Fred Jorden’s. It spent a few moments outside Iten’s room and then descended the stairs, vanishing in the darkness. Iten believed that it was the new assistant keeper, so he called out to see if anything was the matter. The assistant replied from the room at the top of the tower that everything was alright. Confused, Iten went downstairs where he found the log-book lying on a table. It was opened to the exact entry that reported the drowning of Fred Jorden. Iten would claim to see the same figure on other occasions.
In addition, there are reports over the years of aid given by a mysterious figure. One account tells of a yacht that ran into trouble around the reef but was guided to safety by a rowboat manned by "a strange man who appeared amid the surf." Another tale involves two boys who were thrown into the Sound when their canoe capsized, only to be saved by "a mysterious man who appeared from the rocks," and whom they couldn't find any trace of after their rescue. The Penfield Reef Lighthouse is automated in 1971, so there is no longer a need for a keeper, but it is possible that the spirit of Fred Jorden continues safeguard the light and the reef it marks. For more Halloween fun, visit the Fairfield Museum on Sunday for Halloween on the Green, 12-4pm or attend one of the Museum’s “Legends & Hauntings” tours this weekend! More info at Fairfieldhistory.org.
The Fairfield Museum & History Center and Museum Shop, located at 370 Beach Road, is open seven days a week, 10am-4pm. Members of the Museum and children under 5 are admitted free. For more information, call 203-259-1598 or visit Fairfieldhistory.org. The Fairfield Museum relies on funding from individuals, corporations, and foundations. The Museum is especially grateful for support from the Department of Economic and Community Development, Connecticut Office of the Arts, the State of Connecticut, Town of Fairfield and Fairfield County’s Community Foundation.