Tim and I have been spending a lot of time making our new house a home. It’s a job that will take some doing, so we decided that each day, from now on, we would spend a little less time working on the house, and a whole lot more time enjoying ourselves. For us, that usually means exploring. First up, Brigantine Island, with an area of 10.36 miles. The first record of Brigantine was in the logbook of the mate on Henry Hudson’s Ship in 1608. He wrote “This is a very good land to fall in with – a pleasant land to see.” But apparently, they never actually landed on Brigantine Island. I’d like to know why – but there’s no one to ask!
The Lenni-Lanape tribe, who summered and fished here, called it Wattamoonica which meant “playground.” In 1610 the first whalers and fishing boats appeared offshore. Some time later pirates, including the likes of Captain Kidd, were reported to have visited the Island and legend has it that treasure is buried here. Hmmm – when I have time, I think I’ll search for that.
The island was named for the many shipwrecks in the area, including those of brigantines. The Brigantine shoals are two to three miles offshore. Well over 300 vessels of all types have been wrecked on the shoals since the early 1700’s. Records of these disasters were not well kept.
Back to the ship – The brigantine was a two-masted sail boat, having the main mast as the second and taller of the two masts. The brigantine was the second most popular rig for ships built in the American colonies before 1775, the most popular type of vessel being a sloop. The brigantine was swifter and more easily maneuvered than a sloop or schooner, so it was used for purposes of piracy, espionage, and reconnoitering – think prohibition.
Today, this is the bridge that crosses from Atlantic City to Brigantine Island. It’s the only way onto the island, unless you happen to have a boat. It’s been saddled with this not very creative name – the Atlantic City – Brigantine Connector. Cmon’ guys – I think you could have done a teensy bit better than that.
If you are over 35, you may remember Brigantine Castle, which was built in 1975. If you lived anywhere near here, and you never actually visited the castle, you may remember the TV commercials. Every season they flashed across television screens from New York to Philadelphia. There was a vampire that leapt from a picture and sprung to life, a headless woman, monsters, goblins and other assorted ghouls. And of course, creepy organ music. (no, not all organ music is creepy). Brigantine Castle was a spooky house extraordinaire. For some reason, I remember visiting in the late 60s – how is that possible? Hmmmm.
The “monsters” that worked in the five-story wood-and-foam clad building were mostly young drama majors from nearby colleges, whose sole purpose was to scare the be-jesus out of you. By the way, at the time, at 110 feet tall, and with 5 fully functional stories, it was the largest free-standing wooden structure in the US Among the castle’s most memorable attractions, and my favorite, was the rat room, a pitch-black hallway where “man-eating rats” scurried about the floor, and the “doctor of ratology” described her collection of “pets”. The rodents were actually garden hoses pushed through holes in the wall with recordings of shrill squealing and scratching piped in. In a pitch black room, they would push and pull the hoses at your legs as you walked through.
Because of neighbors’ constant complaints, suspected building code violations, and declining tourists, the attraction was closed in the mid-eighties, and finally razed to make way for condos.
But just because you can no longer visit the Castle, do visit the island. There are a few other great points of interest.
Here is just one of many.
The beaches have hundreds, maybe thousands of plovers, searching for food. They’re relentless in their search. I know you’ve seen them – running towards the water as it recedes, and then away from the water as it rushes towards the sand – endlessly. To me, they’re kind of funny to watch.
Here is one of the little cuties up close.
Is on the Atlantic Ocean side of the island. And yes, I intend to buy a pass for my car to drive on the beach. Schlepping with all of your gear to and from the water’s edge is not much fun. Especially with children in tow.
Brigantine Lighthouse – was constructed by the Island Development Real Estate Company in 1926 as part of an effort to attract residents to the island. But the structure was too far from shore and too low to be used as a functioning lighthouse, so it has been used over the years as headquarters for the Brigantine Police Department, as a museum and as a gift shop, in addition to being a central identifying symbol of the city. Today, people use it as a directional landmark. If you are one of the many people who love lighthouses, add this to your collection. If nothing else, it sure is different.
Did I mention it’s in the middle of a road round-a-bout. I had to risk life and limb to be in this photo.
The Marine Mammal Stranding Center – was established in 1978, as New Jersey’s only marine stranding center. Today, the center rehabilitates and releases stranded marine mammals and sea turtles. It has rescued more than 3,900 whales, dolphins, seals and sea turtles since it was formed. Once we’re set up, and finished with putting away boxes, I would like to volunteer here a few hours a week.
Beginning October 1, 2016 it is only open for tours Saturdays from 10am – 2pm. Should you want to visit, the address is 3625 Brigantine Boulevard, Brigantine, NJ ..
The Brigantine Hotel
This hotel still stands on the Atlantic coast side of the island.
This is the hotel today. It was sold, and is now called Legacy Vacation Club Brigantine Beach. it’s not much to look at right now, but historically, it is remarkable. The Brigantine Hotel was an early integrated hotel starting in the 1940s. It was owned for a period by Father Divine’s International Peace Mission movement. That’s a whole other story worth a Google search. I am familiar with Father Divine, who is now deceased, and his Gladwyne, PA residence – Woodmont. As a young adult, and in high school, I often visited, and was treated to lunch. This is Woodmont today.
Brigantine has one of the last “wild” beaches in NJ, Check out this fox we spotted on the beach. I was sure he would run when he saw us trying to take his picture. But no, he considered us, and instead of running, he just stretched, yawned, and slowly walked away. I guess he felt pretty safe.
This town’s answer to a boardwalk doesn’t actually live up to that name, on the grounds that there isn’t a board in it. It’s a bit more than a quarter of a mile of concrete walkway on top of a seawall, or bulkhead. It’s raised a few feet above the sand, at the far north end of the developed section of Brigantine. It does have some of the amenities of modern boardwalks. There’s a coin-operated set of binoculars for looking out to sea. Walk along and you’ll find a few mileage markers, as you do on lots of boardwalks today – although, given it’s length, maybe they should be called tenth-of-a-mile markers. It does draw lots of folks. It’s short and it’s beautiful. Besides which, it is adjacent to the untamed beaches.
WORSE THAN MOSQUITOES
For those of you who follow this blog, you know I am not a a friend of the mosquito. There is another creature who lives in Brigantine, that may be even worse, ( yes, worse! ) than mosquitoes. It is the dreaded GREEN HEAD FLY. For those of you unfamiliar with the green Head – let me introduce you.
This is a nasty, nasty creature. You see those pincers at the front of his face? Well let me tell you that it can attach itself to your pants, in my case, my arse. and not let go. It is determined to go through the pants and nibble, nay, painfully chomp on your flesh, and suck your blood. Even while Tim, the green head slayer, was swatting at him with his hand and anything else he could find, that relentless devil continued to try and gnaw a hole in my pants so as to make his entry. Finally, Tim got him to stop, only by swatting the life out of him. But let me tell you. He has relatives, and lots of them. Thank goodness, they are not out blood-sucking 24/7, they do have feeding hours, and mating times, and preferable weather conditions. If mosquitoes like you, these suckers (literally), will love you.
I want to end on a positive note. The beaches on Brigantine are clean, big, and beautiful, and they call to you like a siren’s song – come and play. We plan on doing just that – just not when the green heads are hunting.
Note: We soon leave for our boat charter in the British Virgin Islands. My next post will tell you all about it. Have a safe and wonderful holiday. HAPPY THANKSGIVING everyone!