philadelphia press - police gazette : sandwich island girl, 1888
Queen Of The Waves
Philadelphia Press: Letter.
circa August1888, widely reprinted
Queen Of The Waves
National Police Gazette
August 18, 1888, pages 1 and 14
National Police Gazette
August 18, 1888, page 1.
A Gay Queen Of The Waves
Ashbury Park, New Jersey, surprised by the daring of a Sandwich Island girl.
Given that the events were not witnessed by a reporter from the National Police Gazette, it seems certain that the illustrator did not observe the aquatic activities of the Sandwich Island girl.
Matt Morgan, Charles Kendrick, Philip G. Cusacha, George G. White and George E. McEvoy have been identified as some of the illustrators working for the National Police Gazette in the late 19th century.
The header was created by Henry W. Troy, his signature appearing in every issue.
The image was probably constructed from previously published images.
The board is almost a direct copy of the one in Jacques Arago's "Wahine, Hawaii, circa 1819."
Finney and Houston: Surfing – A History of the Ancient Hawaiian Sport (1996) page 38.
Also note another probable contemporary copy by Anonymous:"Hawaiian Surf-Bathing", circa 1890.
Lueras: Surfing - The Ultimate Pleasure (1984) page 39.
The stance and the hand positions are possibly an amalgam from the riders in Wallis McKay : "Surf-swimmers, circa 1874."
Lueras: Surfing - The Ultimate Pleasure (1984) page 36.
Cover, page 1
I have been encouraged to conduct further research on the woodcut engraving of Sandwich Island Girl (SIG), as published in the National Police Gazette (NPG), August 18, 1888. Richard Kyle Fox (Fox) was the Editor and Proprietor of the NPG from 1877 until his death in 1922. Fox perfected the sports page and the gossip column, as well as the use of large illustrations to dramatize the stories in his paper. Before Fox, these things did not exist as we know them today. Fox turned a text heavy medium into something visually exciting. Even Thomas Edison was a regular reader. Irving Berlin wrote a song about it: The Girl on The Police Gazette. Hugely popular, even across the ocean, the publication made an appearance in James Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses.
While SIG’s publication may be considered an anomaly, her iconic image is culturally, historically and aesthetically significant to the world. I am delighted to add to, and alter, the history of surfing in the United States. SIG’s iconic image is of profound significance to the surfing community. She exposed citizens to surfing imagery in 1888 ! The image has rocked the foundation of surfing history. I agree with DeSoto Brown’s statement, “Whatever the story, I still think this is a terrific find to add to surfing’s history.” My research has reached the point that it is time to present information to support my point of view.
All this reminds me of the famous line from the movie Apocalypse Now, when Colonel Kilgore barks “What do you know about surfing, major? You’re from darn New Jersey!” I have proved Colonel Kilgore was wrong!
It might be noted that news reporting in the 19th century was not like today. There was no television, no movies, and no radio. We take many details for granted in a typical news story that were not considered important back then. Getting the names of participants, attributing quotes, and other factual details were often not priorities. The NPG decided what its focus was and stuck to it. One focus was on women’s appearance and movements – anything that was sexually titillating for the time. Who she was and where she came from was of less importance.
The NPG certainly was a publication that mixed fact with fiction. But my feeling is the description in the article is too detailed to be made up. If it were just the illustration with no accompanying story, I might be more inclined to accept the possibility that the incident didn’t happen. Either way, NPG specialized in depicting women doing manly things…shooting, fighting, drinking, playing sports…and so surfing is exactly the type of thing they would have jumped on, even if no other news outlets would give it a second look. It is a realistic possibility.
I would also agree with the discussion regarding whether the activity can be called surfing. The woodcut engraving appears with the description that she may just be balancing on the plank, as the waves roll underneath. In any case, whether it’s surfing or balancing, this appears to be the first depiction of it on the American east coast. I have to continue to believe the NPG is describing a real event.
It must have been an attraction, because of the way they guarded the beach in those days with ropes, pilings and surf boats. The imagery in the background looks conservative, typically the public was not allowed to swim outside the ropes. As well, there were no bars or gambling in Asbury, in those days. This makes me think a surfing display would definitely have been a spectacle and worthy of an eyewitness writing it down somewhere. Also, at the time they were known as progressives…all of those temperance movements to curb drinking, violence, gambling was progressive legislation.
Asbury Park, NJ, is located 55 miles south of New York City and 60 miles away from Philadelphia, PA. Founded in 1871, Asbury Park was considered a country by the sea destination; boasted a mile and a quarter beach; is one of about fifty-four seaside cities on the Jersey Shore; and nestled about halfway along the hundred mile stretch of coastline between Cape May, NJ, and Sandy Hook, NJ. More than a half million people a year vacationed in Asbury Park during the summer season, riding the railways from the New York City Metropolitan Area.
The more I research about the history of Asbury Park, the more it seems like a prime getaway for New Yorkers looking for beach fun, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At that time on the Jersey Shore, Asbury Park would have been a more religious and teetotaling clientele than Cape May or Atlantic City. Founded in 1869, Ocean Grove, NJ, the seat of the Temperance Movement on the Jersey Shore, is the southern border of Asbury Park. A visionary Methodist clergyman, Reverend Ellwood H. Stokes, convinced his congregation to invest in three hundred acres and one mile of beach front. The community was known as the Queen of Religious Resorts, and enforced a multitude of strict rules, including no beach bathing on Sundays. This would have played into the hands of the NPG editors, who delighted in exposing hypocritical clergy and tended to scoff at religion and temperance in general. The NPG editors had great fun at the institution’s expense. In short, the NPG would have jumped at the chance to portray something extravagant or un-ladylike among the straight laced beach goers.
Fox had a residence in Red Bank, New Jersey, which is a good location for those interested in boating and a life by the sea. Fox was certainly wealthy enough to afford whatever hobby he chose, but he loved the sea, cruising in his yacht, surf bathing and picnicking. In the June 30, 1888 issue of NPG, I unearthed Yacht Richard K. Fox, an expensive private ocean going sailing vessel. Turns out he fancied sailing the Jersey Shore, the northeast and extending further to the blue chip beaches of New England and Cape Cod. Fox sponsored many competitive events--including seafaring ones--such as the trans-Atlantic rowboat “FOX” in 1896. In fact, Fox created and managed to include almost every aspect of human activity imaginable under the category of sports.
Fox wrote a book in 1883 titled, Coney Island Frolics: How New York’s Gay Girls and Jolly Boys Enjoy Themselves by the Sea. He wrote descriptions of women in the surf; various amusements of the late 19th century; discussed social changes of this era that made the water based activities possible; and served as an instructional manual or visual travel guide to the beaches of the northeast. He described beach and water based activities on Manhattan Beach, NY, and Brighton Beach, NY.
There is no question Fox and the NPG were an integral part of the development of professional women boxers, wrestlers and strongwomen of the 1880s and 1890s. Though many upper class Victorians may have viewed these athletic activities as unfeminine and even demeaning, these female athletes were seen as competent professionals and, in many ways, the equal of their male peers. It is important when looking at these women, however, to keep in mind how limited their professional options truly were. Fifteen to twenty-five dollars a week, working for Fox, no doubt proved a powerful incentive for women whose primary employment option was back-breaking factory work, sweatshops, kitchens or farm labor. Furthermore, these women knew that if they became good enough that there was a realistic chance that they could earn even greater sums by defying the traditional ideals of Victorian womanhood. As the owner, Fox had full control of the womens’ activities. They did as they were told, especially for NPG publicity.
Regarding the NPG woodcut engravings, Fox was notorious for not giving credit to his artists and writers. When reading all 26 NPG issues in volume 52, covering March to September 1888, one will notice there are virtually no bylines on NPG stories. The woodcut artists were first class--there are descriptions that state one couldn’t find better quality in the medium of woodcut engraving. SIG’s woodcut engraving represents a small sampling of the NPG’s artistic treasures. Today, William A. Mays, the current editor and proprietor of the NPG, is on a mission to properly photograph and catalog the paper images before the original copies deteriorate. An old history of American magazines lists Matt Morgan, Charles Kendrick, Philip G. Cusacha, George G. White and George E. McEvoy as having done illustrations for the late 19th century NPG. The creator of the NPG logo is Henry W. Troy. His signature appears in every issue.
There was also a world famous wood carver on the beach in Asbury Park. In the winter of 1888, Palace Amusements was founded in Asbury Park. Palace provided refined amusements and became famous for having one of America’s greatest hand-carved wooden carousels. Charles I.D. Looff was a master carver and builder of handcrafted wood carousels. Early in his career, he found work as a wood furniture carver and took wood scraps home, carving them into wooden carousel animals and more. Looff built the first carousel at Coney Island, NY, in 1876 and is credited for creating the Coney Island style of wood carving. The significance of Looff’s presence in Asbury Park in 1888 is that there was a wood carver available, on the beach, to carve a surfboard. Charles I.D. Looff and his son Arthur Looff also built the Santa Monica Pier in 1909, then the Santa Monica Looff Hippodrome was built in 1916.
Just off the
coast of New Jersey exists the Gulf Stream, a powerful, warm
and swift Atlantic Ocean current which attracted whaling ships
in search of whales.
It is well documented that American whaling soon spread from the east coast to the American colonies in the 19th century. The early whaling voyages and whaling era had a phenomenal impact on 19th century America, both east and west coasts. In the early 1800’s, Hawaii was a favorite destination of whaling vessels, and their crews were in direct contact with surfers. It is also well documented some whaling crews jumped ship once they arrived in the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands. Many, including Herman Melville, jumped ship, apparently without repercussions. Once the original crew jumped ship, many Hawaiians were hired to work aboard whaling vessels. It is well documented that Hawaiian crewman were sailing to the United States by the early 19th century. It has been said that sooner or later someone will uncover proof of surfing in the 19th century. While SIG may represent an isolated incident, it is probable Hawaiian crews were sailing in ports on the east coast. By about 1840, more passengers and greater tonnage of cargo came through New York than all other major harbors in the country combined. By 1900 New York was one of the great international ports.
The 1888 volume 52 microfilm reel of the NPG was thoroughly researched. I poured over the 26 issues many, many times. SIG was published on August 18, 1888. I located a reference to Lena Merville, Yachting on the Briny Blue, Asbury Park, dated July 7, 1888. The best lead I got was on September 2, 1888, an article titled How Actresses Swim by Lord Chumley Lewis. Lewis wrote that the article “refers back to an article a few weeks ago.” The article describes a group of women on Coney Island, NY, swimming in the surf. The article goes on to quote, “Lena Merville is as full of get up and go, plunge down and splash in the water as she is on the boards.” My interpretation is the writer is grouping “get up and go, plunge down, and splash” together and saying Ms. Merville is as full of those things in the water as she is on the boards. In 1888, plunge meant diving and on the boards meant on the stage. In the New York Times, September 12, 1889 issue it was reported the sprightly soubrette Lena Merville was appearing on stage in New York City. Lena Merville reminds me of SIG. On July 21, 1888 an article on The Duke of Marlborough’s wife, Mrs. Lilian Hamersley--the famous American beauty--had been traveling the world by sea. Also of interest: a February 18, 1888, article about Miss Ada Web, The Famous Water Queen; a September 15, 1888, article Mermaids of the Sea Shore – Disport in the surf at high toned watering places; an August 25, 1888, article on Kate Hart, The Pretty Musical Comedian – Streak ‘O Sunshine; and Miss Nettie Perkins is advertised as an Artistic Costumer and Burlesquer.
Spray Newspaper, Asbury Park ~ 1886 – 1889 (microfilm reel)
The Ocean Roller Rink keeps coming up, week in, week out. Miss Nettie Perkins “Queen of the Rollers” is one of the acts there. Though she’s roller skating, she reminds me of SIG. Also, Carrie Perkins is mentioned in NPG advertisements. The newspaper is chocked full of beach culture, beach drowning, beach clothing shops, proper attire, swimming tips, swimming races, fishing reports, schooner posts from party boats, and hotel arrivals. In an editorial, the author had made the comment about caricatures being drawn in New York papers depicting life in Asbury Park. The particular caricature was of an Asbury Park policeman drawn out of proportion.
Press Newspaper, Asbury Park ~ 1886, 1887, 1889 (microfilm
The newspaper mentions ship and hotel arrivals, and they wrote about a lot of beach scenes. Unfortunately, 1888 is missing from the Shore Press microfilm reel. There may be a paper collection at New Jersey Department of Records Management.
I am inclined to defend the philosophic burden of proof, an obligation on me to provide sufficient evidence that SIG’s three day surfing exhibition probably occurred in Asbury Park. The logical possibility, proof and indirect evidence it occurred in Asbury Park is reasonable. Because of her tie to a historical event, and the location, her story is believable. Most significantly, SIG is one of the earliest known surfing illustrations in the contiguous United States. The fact that her mythic tale is being told at all allows scholars to use her as commentary upon cultures that produce and circulate legends. It’s a tricky domain, but for most of us, her legend and her image are enough. The daring triton has not been getting the attention she deserves and I am committed to changing that. I plan to ballyhoo SIG in a way that is interesting to surfers and the general public.
Joseph “Skipper” Funderburg, Author
I would like
to acknowledge William A. Mays, current Editor and Proprietor
of the National Police Gazette, for his editing, untiring
devotion and interpretations. I am especially appreciative of
the assistance of Dan Radel, Asbury Park Press. A tip of the
hat to the respected surf historians and writers Malcolm
Gault-Williams, Geoff Cater, DeSoto Brown, Craig Lockwood,
colleagues and others, who participated in a full discussion
about the Sandwich Island Girl image discovery a couple of
years ago. I sincerely appreciate and am grateful to Daniel
Ray Norris, Slapdash Publishing, LLC, Carolina Beach, NC;
Peter Fritzler, Science Librarian, William M. Randall Library,
University of North Carolina Wilmington; Will Lucas, Surf 64
Productions, Melbourne Beach, Fl; and Cecil Lear, Eastern
Surfing Association, Belmar, NJ.
The Asbury Park Press, 3601 Highway 66, Neptune, New Jersey. The Asbury Park Press is the third-largest daily and Sunday newspaper in New Jersey. Microfilm reel archive Circa 1876 to circa 1890. Microfilm reels from circa 1886 to circa 1889 were throughly researched.
Black Rides the Surf, New York Times, June 16, 1911.The bird rode a piece of driftwood in time and again. It’s the lingo used when writing this little article that caught my eye. The author even used the phrase “rode the swell” in the article.
Davenport (1853 – 1878)
Actress Lily Davenport Vining, younger sister of Fanny Lily Gypsy Davenport, appeared on the New York stage in the late 1880’s. The two sisters first performed together in “Surf,” by Olive Logan, at Daly’s New York theatre in 1870. In 1873 Lily married Frost Thorne II. Holding a scythe, young Vining poses in costume as Ceres at the Gurney Studio in New York.
C. S. Reinhart, 1886 painting, Saints in the Surf and their pilgrimage.
Journal Newspaper, Asbury Park
New Jersey Department of Archives and Record Management, PO Box 307, Trenton, New Jersey
The New Jersey State Archives has the following microfilm reel of the [ Asbury Park ] Shore Press. Unfortunately there are no issues for 1888.
Shore Press (W)
Reel # 3391 – Dates: 23 April 1885 to 8 May 1891
[23 Apr. 1885 – 30 Dec. 1887; 4 Jan. 1889 – 8 May 1891]
The published Directory of New Jersey Newspapers, 1765 – 1970, by Wright & Stellhorn, does not list any issues of the Shore Press for 1888 30 Dec. 1887; 4 Jan. 1889 – 8 May 1891]
David H. Wycliff, published or non published hand written history of Asbury Park, 1876 – 1896. The document is no short account, Wycliff went into detail and judging his thought process, if he knew of it, he would have written it down, because something like that should have stuck out in his mind.
Belmar Beach Patrol 1887-1888
The Illustrator was a magazine of the time period. The publisher was N.Tibbals and Sons, New York
The Summer Capitol, Long Branch, New Jersey. A newspaper published during the same period.
Newspapers that used quotes from the 1888 NPG:
New York Harold
New York Sun
New York Daily News
New York World
New York Drama
Athletic Club of New York - Records
Other published or non published, journals, diaries, etc. Newspapers and magazines in other communities.
August 18, 1888
A Gay Queen Of The Waves
Subject of Illustration
A group of summer loungers on the beach at Asbury Park, N.J., were watching the extraordinary antics of a dark eyed, bronze-faced girl in the sea a few mornings ago. The object of all this interest and solicitude was beyond the line of breakers and standing on a plank that rose and fell with the swelling waves. Her bathing dress was of some dark material, fitting close to the figure, the skirts reaching scarce to her knee. Her stockings were of amber hue, adorned with what from the shore seemed to be vines and roses in colored embroidery. She wore no hat or cap. Her hair, bound across the forehead and above the ears by a silver fillet, tumbled down upon her shoulders or streamed out upon the wind in black and shining profusion. Her tunic was quite sleeveless, and one could scarcely fail to observe the perfect development and grace of her arms. As a wave larger than those which had gone before slowly lifted the plank upon its swelling surface, she poised herself daintily upon the support, her round arms stretched out and her body swaying to and fro in harmony with the motion of the waters. As the wave reached its fullest volume she suddenly, quick as thought, and with a laugh that rang full into shore, drew herself together, sprang into the air, and, her hands clasped together and clearing her a way, plunged into the rolling sea. There was a little cry from timid feminine watchers on the sand, but the smiling face was above water again while they cried, and the daring Triton was up on the plank again in another moment and waiting for a second high roller. So she has been amusing herself and interesting the mob for three mornings. She is as completely at ease in the sea as you or I on land, and the broad plank obeys her slightest touch.
Joseph “Skipper” Funderburg, Author
June 1, 2010.