A Barren Island Mystery: An Amateur Photographer's Peril--Was it An Attempt at Murder?

The New York Times

Published: July 29, 1886

Ex-Alderman Nicholas R. O’Connor, of this city, is interested in many enterprises, chief among which is a gaslight company which illuminates the greater part of New Jersey. Besides being a member of the Union Club, Secretary of a lawn tennis society, and the leader of the german in Harlem, he is an amateur photographer, second only in skill to the son of Mr. Arnold, of Arnold, Constable & Co. The ex-Alderman last year had made for him at great expense a gorgeous pair of knickerbockers, or knee breeches. McCarthy, the tailor, told him that with the upper part of his lower limbs incased in these knickerbockers he would create a flutter among the gentler sex at the seaside. The ex-Alderman observed that he was married, and the subject was dropped. He went to Fire Island for a few days’ recreation, and, while promenading on the beach, was attacked by a party of fisherman who afterward declared that they thought they had clubbed the life out of a new kind of sea serpent. When the ex-Alderman recovered from his injuries he swore a mighty oath that he would never again wear the knickerbockers, and he gave them to his wife, telling her to sell them to the old clo’ man.

A few weeks ago the ex-Alderman was seized with the amateur photography mania, and purchased an expensive camera and other apparatus. He rushed out to Pike County, Penn., and took views of all the wild scenery in that picturesque country. He photographed farmers, their wives and children, and returned to this city rejoicing. He presented the photographs to his neighbors, and they are asking themselves the question, “What did we ever do to Nick O’Connor?”

On Friday evening, the regular monthly meeting of the Bacon and Cabbage Club was held in its clubroome in Park-place, and Major P.M. Haverty presided. After the pig’s head and bacon and cabbage had disappeared, and the only beverage—hot whiskey—allowed to be served in the clubroome had been liberally passed around, ex-Alderman O’Connor opened a large trunk and produced his camera, saying that he would take views of the members of the club in various groups by electric light. The temperature of the room was about 140°, but no member was allowed to put ice in the hot whiskey, and it is against the rules of the club for any member to use a fan or other cooling machine. The ex-Alderman took several very satisfactory views, and the club members voted that copies should be sent to the various charitable institutions. The members learned with deep regret that the ex-alderman intended to spend the remainder of the season at Fire Island catching instantaneous views of passing steamers. McCarthy, the tailor, persuaded him to again wear knickerbockers, and the ex-Alderman consented. All of Tuesday night a force of tailors were at work making the knickerbockers, and early yesterday morning they were sent to the ex-Alderman.

Last evening the ex-Alderman appeared at his office in Park-place. He walked lame and told a strange story. He said that yesterday morning, upon the invitation of a relative of his old friend, Police Justice Andrew Jackson White, he went to Barren Island. He had heard of Barren Island before, but had never visited it. He had an idea that it was a charming and picturesque spot if its name meant anything. He wore his knickerbockers and carried his photographic apparatus with him; also a special permit from the President of the Bacon and Cabbage Club to carry a fan. When he neared the island he was certain that he was not approaching a bed of roses. He saw some buildings which looked like factories of some kind, and when he landed he wished he was at his home in Harlem. He determined, however, not to lose the opportunity to gather some views and aimed his camera at a building which he was told was Justice White’s Summer residence. He was hard at work when, he says, a shot was fired at him. He shrieked, “Murder!” “Police!” at the top of his voice and aroused the natives. Search was made for the would-be murderer, but he was not discovered. Blood trickled from a spot on the calf of the ex-Alderman’s left leg. The surgeons of the Barren Island Hospital examined the wound and gave it as their opinion that it was the work of a mosquito. They actually laughed over it. Ex-Alderman O’Connor was highly indignant. He said that he not only heard the shot, but saw a man with a gun, and felt the wound in his left leg all at the same time. He was certain that an attempt to murder him had been made. His wound was dressed last night by Tailor McCarthy, who was a surgeon in the army, and the ex-Alderman was conveyed to his home in a carriage. He will go to Fire Island as soon as he recovers from his injuries. He is thankful that he escaped from Barren Island with his camera, and promises to do great work at Fire Island.

This article was presented as a theatrical reading by actor Mark Emerson Smith at the Brooklyn gallery Proteus Gowanus’s show Transport III with Underwater New York on July 8, 2010.