The Ocean County Compendium of  History
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The Mystery of the Red-Headed Sailor (1914)


On May 1, 1914, a road crew grading Sheridan Avenue in Seaside Heights made a grisly discovery.  As they raked out the dirt, laborer, Watson Mathis, son of Seaside Park mayor, Charles W. Mathis, saw what looked like a pile of red hair, and upon further investigation found a skull underneath the titian locks.  Attached to the cranium was a complete skeleton standing straight up under the sandy surface of the road.


The story was first related in the New Jersey Courier, which reported that shoes and bits of its clothing were still evident on the cadaver, but had “crumbled when exposed to the air, all but the soles.”[1]  The stranger’s death perplexed the observers, who could “form no opinion as to who the man may have been or how he got there,”[2] but agreed that considering the vertical position of the body, the victim must have “walked into a bank of quicksand after a storm and had been unable to get out.”[3]

The story ended there with no further information as to what happened to the body until 1963, when an expanded version was published in C. Byron Wortman’s book, “The First Fifty: A Biographical History of Seaside Heights, New Jersey," in an interview with Seaside Heights Borough superintendent, Vernon G. Casler.

According to Casler, he was working as a laborer the day the skeleton was uncovered and witnessed the event.  The then-fourteen-year-old recounted seeing the bones, bleached white by time.  He also saw remnants of the man’s clothing, which looked like “sailor’s garb,”[4] and some “rusted metal that appeared to resemble a belt buckle of the type pirates were always pictured as wearing.”[5]


Casler also solved the mystery of what was done with the remains after the county coroner agreed that there was no foul play involved, and that the bones were likely that of an ancient sailor whose untimely death came when a sinkhole formed under his feet, swallowing him down into the earth.  In an unusual move, a man named Clarence Anthony, a Seaside Heights fireman at the time,[6] decided to bury the bones in the area of the fireplace under the foundation of a new house he was building nearby.[7]  According to Casler, the house no longer existed, but as far as he knew, the property had not been disturbed, and “the red-haired pirate [was] still in his resting place, where he was deposited 50 years ago.”[8]

Of course nearly another fifty years have passed since Mr. Casler told his tale, so it is not likely that the foundation of the Anthony house still remains on the property, but a search for the grave of the unfortunate sailor is currently being conducted.  Should his remains be found, he will be given a proper burial.


[1] William Fischer, “Skeleton Found in Beach Sand at Seaside Heights,” New Jersey Courier, May 8, 1914, p. 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] C. Byron Wortman, The First Fifty: A Biographical History of Seaside Heights, New Jersey (Unknown: 1963),

   p. 56.

[5] Ibid.

[6] This fact according to the records of Seaside Heights historian, Christopher Vaz in a phone interview on July 11,

   2011.

[7]  C. Byron Wortman, The First Fifty: A Biographical History of Seaside Heights, New Jersey (Unknown: 1963),

   p. 56.

[8] Ibid.

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