Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Eyes of St. Joseph's - Part One

Yesterday as I participated in Scanfest, I decided to scan some of my mother's childhood letters to her grandmother, Therese Austin McGinnis. I came across a sweet letter dated April 4, 1953 - just before Easter - in which Mom describes a trip up to Grahamsville where my great-grandparents had a farm. In her writing she sounded excited since she would be spending her entire Easter vacation with her grandparents away from the noise and congestion of Jersey City, New Jersey.

Also enclosed in the envelope were several newspaper clippings about a phenomenon known as "The Eyes of St. Joseph's."  I had heard stories as a child about the mysterious lights which would occasionally appear at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church located on Pavonia and Baldwin Avenues in Jersey City.  The term "eyes" is used since St. Joseph's had a school for the blind as part of its educational program.

My mother's family belonged to the parish at St. Joseph's, worshiped there and many of the children received the sacraments of Baptism, First Holy Communion and Confirmation there as well.

Below is a full transcription of the news clippings.  I will be doing some research and talking with my aunts and uncles to see what they remember about this phenomenon.

Sexton’s Death Brings Throng

Watchers Still Baffled By Church Mystery Lights

Crowds watching the nightly mystery lights in the belfry of St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, Jersey City, for the past three weeks increased last night after the body of the church sexton was found in a seat of the choir loft.

Matthew Guarino, 64, of 385 2nd St., had said Thursday morning he was going up to the belfry to investigate the strange lights that have been seen glowing in the church bell tower since Good Friday.

Two other church workers Paul DeGiacomo, 17, of 379 3rd St., a grandson of the late Mr. Guarino, and Patrick Haltin of 237 Baldwin Ave. climbed to the belfry and after a search found him dead. A Medical Center doctor said death was caused by a heart attack.

Throngs Watch Light

Hundred assembled at various points around the church area last night to watch the lights appear in the belfry. The best vantage point was in Henry Street a half-block west of the Baldwin Avenue bridge over the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks.

The throngs stood for hours watching the lights that were plainly visible. Many carried binoculars and a few had telescopes. It was evident that the lights were not being shined on the bell tower from any outside source.

Glow and Fade

No rays, that would immediately be discernible if a spot light was being used, were visible at all. The lights were seen emanating from the inside of the belfry somewhere illuminating two round windows at the base of the steeple.

The lights were noticed glowing brightly for a brief period and then fading away again, almost disappearing, only to reappear and glow steadily for ten to 20-minute intervals.

The light would at times become almost white. Then it would seem to change color and glow with an amber shade that would turn almost to a pink and then back again to a dull yellow.

Offers Theory

Tom Richmond, 20, of 12 Lott St., a member of St. Joseph’s Parish, has his answer to the mystery. He said: “We focused on an automobile spotlight on the opposite end of the steeple from where the light is seen, the traffic light side, and we found that it completely drowned out the mysterious flow. We focused the spotlight on the other side and the glow remained.

“My theory is that the glow is produced by the traffic lights on the northeast corner of Pavonia and Baldwin avenues. We distinctly saw the glow change from red to amber to green as the traffic light changed to those colors.”

No Traffic Light Then

But veteran police officers said they don’t remember that there was a traffic light at that corner some 30 years ago, when the mystery lights were previously seen.

The police, incidentally, are not planning any further investigation of the mystery lights, they said today. A 13 year old delivery boy for The Jersey Journal, Phillip Calabrese of 42 Court House Pl., said he has seen the lights not only almost every night for the past several weeks, but as late in the morning as 9 o’clock when they were plainly visible.

A reporter who watched the lights last night was at the church almost 30 years ago when thousands stood in the street nightly watching the strange lights appear and disappear then.

Priests of the parish insist the lights can be caused only from some natural source but are unable to explain just what causes them to appear.

Many and varied reasons for the lights were overheard being advanced by superstitious persons in the crowd last night.

Police officials denied last night that any policemen went into the church belfry. Thursday night was the last night. It was reported that police had been searching the belfry for Guarino and had been unable to find him until workers saw him at 11:30 a.m. yesterday.

Earlier Incidents

Crowds of curious have gathered at many points in the county at various times to observe unexplained occurrences. At one time almost three decades ago large foundation stones of the mausoleum on the Hudson Boulevard in North Bergen bore shadowy outlines evidently the result of rain and weather that looked like the outlines of shapes that seemed like the face of Christ, the Blessed Virgin and other holy persons.
Meanwhile, funeral arrangements were completed for Mr. Guarino. His funeral will be held Tuesday from the Introcaso-Angelo Funeral Home, 143 Brunswick St., with requiem at 10 a.m. in St. Joseph’s Church.

. . . Boulevard. The heaviest concentration of spectators was the Baldwin Avenue bridge and Henry Street.
Police kept the crowds away from the vantage area at the end of Henry Street near the bridge because residents there had complained of the noise and of children swarming over the roofs of the garages and other buildings.

Pastor Leaves Church

The pastor, the Rev. Francis J. Sexton, who has been ill, left the rectory at 10:30 p.m. and was escorted to a private car by Police Capt. Patrick Sheehy. The noise and succession of telephone calls about the lights have seriously interfered with the rest of all the residents of the rectory. His destination was not revealed.
This morning, it was reported at the rectory, Father Sexton was back at church, saying the 8 a.m. mass.
Earlier, the pastor had discounted any possibility of the supernatural in the belfry mystery.

“It’s ridiculous. There is no miracle here and people should not look for one,” Father Sexton said. “There is absolutely nothing to this thing of lights. Maybe some reflection from a stained glass window or some other natural source Just a bugaboo. Nothing for anybody to get excited about at all.”

The ceiling of the tower had been painted a deep green about a year ago, police pointed out, explaining that the glossy surface may have served as backboards for the light rays.

Seen Before

Actually, according to some of the residents on Henry Street, these reflections are nothing new.

“I saw them three years ago,” one insisted. “Some of the older people in the neighborhood have been seeing lights for years. It’s old stuff to us.”

Residents on Baldwin, Pavonia and Magnolia Avenues and Henry Street pointed out that the “dimming of the lights” means the return of peace and quiet for them.

Holes In Garage

“Look at the holes in my garage,” a coal dealer declared indignantly. “Not only do these people keep me up all night with their noise, but they have been climbing all over the garage roofs in the neighborhood and damaging them.”

It has likewise been hectic for the priests at St. Joseph’s. The phone at the rectory had been ringing during the early morning hours of the morning ever since the lights were first “discovered” by children Thursday night.

Tower Bare

The tower itself is practically bare, except for the bell in the belfry and an assortment of pigeons’ nests. There are no electric lights in the tower. The only electricity in that part of the church is the connection to the bell, which is electrically operated.

A few children have declared that they have seen the slights during the daytime but most of the observers have watched the reflections after dark. The potpourri of colored lights from the nearby Journal Square section has been advanced as one of the reasons for the reported change in color in the beams.

According to most observers, the lights have emanated from two arcs on the south side of the tower, located between the belfry and the steeple.

View Needed

Viewers have not been able to see the reflections unless they were at least a half-block from the steeple.
An aide to Father Sexton pointed out that none of the priests now at St. Josephs have been in the belfry in at least five years. Aside from the current visits of the police, painters were the last ones to have been in that part of the church, which is kept locked, the aide said.

Photos: currently the source of the images is unknown despite an extensive search online. I think the clippings are from The Jersey Journal or another local newspaper around April 1953. Until I can conclusively located proper copyright information for attribution, I will leave the items posted as is and update attribution when more information becomes available.

© 2009, copyright Thomas MacEntee

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was a teen living at 230 Baldwin Ave during the "Eye's"
From the very beginning to the Pagent interview of my mother. I spent childhood in Grahmsville. Remember
Krums store?