Editor’s note: The text of this article, written by Sharron Cohen, is reprinted with permission from the Thacher Island Association’s April 2020 newsletter. Photos, captions and epilogue were added as a result of further research by Lighthouse Digest historian, Debra Baldwin.
Linda Josselyn was gone.
When assistant keeper Asa Josselyn ended his shift at Massachusetts’ Thacher Island Lighthouse North Tower at 4 a.m. on November 1, 1903, he found his two children asleep and a note from his wife, strongly implying that she intended to throw herself into the sea. He roused the other keepers, a search was made, but no body was found. Nonetheless, Asa went to the mainland the following day, left a “died” notice at the local paper, took a train to Boston, and returned with a woman he described as his housekeeper. The other keepers’ wives took a dim view of the new woman, and in Rockport the following day, eyebrows rose when Asa Josselyn applied for a marriage license. Few thought Linda Josselyn was dead, and even fewer considered the possibility of suicide.
Cora Trommer, the new housekeeper, was told to leave the island immediately. Though Asa gave two weeks’ notice pending transfer to a place “where the conditions will be more agreeable,” U.S. Lighthouse Board Inspector C.W. Bartlett arrived on a lighthouse tender to remove the keeper and his belongings.
Asa and Cora retreated to his mother’s house in Boston and married, a week after his wife’s disappearance, with a haste that was to be his undoing. The day after their wedding was reported, a front-page headline in The Boston Globe shouted: “SHE IS ALIVE.” Linda Josselyn had contacted a reporter, saying she was compelled to come forward to speak the truth for the sake of her baby girl’s future reputation, though she claimed she bore no vengeance or anger toward her husband. She still loved him, she said, even though he had been brutal and unkind, withheld money to clothe their children, threatened to leave her and the children to shift for themselves, and had been carrying on a relationship with Cora, which she had the love letters to prove.
It was only after he proposed bringing Cora to Thacher Island that Linda felt the need to flee, she told the Globe. She waited until just before sunset, when Asa was on duty and the other keepers were at supper with their families, rendezvoused with a man she’d asked to row her to the mainland, walked to Gloucester, and took an early-morning train to Boston, where she’d been staying with a friend ever since. It grieved her to leave her children, she insisted, weeping as she spoke of them, but it was necessary in order to make her escape. Asa, whom she claimed had never wanted them, now denied her visitation, even with the one-year-old son he had given over to the care of the City Mission Society of Boston.
Still, there were no hard feelings, Linda said, even when she and her brother-in-law, a Boston policeman, had Asa arrested on a charge of bigamy, which morphed into polygamy when Asa’s lawyer employed an interesting defense: Asa, who was supposed to wait two years after divorce from his first wife, Florence J. Burton, jumped the gun by a few months to marry Linda. That meant he wasn’t legally married to her, the defense contended, so there could be no bigamy. While witnesses, including Asa’s first wife, were testifying, Linda sat in the reception room for women and, according to the Globe, “sobbed as though her heart would break.”
Cora might have waited for Asa to serve his up-to-four-year sentence in state prison, but she couldn’t outwait Linda. Facing Linda’s refusal to grant Asa a divorce, Cora, a widow with four young children suffering from “decidedly destitute circumstances,” married someone else.
Asa eventually remarried in 1909 for a fourth time, being sure to wait the legally mandated two-year period after Linda finally divorced him. Unfortunately, his fourth wife, Maud Emma Seavey, died in 1926 at the age of 39 leaving Asa in a single state once again. In 1930, Asa lived as a widowed boarder in the East Boston home that formerly belonged to his mother.
In a truly bizarre ending to this Peyton Place tale, sometime after Maud died, Asa reconnected with his first wife, Florence J. Burton Bennett, who by then was widowed. Asa and Florence, both 69 years old, moved to Daytona Beach, Florida, where, on January 23, 1937, they remarried. Asa lived with Florence for the next 22 years in a much quieter existence than he had known in Massachusetts. Florence died in July of 1959, leaving Asa on his own for the last time. He lived another four years before finally succumbing in March of 1963 at the age of 95. It is unknown where he is buried.
This story appeared in the
Jul/Aug 2021 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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