21 January 2009

The Somnambulist

In the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, February 27, 1907, as night watchman Frederick Connors completed his rounds at the snow-covered Duke's Park - the sprawling Hillsborough Township estate of tobacco tycoon James B. Duke - something didn't seem right. 

Statuary in Duke's Park. Postcard circa 1915.
There should have been four marble statues surrounding the central figure of The Three Graces, but Connors counted five. Under the light of the nearly full moon, he approached and counted again. It was then that he made an astonishing discovery.

Looking back towards the Nevius Street Bridge
 from the Raritan Gate Entrance at Duke's Park Postcard circa 1906.

The fifth figure was his Raritan neighbor, the mason William Harding, nearly naked, frozen in the snow with arms outstretched. The newspapers reported Harding to be 65 years old, but he was actually closer to 75. He was awake and gave a shriek when Connors took hold of him but was unable to speak. It was then that Connors realized the seriousness of the situation. Harding's arms were frozen stiff, and his feet were frozen to the ground.

The fountain outside the Raritan Gate at Duke's Park,
where the road bends northward towards the Nevius Street Bridge. 

Connors called for assistance, and with some difficulty, they were able to carry Harding back over the Nevius Street Bridge to the boiler room of the powerhouse, where Harding was able to thaw out and tell them what happened. 

1 March 1907, New Brunswick Daily Times

Since the death of his wife just three months previous, Harding had not been sleeping well, and in fact, had begun sleepwalking. Late on the night of February 26th, he walked out of his home on Doughty Street wearing just his drawers - no shoes or socks - crossed the bridge, down the long avenue to the Duke's Park Raritan Gate, past the elaborate fountain with the bronze statues, and into the park - a distance of about one mile. By the time he woke up, he was frozen to the spot where he stood.

23 March 1907 Courier News

The New Brunswick Daily Times reported that Harding's feet and arms were so badly frostbitten that they would probably have to be amputated. In any event, Harding never really recovered from his nighttime visit to the park and passed away at his home in Raritan on March 21, 1907.

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