Seventy-five years ago a swamp of dismal aspect existed
on the southern boundary of the village of Brentwood, near
Candlewood Road and not far from the grounds of the present Academy of St. Joseph. It was flooded in the rainy season and there was a thick growth of trees, shrubbery, and vines. It was a gloomy place, seldom frequented.
It was said to harbor foxes and other wild animals and to abound in snakes. Strange sounds came from the depth of the
swamp at night. Children were warned to stay away from the place. The swamp was supposed to be uninhabited and yet residents of the district saw, or imagined they saw, smoke ascending from the interior at times. At first no one took the trouble to investigate this phenomenon.
Then suddenly the swamp came into public notice through the discovery of the strange operations of a cave man named James Richardson. One day in the 1890's several adventurous boys penetrated deep into the swamp and discovered smoke coming from a stovepipe embedded in a hollow stump. There was no house in sight nor an opening visible in the ground.
The boys reported their discovery in the village and the police made an investigation, thinking that perhaps they were on the track of a whiskey still. The officers went to the spot, found the smoking stovepipe and removed it from the hollow stump. T hey looked through the opening into a cave. They called down the vent but no answer came back. Finally they heard a slight noise in the cave.
One of the men standing near the opening imagined he could detect the odor of food cooking. A careful search by the officers finally revealed a concealed entrance into the cave. They removed the camouflage and descended steps into the chamber. There in the dim light they discovered a man, bearded and strangely dressed. He was recognized by one of the officers as James Richardson, an eccentric resident of the village.
The cavern was found to be furnished as living quarters and was stocked with a large supply of food. This included the
whole carcass of a cow and dozens of chickens, all dressed and salted down for future use. In addition, there were sacks of flour, bacon, canned milk and an abundance of various other provisions.
Inside the cave, a chain had been firmly attached to a wall. The police inquired of its intended use. "That is for my wife," Richardson finally answered. Then the whole story came out. Richardson, an uneducated man and a former cowboy in the West, had drifted into Brentwood where he married Annie Walker, member of a well-to-do family. The parents of the girl regarded the husband as inferior and separated the couple.
Richardson then vowed revenge and planned to capture his wife and confine her in the cave. He spent many months in the secret work of preparing the cave as a prison for his wife. His plans were completed and he was ready to capture his wife and take her to the secluded swamp cavern when the investigation of the police halted all of his well-laid plans.
While the police were investigating the case, the cave man disappeared, never to be seen again. Mrs. Richardson obtained a divorce, married a druggist and lived happily in Smithtown for many years.
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