Rosenberg Library Remembers Trustee John Goggan

 Rosenberg Library Remembers Trustee John Goggan
A group of men show off their catch in this early 20th century photograph (image courtesy of Rosenberg Library).

The Rosenberg Library Museum displayed two fishing rods that belonged to John Goggan as the July Treasure of the Month. The wooden surf and deep water fishing rods feature nickel fittings and eye rings and date from the early twentieth century. The owner’s grandson George Biehl Jr., donated the rods to the library in 1993.

 Rosenberg Library Remembers Trustee John Goggan
Thomas Goggan & Brothers published many volumes of sheet music. This cover depicts the great fire of 1885 that destroyed over 500 buildings and homes in Galveston (image courtesy of Rosenberg Library).

The Goggan family story, while filled with personal tragedies, is a testament to the American dream. Thomas Goggan immigrated to America from Ireland in 1866 and opened Galveston’s first music store at the corner of Market and 22nd Street. By the early 1880s, the firm established itself as one of the largest and best-known piano stores in Texas with branches in Galveston, Houston, Waco, Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio. It cleverly marketed itself by publishing and sending out the newest sheet music to newspapers that in turn announced the titles and thanked the company for its patronage with free publicity. In 1883 the firm had formally changed its name to Thomas Goggan and Brothers when Thomas’s brothers Mike and John joined the company. In addition to pianos and sheet music, the company sold all manner of string and wind instruments. After Thomas died in 1903 John took over as President.

So in 1908 John Goggan was a busy man. Between running a successful business, caring for a wife and two girls, being a Trustee at the Rosenberg Library, a member of the Knights of Columbus, and a member of the Elks club it is surprising he could find time to do anything else. But in August of that year, after returning to the island from a New York business trip, Goggan contacted the Galveston Daily News to extol Texas’ laissez-faire approach to trust-busting. While his pro-business message could easily have been printed in today’s newspaper, Goggan’s report to the editor also reveals great reverence for Galveston. He stated that the city was destined to become ‘one of the greatest tourist destinations in the world.’ While mentioning auto racing on the beach front Goggan gushes about Galveston’s fishing. He stated that tarpon were so abundant in the bay that they bothered fishermen who sought other species (though today they are not nearly as common). His report was likely an outlet for his desire to go out fishing, as much as it was a stance on antitrust laws or his vision for Galveston’s future.

It should be no surprise then that two weeks later on Saturday September 5th Goggan and other members of a local club set out on a charter boat called the Mayflower for a Labor Day weekend of fishing at Redfish Reef. The men’s group, also known as Camp Hughes, formed in 1898 to go camping and fishing together. They left that day hoping to enjoy each other’s company, but would soon find themselves fighting for survival.

 Rosenberg Library Remembers Trustee John Goggan
This invoice from Thomas Goggan & Brothers dates to 1878. Rosenberg Library Trustee John Goggan served as President of the music firm from 1903 until his tragic death in a fishing accident in 1908 (imgae courtesy of Rosenberg Library).

The group departed Galveston at 5:30 in the evening, stopped to pick up a fellow group member in Texas City, then made their way to Redfish Reef arriving at 9 o’clock. They set anchor on the shallow reef and some of the group decided to go floundering (a type of fishing involved wearing waders while using a lantern to spot the fish and a ‘gig’ to spear the fish). About an hour later some members of the group who stayed behind noticed foreboding clouds off to the northeast. Soon after, a violent squall was on them.

Some of the group stayed on the small island with their tent but Goggan and three others took a heavily loaded skiff to go back to the Mayflower. A man named Ben Philips was pulling the skiff and the group made no use of oars due to the severe conditions. The rain increased making visibility very limited. John Lubben, another man on the skiff, jumped overboard to help Philips tow the group to safety; he said the water was about waist deep when he exited but soon walked into a hole that was over six feet deep losing his connection to the boat. Another skiff manned by John Focke met Lubben as he swam to shore. After catching his breath Lubben told Focke that the remainder of the group was in trouble. Philips was found a short time later clinging onto the boat and another man managed to hang onto an oar. Thirty minutes later Goggan’s lifeless body was found. Survivors speculated that he stepped into a hole and was unable to get out of his waders. The group searched in vain to find another missing man named John Moore.

 Rosenberg Library Remembers Trustee John Goggan
Member of the fraternal group Camp Hughes show off their camp site near Clear Lake in this undated photo (image courtesy of Rosenberg Library).

By 9:30 Sunday some of the group had returned to Galveston with the grim news. Later that day crews found the body of Moore. He was 36. The tragic loss of these two men sent shockwaves throughout Galveston. The story made the front page of the Galveston Daily News, and the island grieved its loss.

Past Treasures