GALVESTON — The Rosenberg Library Museum will display 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 20th century. The owner’s grandson, George Biehl Jr., donated the rods to the library in 1993.
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 streets.
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’ brothers Mike and John joined the company.
In addition to pianos and sheet music, the company sold all manners 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 trustbusting.
While his pro-business message could easily have been printed in today’s newspaper, Goggan’s report to the editor also revealed great reverence for Galveston. He said the city was destined to become “one of the greatest tourist destinations in the world.”
While mentioning auto racing on the beach front, Goggan gushed 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, Sept. 5, 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.
The group departed Galveston at 5:30 p.m., stopped to pick up a fellow group member in Texas City, then made their way to Redfish Reef, arriving at 9 p.m.
They set anchor on the shallow reef and some of the group decided to go floundering — a type of fishing that 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 because of 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 more than 6 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.
By 9:30 a.m. 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 shock waves throughout Galveston.
The story made the front page of The Galveston Daily News, and the island grieved its loss.
At a glance
WHAT: July Treasure of the Month
WHERE: Rosenberg Library Museum, 2310 Sealy St., in Galveston, historic second floor near the East Entrance
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays
CALL: 409-763-8854, Ext. 125