Metuchen Edison History Features
In Old Metuchen
David Trumbull Marshall
Published by The Case Publishing Co., Flushing NY 1930
(Second Edition)- (c) 1930
How Far Back Can You Remember?
How far back can you remember?
Some definite incident, the date of which can be substantiated?
It would seem that none of us can remember back much before we were three years old.
So much of one's so-called "remembering" is of some story or incident which has been told by one's elders so many times that it evidently forms a part of one's "memories of childhood," when as a matter of fact one has no real remembrance of the event.
I was born November 27, 1865, so I was about one month old on January 1, 1866.
The farthest back historical event that I can remember was the passing of a torchlight procession in front of our house at Metuchen, just before the first election of General Grant as President. Grant was elected in November, 1868, so I was about three years old at that time.
I remember the burning of Chicago, October 9, 1871. I was then six years old. I remember when Charley Ross was kidnapped but I have been unable to find the date when that took place.
My sister was born at Valparaiso, Chile, September 23, 1855.
She left Chile in 1858, before she was four years old. She remembers distinctly being drawn up the side of the sailing ship in a chair. The ship had to anchor away from the shore and my sister and my mother went out to the ship in a rowboat.
I remember many, many incidents in my life which occurred before the Lehigh Valley Railroad went through Metuchen and the company bought our house because it was on their right-of-way. That was in 1873.
I remember when I was four years old that my little brother, one year younger, chopped his doll to pieces on the chopping block because a little boy had teased him for playing with dolls.
Thirty-five years afterward that my son, Trumbull, four years old, asked the same boy who had teased my little brother, to take charge of his little knit doll because the children had teased him for playing with a doll.
For years this child had refused to go to bed or to go to sleep without his "Dana," the knit doll in question. I remember well the Grant-Greeley campaign of 1872, being then about seven. Horace Greeley was noted for wearing a white silk hat and he had a country estate at Chappaqua, N.Y. The Grant Republicans sang a campaign song which ran:
Chap - Chap - Chap,
Qua - Ka - Qua,
An old white hat,
And a man of straw.
Rotten Rebels thick and thin,
Oh what a fix our country's in.
Sir Harry Lauder sings feelingly of "The Sangs Me Mither Used to Sing" to him when he was in his cradle.
Sir Harry, or any other child, does not remember the songs his mother sang to him while in his cradle. He may have learned the songs since from hearing his mother sing them to his younger brothers.
My recollections of the digging of the Lehigh Valley Railroad cut through Metuchen are very vivid. An Irish contractor by the name of Hickey had the contract for making the cut in the section near our house.
My father had built a new house which was not yet finished before we were compelled to vacate the old house.
I remember that Mr. Hickey brought a gang of Italians to the vacant house next us. The men lay down to sleep on the basement kitchen floor with a low board shelf built for a head rest.
The next evening a similar gang took possession of our large kitchen and slept on the floor. I re-member my father moving the heavy dining room table against the door of the kitchen.
The next day we moved and the whole family of nine had to camp in the attic of the new house while the house below was being finished.
The railroad cut at Metuchen was made through red shale, a kind of soft, red, fine-grained rock which one could cut with a knife. When this rock is exposed to the air it crumbles and makes the characteristic red Jersey mud about which the New Yorkers are so fond of joshing the Jerseyites.
A good deal of nitro-glycerine was used in blasting the rock. One Italian laborer attempted to cut off the top of one of the discarded cans and had his leg blown off. Ten years after, a heap of shale from the cut was being removed for filling purposes, a number of old nitro-glycerine cans were uncovered and thrown into a vacant lot which was overgrown with briers and weeds.
One afternoon the town was shaken by a tremendous explosion.
Some one had set fire to the weeds in this lot and some remaining nitro-glycerine in the discarded cans exploded. No one was hurt. Nitro-glycerine is not easily soluble in water.
Our old house was occupied for a year or more by a large gang of Italian laborers. My mother was much gratified when the old house caught fire on the roof from sparks from the Pennsylvania Railroad and burned to the ground. We were tired of having the disreputable old house referred to as "Marshall's 0Id House."
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Lasted updated 5/13/99 by Jim Halpin.