Drawing largely on recollections from people long dead, my husband lived in Metuchen as a boy, and was given a book called "Boyhood Days in Old Metuchen". The book is a collaboration of small town stories recorded before they faded away by Dr. David Trumbull Marshall, published in 1930, then reprinted in 1977 for The Metuchen Regional Historical Society. The author states that Metuchen was possibly "the name of an Indian chief, others claim that it is derived from an Indian name meaning 'rolling hills.'" His own belief was that "the name is a corruption of the two words mud-touchen, the word touch in this case denoting something that sticks to one as does a friend who wishes to 'touch' one up for the loan of a five-dollar bill. When I was a boy there wasn't a paved road in Metuchen and few paved sidewalks. The sticky red mud was everywhere. What is now the Lincoln Highway was in the spring just a quagmire of liquid red mud. Later on when this mud became tough and sticky I have no doubt that strangers seeing the red shoes and the mud-be-smeared clothes of the inhabitants of the region, dubbed them 'Mud-touchen-ites,' which appellation stuck like the mud to them, and to the region from whence they came."
The short chapters are interspersed with black and white photographs, the titles themselves tell a story:
How Far Back Can You Remember? ("DANA", THE DOLL WHICH A CHILD TOOK TO BED WITH HIM UNTIL HE WAS NINE YEARS OLD.)
The Night Before Christmas (RUTH FELLOWS MARSHALL, AGED 91. DIED 1865, AGED 99 YEARS AND 8 MONTHS, GREAT-GRANDMOTHER OF THE AUTHOR.)
Cornelus. "Cornelus was an old colored man who had worked for Doctor Hunt, our family physician...If you have ever seen a Jerseyite coming up from the Ferry at Desbrosses Street or Courtlandt Street in New York, I don't need to tell you what is the color of Jersey mud. It is the color of a red brick."
The Taits. The Taits were from Scotland, and despite having wealth insisted that their three sons go barefoot, like the poor boys in Metuchen, to strengthen their feet. Only one son is named, Thorfin Tait. The Tait boys were also expected to swim at the Mill Pond at Bonhamtown every day.
Fishing. Mostly this short chapter is about a few small fish, devout Methodists, and a prank played at a boarding house. "Some of the boys told the landlady that the most graceless scamp in the whole lot was a divinity student. The next meal the landlady requested him to say grace. He told me that to save his life the only thing he could think of was the shortest verse in the bible, 'Jesus wept.' That he did say and saved the day."
Country Proper Place for Children. "The average child and the average adult of the country village has no more idea how the city child lives than he has how the Man in the Moon lives. Say what you will about the advantages of the city, and they are many, the only proper place for a growing child is in the fields and the woods."
Noah Mundy. Before the Civil War, Noah Mundy bought an old colored woman for five dollars. When she was told that the President of the United States had freed the slaves, she declared she never been a slave, was unimpressed by the news and walked to the grocery store, to get herself a package of tobacco, telling the grocer, "charge it to Jesus Christ."
Civil War Veterans.
The Whale. "Sometime around 1875 a whale became stranded on the mud somewhere on the Raritan River. After the eels and catfish and pollywogs and other carrion-o-nivorous denizens...had denuded the bones of the whale of adhering flesh, the bones were properly dried and later articulated and hung in the Museum of Natural History at Rutgers College...A short time before 1883 some irreverent college boys had taken the human skeleton from its case and introduced it, like Jonah, into the barrel-like belly of the whale."
Gravel Railroad. (WOOD-BURNING LOCOMOTIVE USED ON PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD, 1872.)
Moving the Railroad Station.
Pet Squirrels. (EBONEZER AND MELAGCHITES, THE CATS, ON THE INSIDE OF THE WINDOW, AND SUSIE, THE SQUIRREL, ON THE OUTSIDE.)
From general stores to cemeteries, young crows, grist mills and clay pits, barred owls, burning barns and houses, muskrats and snakes, these stories describe a childhood that reminds me of my own in some ways. As a young man, the author worked for Thomas Edison, which is described in several chapters and shown in photographs. He attended Yale University, became a Captain in the Medical Corps of the U.S. Army in 1918, then returned home and wrote this book. Perhaps my favorite comment was from a chapter titled, The Metuchen Literary Society, in which the author describes another book that contains minutes and names: "Many of the members are now dead, and many, what is perhaps worse, have been married."