On December 29, 1917, Army recruits began arriving at the train station in Raritan, New Jersey. They had been dispatched by their local draft boards to the Raritan Ordinance Base, arriving with one-way tickets from places like Little Compton, Rhode Island and Albany, New York, and from as far away as Minnesota and Michigan. Approximately 4000 draft boards were ordered to send qualified recruits to this location.
|New York Times headline, 30 December 1917|
The first few recruits to arrive inquired of the townsfolk as to the location of the base. "No base here", was the reply. In fact, there was no military installation of any kind in the Boro of Raritan. Upon examination of the recruits official orders, the locals began to doubt themselves. Maybe there was a base here after all - certainly the generals in Washington couldn't be mistaken, after all, there's a war on!
Soldiers were shown around the town, but the base could not be found. With night approaching, the local Knights of Columbus and Elks opened their clubs to the men, and private citizens offered their homes.
Raritan officials contacted New Jersey's highest ranking army officer, Adjt. General Frederick Gilkinson. General Gilkinson called Washington and was assured by General Crozier that there was indeed an ordinance base in Raritan, and that they should keep looking. After Raritan officials balked, Gen. Gilkinson sent his staff Lieutenant H.L. Leonard up from Trenton to assess the situation.
Meanwhile, the newspapers were all over the story. They had contacted General Crozier, who still insisted the base was in Raritan. All this time, soldiers continued to arrive!
By the end of the second day, the puzzle was beginning to come together. It seems that the postmaster in Raritan had been receiving letters for the last month addressed to the Raritan Ordinance Base, Raritan, N.J. He had sent all of the letters back to Washington as "misdirected". A Mr. Latham of the Newark Spring Mattress Company revealed that he had recently fulfilled an order for 1000 mattresses for the Raritan Base, and had shipped them to Metuchen.
General Crozier finally realized that the Raritan Ordinance base was not in Raritan at all, but was on a 2000 acre parcel along the Raritan River in Metuchen. What was worse was the base was still under construction and was nowhere near being completed!
Crozier blamed the mistake on a subordinate, but he still had to answer to a congressional committee on the matter, and in particular to Senator Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, whose home was in Raritan:
"While we are a hospitable people and welcome strangers, we have been a little embarrassed at not being able to provide the military base these misguided soldiers expected to find. My fellow townsmen have arranged to entertain the soldiers who are already there, but if more are coming they'd like to know about it in advance!"