30 April 2008

Phantom Post

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!

Raritan Station Circa 1906

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.

30 December 1917, New York Tribune

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.

Somerset Street Raritan Circa 1905

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!

31 December 1917 Asbury Park Press
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.

31 December 1917 Courier News

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!

Camp Raritan, Bonhamtown, NJ circa 1918

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!"


  1. Okay, I give up. I can't find the community blogs - Hillsborough, Bridgewater, Plainfield, Flemington.

    If I ramp it up and you relax maybe we can cover Hillsborough with Val as our guest blogger.

    You probably have developed enough of a following to pull it off.

  2. Huh? Do fill me in. Is the plug pulled on this blog now?

  3. Still searching - couldn't find a link to your blog via the C-N site. Did they give you the courtesy of letting you know they were in effect "disconnecting you" after about a year of your providing material to them on-line FOR FREE? If they didn't contact you, it reflects very poorly on them. And it doesn't surprise me.

    Hughes has an idea there, if I understand it correctly - the three of us share a blog that covers Hillsborough? Kind of "Three Points of View" thing? That would be interesting, but I don't think my interest / energy level / motivation is very high these days. But it's something to think about, if you did mean that.

  4. Val - you're jumping to conclusions. Just wait and see what happens. Did you read about the massive layoffs at the Courier News and Home News Tribune? 166 people taking early retirement. That's a lot of people.

    I have been in constant contact with the Courier News. I haven't been disconnected - this is just a transition period. The concerns I wrote about in my comments on the other thread still apply.

    To be more specific - there is not just ONE person at the Courier News who I would call my "contact". There are different editors with different agendas.

    Let's just wait and see what happens.