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The Oyster Craze in Flemington
** September 2, 2021
If you had told me I would end up writing 20 pages of Flemington history based on that tiny, nondescript building used by the Higgins News Agency, I would have found it hard to believe. But that is just what has happened, which goes to show, there is a load of history hiding behind the most ordinary places.
When I started working on the story, I got this great idea, to write the history of this place by starting with the 1930s and working backwards, the way one discovers the history when researching, but I kept running into narrative problems. So, I tried it the other way, and discovered a fascinating aspect of Flemington life–the enthusiastic consumption of oysters!
Oysters Every Style (https://goodspeedhistories.com/oysters-every-style/)
This piece is much longer than my usual ones, but I was determined to tell the whole story in one article. Of course, there are still some unanswered questions–perhaps that’s what makes history so addictive. No doubt a hard-headed editor would have cut out a lot of material, but it would have had to be an editor who wasn’t interested in Flemington history. Still, if any of you feel that it is just too long a read, please let me know.
It is distressing to read about people poisoning themselves in the belief that the poison will do them good. But that is what happens when people take Ivermectin to treat the Covid virus. In the 19th century, people accidentally poisoned themselves surprisingly often. Here are two hair-raising examples, both involving people connected with the oyster restaurant:
Almost Poisoned. On Tuesday last, John P. Rittenhouse of Flemington came near dying. He had recently relinquished hotel keeping, and had a quantity of liquor which he wished to dispose of. One day he took a person to test the liquor, with a view to purchase. He offered a drink to his companion, who politely told him to taste it first, which he did. He immediately discovered that it was “bed bug Poison”. A physician was immediately summoned, who succeeded in relieving Mr. Rittenhouse of the deadly poison before any serious consequences resulted. [Hunterdon Republican, May 24, 1867.]
On Saturday morning last, Mrs. Lewis F. Reinert, daughter of Nathaniel G. Smith of Flemington, was suffering from a cold and in arising, took a bottle which she supposed contained a cough mixture and swallowed a portion before she discovered that she had the wrong bottle and had taken laudanum. A physician was immediately summoned and measures were taken to counteract the poison. She recovered after about five or six hours. [Hunterdon Republican, Sept 13, 1877]
Reading advertisements in the 19th century papers can be pretty entertaining, given the colorful language used. Here’s one from Hiram G. Voorhees in the Hunterdon Gazette of Sept. 7, 1853:
THE FLEMINGTON RAILROAD, Being under contract, and about to be built, will necessarily largely increase the number of people hereabouts, and the subscriber being anxious that the inner man shall be kept in trim, and that both citizens and strangers shall be fed, and well fed, has re-opened his Oyster Saloon, nearly opposite Farlee’s store, where he has now on hand, and will continue to keep, the best quality of AMBOY OYSTERS. The patronage of the public is respectfully solicited. Parties and families supplied on reasonable terms.
Hurricane Ida had quite an impact as it passed over us. It’s going to take awhile to dry out. Best wishes to all,