Whilst an undergraduate at Stockton College, I took a course called Literary Research with a respected, bespectacled German woman called Professor Vorgeben. Part of the course set forth by this taskmaster was to participate in historical research--that is to say, to try and uncover some little bit or piece of history on our own and for the very first time.
Thus I found myself in the Ocean County Historical Society's stately building--a place I had grudgingly visited many times before as a child, having been dragged there by my father to look at cannons used in the Battle of Monmouth, jackets from a New Jersey soldier who fought in the Civil War, and the like. It's always been a quiet building, populated by quiet workers who fiercely guard their minorly interestingitems as though it's the Holy Grail. However, being there to perform "important collegiate research" somehow changed how I was treated--indeed, I wondered if they had mistaken me for some sort of Indiana Jones. The formerly schoolmarmish bitties who work there ushered me into their "document collection facility."
Disappointingly, it was a stuffy attic in a state of poor organization. Nonetheless, I had a job to do, and so I fiddled and waded through the barely-organized boxes until I finally found my way to older and older documents. Most were terribly boring: voting tallies, deeds, permits, tax roles. But then I came across a most odd and unique letter, reprinted here as it was written:
January the Sixth, 1800
Dear Cousin Jobarth,
Today I entitle my montly correspondence to you, as it is most important.
“Upon The Wonderes of Various Types of Gasses, Fumes, and Fartes: a Retrospective Reflectionary Upon the Turning of the Ninteenth Century in the State of New Jersey, Specifically Written From Its Coastal Countie of Ocean.”
As calendars are turned to celebrate the start of twentie centuries since our great Lorde Christ was borne, I would hereby like to reflect upon a biological facte that most assuredly has been visited upon us by Loki, the punishing angel which smited the horrorable folkes in Soddom and Gamorroah those many millennia ago. Indeed, it appears to me that there is little way that I, a poor fisherfolk, can find the wordes to best,
and least rudely, describe this awful acte that visites me daily, nightly, and constantly. Bless me, gentle babe Jesu, that I do not offend ye by using the following word, so crass as it is: the farte.
I find myself so punished at every turn by these vile gasses and fumes that my “lifee de sociale,” or social interactions, are severely inhibited. A fortenight ago, I took gentle milkmaden Hannah Boorkesstrang oute upon a gentle cartride after our dinner at the Tavern of Western Pointe towards the ocean, hoping, frankly, for a chance at some lovely necking and petting. Alas, for my boweles were a-flame from the Itallian spa-getti upon which I dined. Tried, I did, to prevent the foul smells to eminate from me, but alas, it was not meant to be. Bubble and chortle did my stoumach, then suddenly there was a loud and eminating popage of farte. I struck the horse drawing our carte, hoping that Miss Boorkesstrang would assume it to be from an animal of the four-legged variety. Sadly, before I could blame the horse, my body gas strucke again, this time sounding like a Forthe of July artillery shote! Miss Boorkesstrang jumped with fright, and before I could hope to place blame on anything, anyone (perhaps, even her), she held her handkercheif most close to her face and exclaimed “dear and most Holy God, you’ve the smell of death, Sir,” and jumped off my carte, running into the woods speaking as if Satan had visited upon her many strange voices and spirits.
The moral of the story is that sometimes a man is made of such bitter stuff that his gasseous emmisions can scare away even the most lovely and bosomy milkmaden that the countie of Ocean has to offer. I can only assume that, as the past centurie turnes to the next one, we must hope that those great twins of the mind, Science and Philosophy can create a way in which a simple lad as I could be fixed of the most awful affliction that besets me.
I hope you are well and that your chicken farm continues to produce massive layage.
Edmund X. Bertelby, Junior
Doubtless, you can imagine the confusion on my face after reading this letter purported to have been written by Mr. Bertelby. Short on time, I conducted what limited search I could; there was no record of Bertelby (senior or junior), but the ladies downstairs said that true historical record-keeping started in Ocean County in the late 1850s.
I was not able to make heads or tails of it; indeed, even today, after many years have passed, I wonder what in the world that letter was really about. Was it a bit of Enlightenment humor? A rogue fake placed with real documents in order to be found one day? Indeed, I share this anecdote not only to interest the mind, but with the faint hope that, being on the internet, one day someone will come across it and be able to shine a light on this foggy letter.