John Darby's View of Vineland

From "Brushland," Philadelphia, 1882

To find the odd things and oddities of the Jersey barrens go to Vineland. I am not at all prepared to comment as to the residents. I think them philosophical; people generally do not agree with me.

At Vineland are found men who grow long hair, and the women who cut it short; males who wear petticoats, and females who have made the exchange for trousers. There is about the locality a monstrous amount of sense or nonsense. One paying his fare in the cars can go and see, deciding for himself. Searching for entertainment I have over and over again been in Vineland. To this day no one there knows my name. I stop and gossip with the specimen who has Woman's Rights at her tongue's end. She is a Yankee, you may be sure; she "wants to know," she pronounces how, "heow." She snuffs the air of the clouds when I immediately drop a word about the lords of creation. Dr. So-an-so, name unknown, not he, but a she, going by upon a wall-eyed horse-never mind the position- stops to learn the row; the row is all on one side. I put the women by the ears and draw off to a neighboring lot where Jonathan is framing a good-sized dry-goods box kind of structure, designed to accommodate a front door and a pair of green painted window shutters.

I have had many a good talk with Jonathan and have learned many valuable facts from him. He knows everything, you can tell him nothing. Unfortunately he knows too much. He sets up his packing-box too often upon the sand, mistaking it for rock. His sanguinity is refreshing. Although his ten-acre lot is only a brush heap next year he is to dig dollars out of it. You need not suggest a market for this, or sale for that; what he is after is strawberries. He expects to show after a "spell" a "tarnal site" better specimens of the fruit than Middle States people ever read about or "heared tell on." "He'll do it, by the eternal Jehoshephat he will."

A curious place truly - I am in earnest when I suggest that the people may be philosophers, assuredly it would not be easy to find a region where so much is got of so little.

The settlement is a plain containing thousands of acres. Where drains are required you find ditches. Where fences are ordinarily used law is made to take their place. Vines and trees skirt the roadside. Fruit hangs over your head as you pass along. Nobody steals.

The crates of berries sent by the community to the markets of the two equidistant cities of Philadelphia and New York are really fabulous as to number; tons is what the people count their produce by.

Besides raising the berries they make the boxes. Go to Vineland to learn economy. A shaving from a hooppole is made to surround a quart of fruit, a pumpkin is hung up to dry, a dead tomato vine saving the piece of string; a boy's winter cap comes off a squirrel's back. A girl's summer head-gear is the twisting and turning of leaves and flowers.

Not all the houses of Vineland are up-ended dry-goods boxes. Some are large. A few are very tasteful. The centre of the colony is a street a mile in length. Ambitious stores have already commenced the process of deterioration by hanging in their windows the fashion plates of the day. From a fashion plate to a woman's shoulders is not a long distance. From a Paris dress to extreme femininity is a shorter distance. Go soon if you want to see the woman in pantaloons.

My publisher asks if I would recommend Vineland as a place to settle down in. That depends. I would like it myself, for the reason that I take to cranks. If I were physically used up, or had a tuberculosis cough I would think well of the locality, for the reason that the modified sea air makes the climate one of the best that I know anything about. Were I not a very good man, remarkable on that particular score, I certainly should incline to pass over in my mind the possibilities of the locality as a reformatory school. The traveler bold enough to suggest "ginger syrup" in his lemonade has the eye of the overseer on him immediately. No school boy has ever as yet had his vision polluted by the letter-combination, lager.

To recommend is to assume a responsibility. That is something my philosophy marks down as a thing to be avoided. If a man indulges a thought of going to Vineland to keep house let him first try the place for a month as a boarder.