Gas Lights

by Charles McGrath

We all remember the street gas lights in South Orange and probably to a lesser degree the one's in East Orange. Gas was used to provide light without the need of electricity. 
I remember looking at the gas tanks when I was a little boy going Down Neck to visit my Grandmother. These large gas tanks were on the Harrison side of the Passaic River. They never seemed to be the same size. My father told me that they would go up and down according to the gas pressure. 
That was in the days of manufactured gas. Manufactured gas was made by Public Service. I think it was made from coal. I believe it went to sleep circa 1960. Our area switched to natural gas which is pumped directly from the well heads out west. 
Now that I lost everyone's interest I'll stop there. 
Did you ever here of someone committing suicide by locking all the doors and windows and turning on the gas jets? You can't do that with natural gas. When I had a sick bird in the 1950's I would put them in a bag and connect it to a gas line. The bird would expire within 30 seconds. I tried the same in the early 1960's and nothing happened. 
The old manufactured gas had an awful smell but natural gas didn't smell. They added hydrogen sulfide to make its smell more unforgettable. 
I owned a house in Vailsburg that was built in 1912. During renovation I was very much surprised to find a disconnected gas pipe in the kitchen ceiling. This gas pipe at one time fed a gas light in the kitchen. When I removed the cap off of this pipe it still had the pungent odor of manufactured gas. 
Gas lights were not only to be found on our streets but also in our homes.


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