You never know what you’re going to come across when you actually read large swaths of historical documents.
For example: in 1678, eight (probably young) men were prosecuted in Albany, New York, in a case identified as “Concerning a Scandalous Tree Erected Before the Door of Richard Pretty.”
How can a tree be scandalous, you ask? Let me quote from the court minutes, as translated from the Dutch:
The plaintiff in his capacity of officer presents a bill of complaint against the defendants for having on the first of January, at night, before the door of Mr. Pretty, magistrate, planted a scandalous withered tree furnished with a straw wreath, and adorned with a dried bladder to which dried beaver testicles were attached.
I can’t imagine ever needing to type the phrase “dried beaver testicles” again, which makes this item worth mentioning all by itself.
… All of which they did to affront the person of Gabriel Thomson, at present a bridegroom, as they actually did affront him and his entire family, of which he complained, speaking of nothing but insult and offense, and the deprivation of honor and reputation, which practices cannot be tolerated in a place where justice prevails.
Clearly, this was before the advent of tabloid journalism. In any event, one of the more gobstopping aspects of this incident is that the plaintiff admitted that the defendants “can never prove what they intended to convey thereby” – that is, nobody involved has any idea what message was supposed to be conveyed by this peculiar display. But Thomson was deeply insulted anyway.
William Loveridge, Jr., tried to weasel out of the whole matter, but the seven other defendants all pointed to him as the ringleader and he finally admitted it, but added “it was not done with such evil intention as it was taken.”
Given Thomson’s status as a “bridegroom,” it seems that what we have here is another case of prenuptial hijinks gone horribly wrong. So wrong that Loveridge was fined 150 guilders (a huge amount) and his accomplices 25 guilders each, not to mention the cost of proceedings. Talk about an expensive joke.
Source: The Andros Papers, 1677-1678 (Syracuse University Press, 1990). The translation was done by Charles T. Gehring of The New Netherland Project (a monumental ongoing work of translation and study).