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Something in the air

The mysterious stench that settled over Manhattan last Monday has long gone. But city officials were still trying to figure out where it had come from.

india Updated: Jan 12, 2007 23:44 IST

The mysterious stench that settled over Manhattan last Monday has long gone. But city officials were still trying to figure out where it had come from, and it led to an extraordinary round of speculation in which no theory seemed too implausible to consider, no possibility too flaky to imagine. Rotten eggs? A chemical added to natural gas?

Commuters, Internet bloggers and stand-up comedians filled a trove of ideas, some wacky, some sinister, some even believable.

Bloggers complained that officials could not find the odour’s source. “The ‘authorities’ likely lack the capability to identify things that people think smell like an industrial chemical, which are actually gases from nearby swamps released due to peculiar sequences of weather conditions and trapped by an atmospheric inversion,” one blog reader declared.

Others recalled smoggy clouds that had descended on New York in the 1950s and ’60s. They mentioned secret Army experiments in the 1950s that they said had involved releasing bacteria in San Francisco. They wondered about the weather.

So did El Niño have something to do with the odour? One posted a message on a blog saying that he had smelled the same odour while driving through Louisiana and wondered if a weather front had carried it to the New York area.

Or what about stars — the celebrity, not the celestial, kind? There were bloggers who blamed Rosie O’Donnell, the talk show host who has been feuding with Donald J. Trump over — well, that is another story.

And then there was the explanation from someone who identified himself as George S: “The animal that has taken residence on top of Donald Trump’s head, masquerading as hair, has finally died.”

Others brought up geopolitics, referring to the long-running tensions between New York and New Jersey and the reflexive tendency of New Yorkers to blame New Jersey for things like smells that drift across the river.

That drew a response from someone identified as Ben, who said: “I’m going to have to side with NY on this. I blame everything on NJ, it just makes life simpler.”

And all the brouhaha about whether New Jersey was the source left Mark Sceurman, an author of Weird N.J.: Your Travel Guide to New Jersey’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets, sounding unexcited.

“To me, its just swamp gas,” he said in an interview. “I smell it all the time. I could have told you right away.”

The New York Times