Posted by: history591seventeen | March 27, 2010

Up in the Old Hotel


            Author, Joseph Mitchell chose to show the underclass in a better light than others viewed them.  On the surface, these people just seem to be odd ducks of society. 

            In the stories contained within McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon, Mitchell gives many very interesting accounts of the stories of the people within each sub-topic.  He seems to be trying to explain why each individual became the way he or she was. For example, Mitchell gives the history and talks about the bar owner, John McSorley in “the Old House at Home”.  After reading about John, it is felt that one has a better understanding of how John conducted business and why he did things the way he did.  For one thing, John distrusted banks, which many people of this time period did, and he did not allow women in his bar; John had a horse, which he brushed daily, right outside the saloon (5), and John loved memorabilia.  He had it hanging on all the walls of the bar (7).  Then Mitchell brings in John’s son, Bill, who ran the saloon after John died.  Mitchell explains how devoted Bill seemed to be to the memory of his father, for he kept everything the same as it was when his father ran the bar.  However, Bill really did not like noise and when Prohibition occurred, Bill just ignored it and continued serving (11).  Bill decided to retire and sold the bar to a retired policeman named, Daniel O’Connell.  Of course, O’Connell had to promise not to change anything, which he promised (13).  Whereas, Bill would throw out a dunk, O’Connell would try to somber him up with soup or coffee, and kind words (14).  O’Connell died and left the bar to his daughter, who hired her uncle, who in the end, hated bartending.  When Dorothy found this out, she offered the job to her husband, who was excited to run it.  Therefore, in the end, no changes were made to the saloon and another man, Harry Kirwan was happy just to be there. 

            Another short story, “Mazie” is an interesting tale.  This is the story about a woman who works, selling movie tickets to folks going into her sister’s theater.  However, the story about what Mazie does after work is most interesting.  She walks around the area looking for bums; in her rounds, she makes sure the bums have a few dimes to go get something to eat or enough to stay in a flophouse, out of the weather for the night.  She judges no one, and definitely helps those in need (37-38). 

            “Professor Sea Gull” is a gentleman out of place with the times.  According to him, he was a Harvard graduate who walks the streets educating others along his way, for he states he is a Bohemian, a social gypsy.  He is happy to give a lecture, debate or walk like a seagull, however the individual wants to be entertained (63).  When people question him, they think he will show himself to be a fool; however, he then proves how very smart he is, making them feel like a fool.  The story of Professor Sea Gull proves that what appears on the outside is not always what is on the inside.

            In Joseph Mitchell’s next section the underclass is portrayed as a very respectful group. In “Old Mr. Flood” of Up in the Old Hotel he writes about a man named Mr. Flood, who as stated by the author, is based on many different men.  In the last section Mitchell wrote more about the underclass; whereas with Mr. Flood, Mitchell seems to be writing about his interactions with the underclass.  The men Mitchell writes about as Mr. Flood love their fish and the live that exists around the fish industry.  Fish is viewed by these men as the most natural food, for other foods have had things added to them (377).  At one point in the story  Mr. Flood is checking out the fish that was brought in for the day and one of the dock workers asked another worker who Mr. Flood was and the worker states that he is trying to live to be 115 by just eating fish.  In fact, others refer to Mr. Flood as the Mayor of the Fish Market.  Mitchell also included information about the way Mr. Flood dressed, which made people think he was a part of the Fish Community (395).  When explaining about the different types of fish, Mr. Flood seems to know and understand all there is to know about them (399-400).  Therefore, Mr. Flood has done the needed research to better understand the food he chooses to eat.  Lastly, Mitchell brought in information about racial differences of the time.  Mr. Flood got in an augment with another man about blacks and questioned Mr. Flood as to what race he was a part of and Mr. Flood said, “The human race” (405).  This demonstrated how accepting Mr. Flood was of the differences of others.

            Then in Mitchell’s last section, “Joe Gould’s Secret”, he seems to be demonstrating how the underclass takes care of its own.  He decided to revisit a previously written topic and subject, Professor Sea Gull.  Again Mitchell tells of how Joe Gould makes the rounds in the village visiting with old friends and acquaintances getting money from them to contribute to what Gould calls the Joe Gould fund.  Gould uses this money for food, drinks and lodging as needed.  Gould says he is writing the greatest oral history ever written and that is why he can not hold a job, for it would get in the way of his working on his writing.  Mitchell decided to write a profile on Gould and wanted to read his oral history, of which Mitchell finally discovered did not exist.  However, Mitchell knew once this secret was out, the funds others gave Joe would be gone.  So Mitchell kept his mouth closed.  As a result of an article Mitchell had written, the people from Gould’s past step up and help him out in providing even more for him; therefore, he would have more time in which to write his oral history (700).  In the end Joe Gould died alone in a mental hospital; yet Mitchell kept Gould’s secret and did not release the fact that the oral history was never written until 1964 (716).  In a sense, Mitchell was also taking care of the underclass, Professor Sea Gull, Joe Gould.


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