Posted by: history591twenty3 | April 3, 2010

Up in the Old Hotel

Up In The Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell illustrated the underclass in New York during the early 20th century.  Mitchell tells the story of ordinary people ranging from unpredictable people such as visionaries, lost souls, Gypsies, etc to the people in a bar. The stories bring sadness, happiness, and unpredictability, array of emotions. The people in the stories are not rich, some appeared just surviving in a difficult time still clinging to the past but hoping for a better future.

These people seemed different but each possessed a similar sense of humor.

In The Old House at Home, the reader learns about tradition of this saloon “no women allowed” except for Mother Fresh Roasted. (4) This tradition continued with owners Old John, Bill, Daniel O’Connell until each died.  The tradition continued with the new owner Dorothy O’Connell Kirwan, being a woman she did not go to the saloon often.

After Old John dies, Bill his son does not change anything in the Saloon.  Peter Cooper, a good customer, used the same chair whenever he came into the saloon. When he died the chair became a fixture and no one could use the chair.  (6) When things fell apart, Bill fixed the object just enough for it to work.  Bill missed his father and in honor of him a picture placed on the wall. (8)

Bill like his father hated banks.   “As a businessman, Bill was anachronous; he hatred banks, cash registers, bookkeeping, and salesmen.” (9) The saloon only sold ale.  John and later Bill acquired the ale from Fidelio Brewery.  “Bill sold this brewery the right to call its ale McSorley’s Cream Stock and gave permission to use Old John’s picture on the label.” (9) Bill honoring his father.

Just before Bill dies, he sells the saloon to an old customer, Daniel O’Connell.  O’Connell promises Bill he will not change the saloon.  (13) After Daniel dies his daughter takes over the saloon.  She kept up the traditions as her father.  A wonderful story of tradition, the regulars as part of the background but important even through the depression, proved honor of continuing a tradition still exist.

Mazie, another character proves a woman importance in Bowery.  She knows her limits while displaying her will power to the customers and the neighborhood.  She appears fond of bums.  She takes the time to help the bums.  She appears rough but has a heart of gold.  She cashiers at a small movie picture theatre.  (23) Mazie other duties “is the bouncer” (24) for the theatre.  She does not like to fight but she can taste blood and cannot stop from fighting.  After she boots the bum out of the theater, she gives them a dime to get a drink. (25)

She exists as a busy body.  She observes everything going on in the neighborhood while in her ticket cage.  “When she catches sight of a person she knows among the passers-by, she sticks her face up to the round hole in the front window of her cage and shouts a greeting.” (26) She’s a fixture to the people of the neighborhood.

The Depression caused much heartache, but Mazie manages to bring a ray of hope to the neighborhood.  She knows the people and the bums. She helps the bums with money (dimes).  The people know Mazie takes great pride of the neighborhood and willing to help. She’s rough like an uncut diamond but the finally product a beautiful diamond like Mazie.

Professor Sea Gull called Joe Gould an amazing story of oddity.   Joe lives in Greenwich Village, a Harvard graduate who is homeless.  He writes about his experiences, his impressions and the conversations with people or listening to other people’s conversation, an oral history.

Gould fears death and wants his manuscript published.  “…he has the first draft of the Oral History finished.  It is already eleven times as long as the Bible.” (56) He writes his stories in nickel composition books.  He has two hundred seventy composition books. (57) He tries to get publishers to read his manuscript but no takers.  His penmanship illegible so many publishers cannot read his Oral History.  Joe continues to write and hopes one day someone brave enough will publish his manuscript.

Joe knows many people in Greenwich Village.  He loves parties.  Joe finds out who is giving a party and tries to crash the party.  He usually gets thrown out because he starts to drink and then procedures to the prettiest woman, “bows and kisses her hand…he strips to the waist and does a handclapping, foot-stamping dance…”(64) Amazing he does not go to jail.

Joe Gould education did not help him get a job because he works hard at not getting a job.  He must like wondering around observing people and writing about his experiences.  He does not have enough money for food or shelter.  He learned where to go when he wants warmth and still writes.  He fell through the cracks.  With his behavior, he displays a mental illness.  His parents seemed not to get the needed help Joe required.  The mental hospital probable used electrical shock possible destroying Joe’s ability to write or think.  From the story, Joe appears to enjoy his life wondering and observing life.

Mitchell stories told how many cooped during a difficult time during the Depression.  Each story contained a similar element, pride in their neighborhoods and the people in it.  Ordinary people took care of each other even if that meant giving up a little food or money.  Each story carried some type of tradition and honor.  The time many contained many hardship, but the people grew strong from the experience.  Understanding of their fellow man helped the togetherness of the people.


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