Up in the Old Hotel

Up in the Old Hotel

And Other Stories

Book - 1992
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Baker & Taylor
A collection of literary portraits looks at waterfront workers, people on the Bowery, Mohawk Indians working on high structural steel, gypsies, itinerant preachers, and others

Blackwell North Amer
Up in the Old Hotel had its beginnings in the nineteen-thirties, in the hopelessness of the early days of the Great Depression, when Joseph Mitchell, at that time a young newspaper reporter in New York City, gradually became aware that the people be respected the most and got the most pleasure out of interviewing were really pretty strange. "Among them," he once wrote, were visionaries, obsessives, imposters, fanatics, lost souls, the-end-is-near street preachers, old Gypsy kings and old Gypsy queens, and out-and-out freak-show freaks." One of the street preachers was a gloomily eloquent old Southerner named the Reverend Mr. James Jefferson Davis Hall, who carried a WHERE WILL YOU SPEND ETERNITY? sign up and down the sidewalks of the theatrical district, which he called "the belly and the black heart of that Great Whore of Babylon, the city of New York," for a generation; one of the Gypsy kings was King Cockeye Johnny Nikanov, who liked to say that the difference between Gypsies and gajos, or non-Gypsies, is that a Gypsy will steal gasoline out of the tanks of parked automobiles but that a high-class United States politician gajo will steal a whole damned oil well; one of the freak-show freaks was Jane Barnell, billed as Lady Olga, who was the Bearded Lady in Hubert's Museum and Flea Circus on Forty-second Street and who was a legend in the freak-show world because of her imaginatively sarcastic and sometimes imaginatively obscene and sometimes imaginatively brutal remarks about people in freak-show audiences delivered deadpan and sotto voce to her fellow freaks gathered about her on the platform. These people were extraordinarily dissimilar, but all of them, each and every one of them, protected themselves and kept themselves going by the use of a kind of humor that Mitchell thought of as graveyard humor, and he admired them for this. Even the Reverend Hall depended on this kind of humor to get his points across, and some of his gloomiest sermons were at the same time comic masterpieces. Mitchell could write only briefly about these people in newspapers, but he kept in touch with some of them, and later on, when he joined the staff of The New Yorker, he wrote full-scale "Profiles" of them. At The New Yorker, as time went on, he turned to writing about more conventional people--a great variety of them--only to find that if they were asked the right questions, and if their answers were closely listened to, even the most conventional of them were also apt to turn out to be really quite strange. And, amazingly, he discovered that a large proportion of them, after seeking over and over to find some meaning in their lives and finding only meaninglessness, had also learned to console themselves with graveyard humor.
Between 1943 and 1965, four collections of Mitchell's stories from The New Yorker were published--McSorley's Wonderful Saloon, Old Mr. Flood, The Bottom of the Harbor and Joe Gould's Secret. All of these books have been out of print for years, and all of them, with some previously uncollected stories added to McSorley's Wonderful Saloon, are included in this book. Through the years, a succession of literary critics have written essays on Mitchell's stories, extolling his prose, remarking on the dazzling diversity of his subjects, and exploring the darkness that they profess to discern underneath his humor. Some of Mitchell's colleagues at The New Yorker believe that his "Profiles" and "Reporter at Large" articles are among the best the magazine has ever published and are among the ones most likely to endure. One of his colleagues, Calvin Trillin, dedicated a book to him, stating "To the New Yorker reporter who set the standard--Joseph Mitchell."

& Taylor

Waterfront workers, people on the Bowery, Mohawk Indians working on high structural steel, gypsies, itinerant preachers, and others provide the necessary color for the literary portraits collected in a commemorative tribute to The New Yorker's Joseph Mitchell.

Publisher: New York : Pantheon Books, c1992
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780679412632
Branch Call Number: FICTION MITCHELL
Characteristics: 718 p


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Jan 22, 2016

I feel like I've come across a secret having discovered this book a couple of years ago. I borrowed it from the VPL and since bought a copy at a used book store. One of the best books I've read and continue to read over and over. Just brilliant!

Sep 20, 2014

James Spader said this was his favorite book when he gave a copy to Jimmy Fallon on his show for his birthday - 19Sept2014

gnarly_authenticity Aug 01, 2013

Best book I've read in years. Worth it for "Joe Gould's Secret" alone.

johnami Sep 05, 2012

This is an absolutely wonderful collection of non-fiction and fiction works by the very gifted writer, Joseph Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell is both a seasoned journalist and a creative writer. In his works he provides the best of both literary worlds. The non-fiction pieces are thoroughly researched, examined objectively, and written with satisfying clarity. The fiction pieces bring to life characters and situations that are a pleasure to identify with. From these works we come to understand that Mr. Mitchell is a very sociable person, interested in everything and everyone. He truly enjoys the company and stories of the many unique characters he writes about. They are never portrayed as odd, but always as interesting.

The stories in this collection take place decades ago, ranging in time from the 1930’s to the 1960’s. They are primarily concerned with situations in New York City and the eastern seaboard. Yet, despite the considerable passage of time, the situations and people are in many ways identifiable with modern counterparts. Part of that is due to the personalities of the characters, and a greater part is owing to Mr. Mitchell’s skill. The characters and their dilemmas are so genuinely portrayed it is as if we know them.


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