Once, walking through the cemetery, I stopped and talked with an old woman who was down on her knees in her family plot, setting out some bulbs at the foot of a grave, and she remarked on the age of the rosebushes. The narrative in each essay unfolds slowly, following a kind of wandering trajectory like the paths Mitchell takes to visit the individuals whose stories he relates with charm. The New Yorker, January 6, 1951 P. I found it an enjoyable read, with captivating prose, even though I don't know that I would have cared about the subject matter one way or another if I ran across it somewhere else. Some of these stories make me want to go to the places they describe, other stories are enriching memories of places I've already been, and answering questions I had wondered about.
Mr Hunter's grave, for example, has become a legendary place for Mitchell aficionados - and it would not be pompous for me to say that should I get a chance to visit the United States, I would love to stuff a wild-flower book and some sandwiches in my pockets and visit the site so lovingly described by him! Some of these families died out, some moved away, and some are still flourishing. All of the pieces here are connected in one way or another--some directly, some with a kind of mysterious circuitousness--to New York's fabled waterfront, the terrain that Mitchell brilliantly made his own. Mitchell has an amazing knack for describing the people and places along the old waterfront-- whether he's writing about the old Fulton Fish Market or the specifics of fishing in the lower harbor, you can see every detail like it was right there in front of you. He pictures it with such tenderness and care, it is truly fascinating. New York in the 1950's is not yet for bankers and billionaires, it is still full of strange corners and little mysteries. Before he ceased to publish, Mitchell brought out five books. Most of the old families in Edgewater have plots in it, and some still have room in their plots and continue to bury there.
Joe Mitchell gives voice to people who have never been listened to, and in so doing reaches the pulse of the city, explores lives that are so common yet unforgettable, and leaves a lasting record of a bygone way of life. The roses that they produce are small and fragile and extraordinarily fragrant, and have waxy red hips almost as big as crab apples. Some of these stories make me want to go to the places they describe, other stories are enriching memories of places I've already been, and answering questions I had wondered about. It was in many ways a soothing escape. The stories are essentially interviews with various old timers, recounted in a professional reporter yet down to earth folksy manner. The author traces the origins of Sloppy Louie's sea food restaurant at 92 South Street -- the main street in the Fulton Fish Market; discusses the composition of New York Harbor; the rat menace on the waterfront and in some surprising areas within the city; and he laments the decline of the oyster industry on Staten Island's southern shore -- once a thriving community founded before the Civil War by some free Negroes who came from the eastern shore of Maryland to work the oyster beds.
It is entirely surrounded, however, by a modern factory—a huge one, belonging to the Aluminum Company of America. He always wrote on the side but he never believed in his own texts. I am a big fan of the Library of America, which offers volumes that are well edited, printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth. A part-time caretaker does a good deal of gardening in it, and he likes bright colors. Funerals go in an out through the factory gate, as do people visiting graves or people who simply want to picnic in the beautiful old graveyard. Every story Mitchell tells, every person he introduces, every scene he describes is illuminated by his passion for the eccentrics and eccentricities of his beloved adopted city.
The six essays offered in this collection, a revised edition of The Bottom of the Harbor, were first published between 1944 and 1959. The names of dozens of families who were connected with these enterprises in one way of another are on gravestones in the newer part of the cemetery; Allison, Annett, Carlock, Cox, Egg, Forsyth, Gaul, Goetchius, Hawes, Hewitt, Jenkins, Stevens, Truax, and Winterburn are a few. Colleagues thought he was working on a big fat piece, but it never came out. Fifty years after its original publication, The Bottom of the Harbor is still considered a fundamental New York book. I think my favorite entry was Mr. Brown, who the caretaker, Mr. Or so, at least, Mitchell hears from an old woman whom he meets and naturally gets to know while she is gardening in the graveyard.
I wonder if it was not more because the New York that Mitchell loved, the place he came to inhabit during the Depression and chronicled with such apparent ease no doubt after endless listening sessions , was disappearing, and his faith in his talent and the kind of journalism he taught himself to master, was going with it. Funny thing is that he would visit the New Yorker office regularly, and file the jottings he had made on loose papers. All the same, for some reason of her own, she admired them, and enjoyed looking at them. First a reporter, he quickly turned into a feature writer, and then he became an essayist, the best in the city. It's not fabulous writing but it's generally enjoyable. Joe Mitchell gives voice to people who have never been listened to, and in so doing reaches the pulse of the city, explores lives that are so common yet unforgettable, and leaves a lasting record of a bygone way of life. Finally, like the Icelandic sagas, each combines a fierce joy in the physicality of living with a stoical awareness that all things physical end in death, usually preceded by years of diminishment.
The section was hard to get to, except by water, and it was rural and secluded for a long time. Harbor and what's in, and on and under the water; marine life in the harbor, bays and inlets; species of fish that enter the harbor, migrants and permanent dwellers such as the eel. I found myself skipping through some chapters when the story of the clam boats etc. Not only that, there are rosebushes in there, descended from a rosebush that came from Holland in the 1630s. It is this idea of mystery, things hidden from view, which permeate his stories. Written in a tone of nostalgia, relying to a great extent on human interest appeal, the result is a skillful blending of natural history, social comment and the personal profile. I always heard rumors about New York city rats, but fortunately I never saw any, during the few visits that I have had to the area.
Some of the families came over from Manhattan and some from down around Hoboken. Most of these essays come from the late 40s and very early 50s, when the death of the waterfront from pollution and gentrification was just a few years away. Their names are on the older gravestones in the cemetery—Bourdetts and Vreelands and Bogerts and Van Zandts and Wandells and Dyckmans and Westervelts and Demarests. He always wrote on the side but he never believed in his own texts. I was looking for an added, historic dimension to the city I have come to live in. The land on which Edgewater is situated and the land for some distance along the river above and below it was settled in the seventeenth century by Dutch and Huguenot farmers. Mr Hunter's grave, for example, has become a legendary place for Mitchell aficionados - and it would not be pompous for me to say that should I get a chance to visit the United States, I would love to stuff a wild-flower book and some sandwiches in my pockets The inimitable Mr.