Show the elephant, in the Bowery, with Mose the Fireboy
November 22, 2014 5:38 PM   Subscribe

Mose the Fireboy, the Bowery B'hoy (and fireman) [via mefi projects]

The Slang of Glance at New York
As I have mentioned, one of the really pleasurable qualities of "Glance at New York" is that it serves as a sort of omnium-gatherum of slang of the era, quite a lot of it from the character Mose, and, presumably, an accurate representation of the Bowery Boy's distinctive cant, called Flash. It's interesting to note that a few of Mose's phrase's read like dialect representation of an Irish accent -- as an example, he says "I'll spile" for "I'll spoil" and says that he's "bilelin' over" for a fight when he means he's "boiling over."
Mose Humphreys, The Inspiration
Just to offer a quick overview, Mose the Fireboy has had several incarnations, and I intend to look at all of them. He was a historic figure named Mose Humphreys, a printer and volunteer fireman. The original Mose became the model for a character named Mose in a play called "A Glance at New York," a slang-slinging, pugilistic butcher-firefighter who then starred in a series of popular plays. The character of Mose was picked up by dime novels, mostly by Ned Buntline, where he was the leader of the street-fighting Bowery B'hoys. He was elevated to a mythic, folkloric figure of tall tales in Herbert Asbury's "Gangs of New York," and, over the course of the 20th century, turned into a sort of tall tale character, like Paul Bunyan. Finally, he was undoubtedly a primary inspiration for Bill the Butcher in the "Gangs of New York," along with William Poole, a butcher and bareknuckle boxer.
Immigrant Fashion: Mose the Fireboy - "Mose was supposed to be a Bowery B'hoy, and so he has a Bowery B'hoy's primary affectations: The top hat and the soap-locks, which, as I have documented elsewhere, was essentially the mid-19th century version of the wet look."
The Modern Era
He still makes occasional appearances. In 2004, author Eric Metaxas and illustrator Everett Peck produced a children's book called "Mose the Fireman," which also offered an audio version with an impressive collection of talent involved: Actor Michael Keaton narrated the story, which may be the first time that the supposedly Irish-American Mose was played by an Irish-American, with music by Steely Dan's Walter Becker.And, as I mentioned at the start of this, the character of Bill the Butcher from Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York" borrowed from Mose. The character is almost exclusively credited to the historic figure William Poole, a Bowery B'hoy, butcher, and volunteer fire fighter with a well-known contempt for Irish immigrants.
posted by the man of twists and turns (4 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you for posting this. It was an awful lot of fun to research, especially when I managed to chase down the actual Mose and his unexpected final years in Hawaii.
posted by maxsparber at 5:58 PM on November 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure why this was so fun to read, but it sure was fun. Almost makes me want to buy a new top hat. Almost.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:10 PM on November 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

The Oxford Dictionary cites "b'hoy" as "Also bhoy, bo-hoy", implying that the apostrophe is at least a glottal stop, and perhaps a syllable break. Does this sound right to anyone?
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:11 AM on November 23, 2014

Joe, “The Bhoys” — aka Celtic FC — aren't pronounced that way, and they're very proud of their Irish roots. Pronunciation moves, though, so maybe it was said differently back then.
posted by scruss at 1:53 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

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