While the Hogan's Alley kids masqueraded as the
rich, the rich were imitating Europeans. The late 19th-century for the rich was gilded gold rather than yellow; upper-class fashion
and habits paid tribute to the European aristocracy. The upper class nursed a fascination with recreational
hunting, horses, and works of art; they married their daughters
to poor European aristocrats in order to become royalty.1 Guests
at an 1897 ball thrown by New York elite Cornelia
and Bradley Martin were asked to attend in costumes of the
aristocracy of yesteryear.2 (A December 1896 McFadden's Row of Flats shows a similar fancy-dress ball). In the same year, Outcault drew
"Grand Opera in Ryan's Arcade" (Ryan's Arcade, November 28, 1897 New York Journal), in
which the kids spoof a production of Faust. The Yellow Kid
plays bass while standing on a box that mocks, "De Bradley-Martin
Box/ No smokin nor swearin aint allowed." On the right-hand
side we see the stage manager/prompter push a fancily dressed
African-American girl away, saying, "Git out of here/Dis
aint vaudeville," hinting that vaudeville was associated
with more egalitarian attitudes and that the working class
resent the class divisions being drawn in cultural venues.
Many New Yorkers of all classes shared an interest in gambling, but what you could gamble on was tightly controlled by what class you belonged to. When
an outraged public claimed high entrance fees at the Jerome
Park racing track in Fordham excluded middle and lower classes, New York City banker August Belmont maintained that "[r]acing is for the
rich."3 Horse racing
also faced the wrath of church leaders and moral reformers
because of gambling, crooked races, and animal abuses associated
with the sport.4 Rumors
about fixed races enraged the public and spread distaste
for betting, especially in poolrooms, where the lower classes
could gather to gamble and take part in the sport that was
otherwise often excluded from them. New York passed a number
of laws that banned betting or certain kinds of betting throughout
the 1890s, which New Yorkers usually found ways to circumvent.5 The
Yellow Kid himself is shown gambling in "Opening of the
Hogan's Alley Athletic Club" (New York World, September 27, 1896), in which he plays poker6,
in "Fortune Smiles Upon the Yellow Kid at Monte Carlo" (New York Journal, March 7, 1897; at a casino likely only frequented by the rich), and
offscreen in "A Turkey Raffle in Which the Yellow Kid Exhibits
Skill with the Dice" (New York Journal, November 22, 1896). He appears in a pool hall in "The
Yellow Kid Introduces A. Monk Who Enlivens the Pool Tournament
in McFadden's Flats" (New York Journal; November 29, 1896; the
"A. Monk" being a monkey). A sign on the pool table reads
"Rules/No English Kin be Used in Playin Dis game, cause
we are Irish an not anglomaniacs-ye must shoot wit de small
end of de cue—an also you must shoot wit de cue—dis aint
crokay. Double barrel shoot guns are barred B dis game is
on de level—naturally." The cartoon mocks the upper-class
attraction to "immoral" pastimes that are more often in
public associated with the lower class (who are then viewed
as being more immoral), as well as act as a jibe against their Anglophilia. The Kid invites readers to enjoy the seedy life;
the burlesque dancers in the background, likely seen as prostitutes
or bad girls by some, complete the image of low-class loose
morals. By so closely identifying tenement residents with gambling, Outcault may confirm readers' stereotypes; however, Outcault also invades the middle/upper class realm of the athletic club and casino, revealing the "low-class" behavior there.
1 Beckert, Sven. The Monied Metropolis: New York City and the Consolidation of the American Bourgeoisie, 1850-1896. Cambridge, U.K.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
2 Beckert 1-2.
3 Beckert 259.
4 Riess, Steven A. "Sports and Machine Politics in New York City, 1870-1920" The Making of Urban America. By Raymond A. Mohl. Wilmington: SR Books (1984). 106.
5 Riess 109.