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Mr. Hunter's Grave Robert Sheridan bobsheridan bobsheridan@earthlink.net Well, Jerry, you're lookin' at another fan of the late Joseph Mitchell.

I ain't from NawthCa'lina, either.

I am a StatNislander, tho' which is what the late Joseph Mitchell wrote about best.

I stopped mentioning him around here because no one seemed interested. The book I read is called "Up in the Old Hotel," and it's a collection of his long articles for the New Yorker magazine.

Mitchell would take the ferry to SI and the SIRT to Eltingville and then hike around, looking for wild-flowers, and jotting notes about them in his journal. He happened upon an old graveyard near an odd time-warp of a village of old wooden homes, dirt streets, and no sidewalks. Speaking to an old man taking care of the graves, he began a friendship that turned into a tale of people who lived on StatNisland and followed the oyster trade, hauling them out of the Lower Bay off Princess Bay, S.I., and selling them at the Fulton Fish Market on the lower east shore of Manhattan, sometimes called New York City.

They followed the oyster trade because that's what they knew how to do. They were from the Chesapeake Bay area. They were slaves, or, more correctly, newly freed or former slaves who had come north.

Sandy Ground was an early Black village on StatNisland which I'd never heard mention of in all my time there, except once when I drove past it one joy-riding day and mentioned it to my parents who identified it from my description and where I said it was. Until Mr. Mitchell wrote about it, I had no idea it had a history, which is the way most things are until you find out otherwise. Harry S. Truman once said that there's nothing new under the sun except the history you don't know, or something pretty close.

Mitchell wrote all about the Fulton Fish Market and New York Harbor in his stories. He also wrote two of the best pieces about Gypsies I've ever seen, after Cervantes's La Gitanilla, featuring Preciosa the beautiful Gypsy girl, but that's another story.

Mitchell's featured subjects were StatNisland, StatNislanders, and things touching on the Island, such as the Bottom of the Bay, which is the name of one of his stories. Can you imagine someone writing a story for the New Yorker, or for anything for that matter, called "The Bottom of the Bay" and make interesting? Mitchell did.

He also did a couple of pieces about a man in Greenwich Village he called "Professor Seagull," who was writing the oral history of the world. I read recently that someone was going to make a movie of this.

Mitchell died a few years ago, not having written in the last 30 or so years of his life. He had been described as the best reporter of his generation, the best prose stylist, the man who could best write an agate-hard declarative sentence in the English language.

Some think Mitchell felt he could never live up to such overblown praise, and this stopped him from trying to reach the unattainable. People shouldn't stress the form so much when critiquing a writer.

It's enough if he writes something that approximates the truth, and the closer he gets, the better he is.

I visited McSorley's a few times when I studied in New York. It's an ancient bar in a city of modern buildings, located down near Peter Cooper Square, east of Greenwich Village. Mugs of beer, sawdust on the floor, lot's of wood, no ferns, no TV in front, just Olde. I was surprised to learn that it had a long history, written about by, you guessed it, Joe Mitchell.

It's all in "Up in the Old Hotel."

-rs



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