July 4, 2013

Great Uncle Joe, Updated

A few moments ago, the ice cream truck drove past, playing Camptown Races.

This reminds me that I wanted to update the story about Uncle Joe, the spitting Vaudevillian that I shared a few months ago.

When last I mentioned him, I declared that I'd try to pursue his story further. I kept hitting dead ends until I began researching Uncle Matt. Pop's story about Matt was that he was a concessionaire at the Finger Lakes, and that he might have bootlegged a bit. The bootlegging seems a bit exaggerated (although I found a rumor in print that his famous lemonade may have been spiked), but he did work the finger lakes as a well-known hot dog vendor.

In conjunction with Matt I found Joe. Turns out that he sometimes worked the summer season with his brother when he wasn't working elsewhere as a blackface minstrel. Ouch. You come here as an immigrant and your choice in life is to make fun of other people on stage?

So there you go. Knowing what I know now, I've been able to find traces of Joe here and there -- lamenting the fact that minstrelsy was falling out of fashion in New York in the early 1920s. Eventually he moved to Florida, where that form of entertainment continued to be popular. He ran a novelty amusement business, and I cringe to think what it might have consisted of.

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