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Yellow Kid

1/22/2016:

In 1898, the city of New York grew into “Greater New York” when Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx and Manhattan joined in one of the biggest consolidations of its time. It became the world’s second-largest city with a multitude of fascinating things happening – fine-art, architectural grandeur, booming business, flourishing museums and libraries. The “Big Apple,” was represented across the nation in part by a comic-strip character named the “Yellow Kid,” who lived in a fictional neighborhood in New York’s East End – known as “Hogan’s Alley.”

It was on this date in 1899 that the Grand Forks Herald announced that the “Hogan’s Alley” comic vaudeville show would premiere in the Metropolitan Opera-House of Grand Forks on February 3rd. Admirers of the “Yellow Kid” were thrilled to watch their favorite characters perform in the “brightest, breeziest, wittiest farce comedy of the present time.”

The “Hogan’s Alley” cartoon-strip was created by R.F. Outcault for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World in 1895. It embodied a gang of ragtag immigrant children living in New York’s slums. The cartoon had taken the nation by storm. Its most famous character, The Yellow Kid, was a little bald-headed, ragamuffin boy whoe real name was Mickey Dugan.

The Yellow Kid was always doing something mischievous, dim-witted, or verging on the line of dangerous. He poked fun at New York’s crime, pollution, and overcrowding , and people loved it.

Even though this comic brought laughs to millions, it also caused drama between the two biggest journalism tycoons in New York – Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World and William Randolph Hearst of the New York Journal. They fought over the Yellow Kid after Hearst stole cartoonist Outcault from Pulitzer in 1896. The two newspapers competed so ferociously that they began posting outlandish headlines in order to capture the other newspaper’s readers. This kind of journalism was called “Yellow Kid Journalism” but over time became simply known as “Yellow Journalism” – writing sensational stories with outrageous headlines.

So 1899 brought the “uncontrollable mirth” of Hogan’s Alley rolling into Grand Forks in “three acts and 150 laughs,” full of pranks, “music, songs and dances,” along with the Yellow Kid’s funny sayings. His puns snapped forth “with the speed of lightning,” and his “blithering nonsense” tickled the funny-bones. The Opera-House was “well-filled,” and the audience “liberally applauded” New-York-City’s fabulously-naughty and famous “Yellow Kid.”

Dakota Datebook written by Michelle Holien and Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM History Department.

Sources: “Hogan’s Alley,” Grand Forks Herald, January 22, 1899, p. 3.

“The Theatre,” Grand Forks Herald, February 4, 1899, p. 4.

“The Theatre,” Grand Forks Herald, February 3, 1899, p. 4.

“The Most Famous Production,” Grand Forks Herald, January 20, 1899, p. 3.

“Scientists and Electricians,” Grand Forks Herald, January 21, 1899, p. 4.

Stefan Kanfer, “From the Yellow Kid to Yellow Journalism,” Civilization 2, No. 3, (May–June 1995), p. 32-37.