Posts Tagged ‘“I was sitting in McSorley’s’

The century-old wishbones hanging in McSorley’s

December 5, 2011

So many incredible relics of old New York are taped to and hanging from the walls of McSorley’s Old Ale House, it’s hard to notice the row of dusty wishbones over the crowded bar.

But Sunday’s New York Post mentioned these artifacts and a fascinating story behind them. Were they really placed there by soldiers going off to World War I?

According to several city guidebooks, yes. “Those are the wishbones from going-away dinners of doughboys who never returned from the Great War,” writes Jef Klein in 2006’s The History and Stories of the Best Bars in New York.

“Never dusted, never touched, the wishbones ensure that a part of these soldiers’ lives will be remembered and their sacrifice appreciated, even while their bones may lie in forgotten graves.”

But Joseph Mitchell’s McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon, from 1940, doesn’t mention soldiers, just that the owner had a thing for wishbones:

“[Owner] Old John had a remarkable passion for memorabilia. For years he saved the wishbones of Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys and strung them on a rod connecting the pair of gas lamps over the bar, the dusty bones invariably the first thing a new customer gets inquisitive about.”

However they originated, the city health department made the current owner take them down and clean them off this past April.

[Above, Berenice Abbott’s 1937 photo of inside McSorley’s. The wishbones should be off to the left]

“I was sitting in McSorley’s . . . “

March 16, 2009

“outside it was New York and beautifully snowing. Inside snug and evil . . .”

So begins e.e. cummings’ 1923 poem about drinking a beer at McSorley’s Old Ale House on East Seventh Street, contemplating the seedy life inside the bar and the world outside it.

The poem has some great lines, such as the “slobbering walls,” “luscious jigs dint of ripe silver,” and “both paws slowly loved a dinted mug.” This 1937 Berenice Abbott photo of McSorley’s gives a good idea of what cummings was trying to describe.


The story of McSorley’s is pretty well-known: serving drinks since 1854 (or 1862, according to some); closed to women until 1970; still selling liverwurst and onion sandwiches long after most pubs decided to stick to cheese fries and wings.

It’s now known more as a bridge-and-tunnel attracting, frat-boy hangout. But when East Seventh Street was low-rent, so was the clientele.