Friday, September 02, 2022


Obscurity of the Day: Little Folk of Murray Hill


When Pulitzer's New York World made a sensation with Outcault's Yellow Kid, others wanted to get into the act. At the staid and highbrow New York Herald, a cartoonist with the wonderful name of Astley Palmer-Cooper came up with the totally original idea of having a big group of kids from the affluent Murray Hill neighbourhood all in a big one panel cartoon, brim full of bits of comedic business going on. He came up with a sort of mascot character named Bertie who wore a bicorn hat and bright green (not yellow!) fur-collared cloak, and his objet d'amour, Maud, had a vaguely Asian-looking doll which communicated sentiments via lettering on its nightgown (also not yellow!). 

To all this creativity Mr. Palmer-Cooper added his not particularly impressive cartooning chops and questionable gagwriting ability. Granted, a hundred and twenty some years later something may get lost in the translation, but I find it hard to discern if most of the characters' utterances are even intended to be funny. They seem to have the structural architecture of gags, but I'll be darned if I can focus in on what's actually supposed to be funny about what they're saying. If the series had been long-running I'd chalk it up to me not being sufficiently familiar with these characters, and you have to know their personalities to get the gags. But the sample above is only the second installment of the series, so that ain't it.  

The odd Yellow Kid knockoff Little Folk of Murray Hill only ran for a very short time; it debuted on November 8 1896, and the latest I know it ran is November 29; but it may have run into December. Apparently it is missing from the New York Herald microfilm that Ken Barker used to create his index of that paper, since it does not appear in his list at all. 

Here's what I know about Astley Palmer-Cooper: He was born in England and emigrated to the U.S. in 1888 at the age of 20. He worked for awhile at the Philadelphia Inquirer and Baltimore Herald in addition to the New York Herald (probably freelance in that case). In 1897 he moved to Asheville North Carolina because of health issues, but died of them in August 1898 at age 30, leaving a widow and three kids.


Hello Allan-
This really is pretty weak stuff, but I guess as we're really at the crack of dawn in comics history, anything was good enough. Mr. Cooper seems to favour giving characters the tight, glassy stare of one about to puke.
The doll is definately Asian, Its yellow-kidesque message conveying garment rather bluntly tells us it's a Kobe Doll, and it is the girl's "mascot". I don't see why an explanation was needed; but most of the rest of the little signs that tell us what the characters say (apparently word balloons weren't an established standard yet)include splashes from their consciousness streams rather than jokes. I guess calling a blade a "Toledo" is supposed to be a sample of Cooper's rapier wit. Ouch!
In doing a quick online newspaper search, I find that A. Palmer Cooper had a sort of minor celebrity, especially in the Baltimore area.
Apparently we was known as a onetime Colorado cowboy. He did lectures and drawing exhibitions, often while telling western stories. He co-wrote a play titled "Esau" in 1895, designed the costumes for a show called "Bluff King Hal" (1896),wrote short stories for newspaper syndication like "Miss Waxter's Missionary Cats" (1896), did book illustrations like "The Ballad of La Jeunesse Doree" by Martha Cunningham,(1895) a collection of poetry published in Baltimore.
According to an obit in the Philadelphia Inquirer (1 Sept. 1898), He was the grandson of an eminent physician, Sir Astley Cooper, and was a schoolmate of Rudyard Kipling.
He was popular and busy, but in all this, he still doesn't rise past mediocrity to my jaded pallette.
I have to wonder if this is some sort of promotional tie-in to a local theatre production, possibly around Christmas. I can’t tell what exactly the production might be, Shakespeare or otherwise. I tried digging around to see if something jumps out, but I came up empty handed. Maybe there are further clues in the other comics from this series? Or maybe not!
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