Mickey Finn (1918)

Erik Hoover grinchy at GRINCHY.COM
Fri Dec 3 17:32:25 UTC 2004

A fictional Mickey Finn is indexed by Cornell's Making of America, in
the story "A Stray Cremona" - author S.R. Elliot, found in the Sept
1897 issue of The New England Magazine:

"Mickey Finn, the blind fiddler, who supported himself by playing
planxties and jigs at all the weddings and wakes..."

Not the same humorous character, perhaps, but a characterization of
Irish stereotype as an object of crude humor.

On Dec 3, 2004, at 12:10 PM, George Thompson wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       George Thompson <george.thompson at NYU.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Mickey Finn (1918)
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
> The earliest appearance of this incident in the Chicago Tribune was
> also June 23, 1918.
> Evidently a writer named Ernest Jerrold had been writing a series of
> no doubt comic stories about a character named Mickey Finn who lived
> in an Irish district (in the U. S., I think).  Evidently this lead to
> the name being the stereotype name for a stereotype Irisher.  The
> Chicago Tribune also ran occasional comic strips featuring a
> troublesome little boy -- in the one I looked at, the boy chased a cat
> onto a pump; the cat climbed onto the pump handle which caused water
> to come out into the boy's face.  This seemed to be unsigned.
> My recollections of seeing this term in print when a boy was that it
> was used as if synonymous with knockout drops -- as if it produced
> unconsciousness.  My father occasionally used the term in its correct
> meaning: a quick-acting laxative.  (Sorry to introduce a touch of
> prescriptivism here.)
> George A. Thompson
> Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
> Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.
> "We have seen the best of our time.  Machinations, hollowness,
> treachery, and all ruinous disorders follow us disquietly to our
> graves."  King Lear, Act 1, scene 2 (Gloucester speaking).
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at rci.rutgers.edu>
> Date: Friday, December 3, 2004 5:13 am
> Subject: Mickey Finn (1918)
>> Found via Newspaperarchive:
>>    Washington Post, June 23, 1918, p. 1
>>    Chicago, June 23.-? State's Attorney Hoyne, acting on
>>    information as to coercive measures used by waiters to compel
>>    the giving of tips, arrested 100 waiters, members of Waiters'
>>    Union, Local No. 7, today.
>>    Mr. Hoyne had a report that waiters used a certain powder in
>>    the dishes of known opponents to the system.
>>    The powders, according to Mr. Hoyne, produced nausea and were
>>    known as "Mickey Finns." It is thought that many cases of
>>    supposed ptomaine poisoning reported after meals in downtown
>>    cafes and hotels may have been caused by the "Mickey Finns."
>>    (Reno) Nevada State Journal, June 26, 1918, p. 8
>>    Mr. Hoyne believes Crones is the inventor of the "Micky
>>    Finn" powders he accused local waiters of administering to
>>    non-tipping patrons of hotels and cafes.
>>    (Reno) Nevada State Journal, June 29, 1918, p. 4
>>    Ben F. Parker, one of the men seized by State's Attorney
>>    Hoyne in a raid on a Chicago waiters' union headquarters
>>    several days ago in connection with an alleged plot of
>>    waiters to put "Mickey Finn" powder in food served hotel
>>    patrons who refused to give tips, was arrested today in the
>>    lobby of a downtown hotel.
>>    (Lincoln, Nebraska) Evening State Journal, July 10, 1918, p. 1
>>    Ten Chicago waiters and bartenders were indicted here today
>>    on charges growing out of an investigation of the manufacture
>>    and sale of "Mickey Finn" powders.
>>    Fort Wayne (Indiana) News And Sentinel, July 13, 1918, p. 1
>>    Waiters and officials of the Waiters' Union were indicted by
>>    the grand jury today as a result of revelation that patrons of
>>    hotel dining rooms and restaurants, who had omitted tips, had
>>    been drugged with "Mickey Finn" powders, a concoction, colorless
>>    and tasteless, known to the medical profession as tartar emetic.
>> I don't have access to the Chicago Tribune archive at the moment,
>> but I'm
>> sure that many other references to this case could be found.  I
>> did find
>> these items, reprinted from the syndicated Tribune column "A Line
>> O' Type
>> Or Two" ("BLT" was Bert Leston Taylor and "PAN" was Keith Preston):
>>    (Lincoln, Nebraska) Evening State Journal, June 28, 1918, p. 6
>>    "Italians Quick with Knockout." -- Headline.
>>    They may be using Mickey Finn powder in their shells.
>>    (Lincoln, Nebraska) Evening State Journal, June 29, 1918, p. 4
>>    Should a patron not tip,
>>    Let the waiter just slip
>>    'Twixt the cup and the lip
>>      One Mickey Finn powder.
>>    Have an obus boy hear
>>    When he calls for a beer,
>>    Pass the word in his ear,
>>      "Powder monkey, the powder!"
>>    When he falters "Oh my!
>>    I feel clammy, goodbye!"
>>    Let the waiter reply.
>>      "No doubt, 'twas the chowder!"
>>         --PAN
>>    (Lincoln, Nebraska) Evening State Journal, June 29, 1918, p. 4
>>    Slogan from C.R.G.: "A dime a day keeps the Mickey Finn away."
>>         --BLT
>> This all predates the earliest OED3/RHHDAS cite for "Mickey Finn"
>> by a
>> decade.  But considering how widely reported the case was, it
>> seems likely
>> that this was a key source for the term's popularization beyond the
>> Chicago underworld.
>> --Ben Zimmer

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