Hot Corn: Life Scenes in New York Illustrated

Hot Corn – Life Scenes in New York Illustrated
by Solon Robinson (1854)

This is one of the rare old books from our Robert C. Girard Collection. To my knowledge, it has nothing to do with anomalies research and is just an example of his rare book collecting. The book is one of the oldest in our collection and appears to be a first edition. While it may not contain any paranormal folk tales it seems that it was a notable literary contribution in its day, despite much criticism…hot-corn-life-scenes-1854

“The book is a collection of stories set in New York City’s impoverished Five Points neighborhood, and first appeared in the New York Tribune in 1853.

One of stories was that of Little Katy, a hot corn seller on the street, who is beaten to death by her alcoholic mother who needs Katy’s income to support her drinking, after Katy’s corn supply is stolen.

hot-corn-girlThough it garnered some positive press for promoting morality, especially in religious newspapers (for example, the Christian Secretary of Hartford, Connecticut said “The Hot Corn stories are eloquent appeals in favor of temperance and virtue”), the book (and stage adaptations) were also the subject of much scorn by critics. The New York Herald faulted the book for “giving minute descriptions of life in fashionable houses of ill-fame, and entering into the details of seduction, licentiousness and debauchery, with a gusto, ill concealed by the pretence of morality.” The Southern Literary Messenger excoriated the book, proclaiming that “to say that the man who deliberately writes and prints such perilous and damnable stuff deserves a place in the penitentiary, is feebly to express our notion of the enormity of his offence.”

Author Henry James wrote in his autobiography he was prevented from reading Hot Corn as a child; a copy was given to his father with the admonishment that it wasn’t proper for children to read. James wrote that “so great became from that moment the mystery of the tabooed book, of whatever identity; the question, in my breast, of why, if it was to be so right for others, it was only to be wrong for me….. Neither then nor afterwards was the secret of “Hot Corn” revealed to me …” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow took his sons to see one of the plays in April 1854 and called it “wretched stuff.”   –

Check out some more links about this book, or read digital copies of it at the links below:

[Illustration above is of a “Hot Corn girl” from the book Hot Corn

by John McLenan, engraved by Nathaniel Orr]