Thursday, June 23, 2016

Swat Mulligan, the Sultan of Swat and the Taliban – a history and etymology of “the Sultan of Swat”

The Evening World (New York), August 15, 1908, page 4.

In golf, and in life, a do-over is a “Mulligan” - and has been since at least 1936:

[T]he serious slangsleuth Paul Dickson reports the earliest print citation to be an A.P. dispatch of May 5, 1936, crediting the use of mulligan to Marvin McIntyre, an aide to F.D.R., which the reporter defined as “links-ology for the second shot employed after the previously dubbed shot.” The word was popularized in the coverage of President Eisenhower’s golf outings.

William Safire, “On Language,” The New York Times Magazine, March 23, 2008.

No one really knows the etymology for sure, but competing origin stories generally credit the term to a Canadian golfer from Montreal, or a golf club locker room attendant from New Jersey.

Sam Clements recently discovered[i] what seemed like, at first blush, a tantalizing clue:

If it is a bad ball, “off the wicket,” he may take a “mulligan” at it and knock it over the fence, “out of bounds” they call it.

The Colorado Springs Gazette, April 19, 1919, 12/3.

On closer inspection, however, it does not seem to be a perfect match.  The context and rules of cricket suggest that to “take a ‘mulligan’” here, refers to taking a full, hard swing at the ball; not to getting a second chance, as in golf. 

It is possible, I suppose, that this full-swing sense of “Mulligan” is a precursor to the second-chance sense of “Mulligan.”  Did “Mulligan” originate from taking a second tee-shot; a full swing?  But it may be just a “red herring”; any similarity being just a coincidence.  I do not know and have not found any direct evidence of a connection.  

[UPDATE 5/16/2017: See my new post: Hey Mulligan Man! - 

But looking into this newly rediscovered sense of “Mulligan” opened a window into some forgotten aspects of early sports and pop-culture history; the mythical homerun king, “Swat Mulligan,” the original “Sultan of Swat” (not Babe Ruth) and a possible etymology of “Mulligan Stew” (see my earlier post  -  Irish Stew, Irish Militias and Chowder – a History and Etymology of “Mulligan Stew”). 

The swing-away sense of taking a “mulligan” in cricket seems to be derived from the name of greatest baseball hitter you’ve never heard of – “Swat” Mulligan.  And, Babe Ruth was not the first “Sultan of Swat” in baseball; and the original “Sultan of Swat” was not even a swatter of baseballs – he was from Pakistan – no news on whether he played cricket or not.

“Swat” Mulligan

“Swat” Mulligan (or Milligan)[ii] was a mythical baseball slugger who played for the “Poison Oaks” of the “Willow Swamp League” during the earliest days of professional baseball.  His forgotten exploits were rescued from the trash-bin of history by the sportswriter Bozeman Bulger, who chronicled his Bunyan-esque baseball accomplishments in a series of articles in the New York Evening World, beginning in about 1908. 

One typical article told how “Swat Milligan” foiled “Fahrenheit Flingspeed’s” egg-pitch; only to be called out for being hit by his own batted ball.  Flingspeed, of the “Fungo Falls Club,” planned on getting the otherwise nearly invincible “Swat” Mulligan to swing and miss by pitching a Killaloo’s egg to him.  Unluckily for him, Flingspeed was wearing a pair of pants he borrowed from his bullpen-mate, “Harold Hangover.” In Hangover’s most recent outing, he had used some magician’s flash powder to throw his “celebrated ‘firebug’ ball causing Swat to set the woods on fire.”  Due to an unexpected chemical reaction between the egg and the residue of the powder, the egg became hard and rubber-like in his pocket before it was pitched.  Mulligan hit the egg out of the stadium; straight at city hall: 

But due to the “extra-ordinary resiliency of the ball (egg) . . . instead of going into the window it struck the swaying flagstaff on top of the hall with a mighty crash.  As if shot from a Mauser rifle the ball bounded back to the park and struck Swat squarely in the back as he was making his ninth run [around the bases].”  

The Evening World, July 1, 1908, page 12.

In another tale, an injured “Swat” Mulligan pulled a “Kirk Gibson”; limping onto the field after missing two games (he had been laid up due to his fondness for drinking baseball bat varnish), and hit a homerun after “getting the goat” of a Russian pitcher by telling him to, “go back to the mines” in Russian.  Heady stuff!

The Evening World (New York), August 15, 1908, page 4.

The only pitcher who ever really got the best of “Swat” was Cy Young; although it must have been late in Mulligan’s career (Cy Young became a professional in 1889 and entered the major leagues in 1890). 

The Evening World, July 1, 1908, page 12.

“Swat’s” sudden, post-career fame led to a stage play based on his life and a doll (action figures, I guess) in his likeness.

The Evening Star (Washington DC), February 12, 1911, part 2.

Tacoma Times (Washington), July 7, 1911, page 6.

In 1915, the New York Yankees tried to lure “Swat” out of retirement to coach the Yankees:

The Seattle Star (Washington), January 13, 1915, page 9.
And his son, “Swat Mulligan, Jr.”, also played some professional ball:

The Evening World (New York), June 14, 1919, page 9.
As a result of “Swat” Mulligan’s reputation as a great baseball slugger, other sportswriters would sometimes refer to strong hitters in baseball and golf as the “Swat Mulligan” of their respective team or sport:
The Evening World (New York), August 22, 1919, page 2.

The Evening World (New York), June 13, 1919, page 22.

The Evening World (New York), July 10, 1917, page 10.

In 1920, even the immortal Babe Ruth was said to display his “Swat Mulligan Stuff” at the Annandale course in Pasadena, California:

The Evening World (New York), March 13, 1920, page 8.

It seems likely that the word, “mulligan,” as used to describe a batsman in cricket, was a reference to “Swat” Mulligan and his prodigious talent.

The “Sultan of Swat”

Babe Ruth, a real “Swat Mulligan” of the diamond and the links, was also known as the “Sultan of Swat,” a title he bore regularly beginning in the 1920 season, the year after he set a new major league homerun record (29) in 1919, his last season with the Boston Red Sox.

But “Babe,” who is still revered as THE “Sultan of Swat,” was not the first.  In August of 1920, for example, Grantland Rice (who is responsible for popularizing, “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game”) referred to Babe Ruth as:

. . . the new Sultan of Swat . . . [iii]

Earlier that year, Rice had even praised a different “Sultan of Swat” and tried to predict a successor – without including Ruth in the discussion:

[Ty] Cobb has only a year or two to go as the Sultan of Swat, and when he begins to skid the battle to take his place will be a merry one, with Sisler favored, as Collins, Jackson and Veach are no longer debutantes.[iv]

Just one month earlier, Grantland Rice referred to Pat Moran, the manager of the Cincinnati Reds as, “the Red Sultan of Swat[v]; two years earlier (1917), he had dubbed Honus Wager, “Honus – Honus the Hittite – Sultan of Swat”.[vi] 

And even then, the expression had already been around for a few years, even if it did not appear regularly or often in print.  As early as 1911, a sportswriter from Detroit debated:

Who is the best hitter in the world? Here is a question that base ball fans throughout the territory in which the national game is played never tire of arguing.  Any one of a dozen sluggers can bring forward thousands of admirers who will talk until they are black in the face to prove that their man is the one and original Sultan of Swat.[vii] [(candidates included Ty Cobb, Sam Crawford, Larry Lajoie, Tris Speaker, Honus Wagner and Sherwood Magee)]

The Real Sultan of Swat

In 2009, Foreign Policy Magazine online published an article entitled, “The Sultan of Swat,” about the dangerous Taliban leader who held sway over the Swat Valley at the time.  Although I do not know the motivation for the headline, I would not be surprised if the editors had intended the headline to be a clever reference to Babe Ruth's moniker.  If so, the expression had come full-circle since the "Babe's" nickname was derived, in the first instance, from an actual title of a former ruler of the region - the “Sultan of Swat”.

[T]he ruler of Swat, called himself Sultan.
Edward E. Oliver (illustrated by J. L. Kipling), Across the Border: or, Pathan and Biloch, London, Chapman and Hall, 1890, page 218.

Before the Yusufzai Afghans settled in the Peshawar valley, Hashtgnar was held by the Shalmanis, a Tajik race, subjects of the Sultan of Swat.
The Imperial Gazatteer of India, Volume 13, Oxford, 1908, page 60.

Swat is a mountainous district in Pakistan once known as the “Switzerland of Pakistan”; but which is now better known as a former Taliban stronghold and location of some of the fiercest fighting in the Afghan War and the Global War on Terrorism.  As of 2015, however, peace had returned.

As noted by Greg Kemnitz, writing on

"Swat" [(in the nickname, “Sultan of Swat”)] is also a double meaning:

"Swat" is also the name of an actual district in Pakistan . . . .  At various times in its history, Swat's leaders were called Sultans.  So, there were "real" Sultans of Swat in history, and doubtless a sportswriter with some sense of history and geography gave The Babe this enduring nickname.

While it is true that sportswriters eventually gave the title to various baseball sluggers, including most enduringly to Babe Ruth, other writers in the early 1900s used the real title, “Sultan of Swat,” as a humorous, shorthand title for generic, "exotic" characters. 

In 1904, for example, a writer for the New York Sun was so happy fishing that he would not trade places with an Eastern potentate:

For the gentle spring days have come, the balmy blissful days when the sun is just right and the earth seems to have reached teh very limit, and as we sit here, with our float bobbing up and down on the rippling water and the bait only half gone, we would not change places with the Sultan of Swat and the King of Knuck both rolled into one and riding around in a 100 horse-power automobile over a special track paved with prostrate cops and bill collectors.[viii]

In 1906, a poem in the New York Sun described how theatrical press agents create new sensations:

“The Milk Bath Artist Has Seen His Day,” 

. . .

The marrying girls of the sextette bunch,
   The girl who jilted a millionaire,
The girl who, ‘tis said, one time took lunch
   With the Sultan of Swat (on a girlish dare)[ix]

In 1912, writing about the love life of a famous actress from Cincinnati who affected a French persona:

Gertrude’s Parisian accent and shoulder-shrug won her instant recognition.  An Indian rajah – we failed to catch the gentleman’s name, but we are sure it was not the Sultan of Swat – visiting New York, was so enchanted with her beauty, and especially her dazzling, flashing teeth, that, when she declined to join his harem, he presented her with his favorite anklet of burnished gold to match Gertrude’s burnished gold hair . . . .[x]

In a 1914 article about how American diplomats avoid the ostentatious accessories favored by their European counterparts:

Swank! . . .Yankee swank!

Your ambassador to the Court of St. James must wear his dress suit without trimmings.  For him decorations of any kind are sternly forbidden.  No ribbons or medals may ornament his breast.  Knee breeches and silk stockings are not for him.  It is the same with the American minister plenipotentiary to the Sultan of Swat [(although the rest of the story was about an American diplomat to Zanzibar – which is nowhere near Swat)].

The use of “Sultan of Swat” appears to be a melding of an actual title and the idiomatic use of the title with yet another baseball title - the “King of Swat.”

The “King of Swat”

Long before anyone was the “Sultan of Swat” in baseball, the “King of Swat” (which dates to as early as 1901[xi]) reigned supreme.  At various times,  

Honus Wager was the “King of Swat” . . .  

South Bend News-Times (Indiana), December 25, 1913, page 8.

“Nap” Lajoie was the “King of Swat” . . .    

Tacoma Times (Washington), June 9, 1913, page 2.

Ty Cob was the King of Swat . . .

Tacoma Times (Washington), February 20, 1918, page 6.

. . . and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson was the “King of Swat.”

El Paso Herald (Texas), June 28, 1913, comic section page 6.

Eventually, Babe Ruth was crowned the “King of Swat”:

Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia), November 6, 1921, page 62.

The earliest examples of Ruth as the “King of Swat” pre-date the earliest examples of him as the “Sultan of Swat that I could find.  He may even have been better known as the “King of Swat” at least early in his career.  Searches in databases of pre-1923 newspaper for [“king of swat” and “babe ruth”] yield about twice as many “hits” as searches for [“sultan of swat” and “babe ruth”].  

But for some reason, the “Sultan of Swat” was more enduring . . . perhaps it was the ridiculous crown (King Vitamin anyone?).

[i] American Dialect Society’s e-mail discussion list archive, June 17, 20:10:25 EDT 2016.
[ii] “Swat’s” last name was originally “Milligan,” but over time, he was frequently referred to as “Mulligan,” even by writers in his own paper, and sometimes in headlines above articles in which the name was spelled, “Milligan.”
[iii] The Washington Herald (Washington DC), August 19, 1920, page 9.
[iv] The New York Tribune, January 2, 1920, page 10.
[v] The New York Tribune, December 26, 1919, page 10.
[vi] The Harrisburg Telegraph (Pennylvania), February 24, 1917, page 14.
[vii] The Ogdensburg Journal (Ogdensburg, New York), March 28, 1911, page 5 (referencing an article from the Detroit Free Press).
[viii] The Topeka State Journal, April 29, 1904, page 8 (reprint from the New York Sun).
[ix] The New York Sun, November 4, 1906, page 33.
[x] The Seattle Star (Washington), August 29, 1912, page 4.
[xi] The St. Louis Republic, November 1, 1901, page 4 (“[Patsy] Donovan has by no means given up hope of retaining the King of Swat [(Jesse Burkett)].”)

[Note: Edited November 8, 2018 to add one early (1890) reference to the actual Sultan of the Swat Valley, and minor edits for clarity.]

Monday, June 20, 2016

Irish Stew, Irish Militias and Chowder Parties - a History and Etymology of "Mulligan Stew"

"The Mulligan Guard Lies But - Surrenders" (Puck, 1884 - a precursor of "Mulligan Stew"?)
Mulligan Stew is “a stew made from whatever ingredients are available.”[i]  In the early 1900s, it was closely associated with hobos or tramps who would make stew with whatever they could get their hands on:

On Monday this band of vags [(vagabonds)] started out to work the town which is probably the only work they have been guilty of for many a moon.  They held up all our store people for grub in different forms, and later on assembled below town to cook it.  Near the Monarch mine they started the fires, and with old apple cans to serve as pots, began the manufacture of a Mulligan stew.

The Neihart Herald (Neihart, Montana), July 18, 1896, page 3.

Now I know why the Lady was a Tramp:

She wined and dined on Mulligan Stew . . . that’s why the lady is a tramp!

Rodgers and Hart, “The Lady is a Tramp,” from Babes in Arms.

(Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett sang “The Lady is a Tramp” (although they skip the opening verse and its mulligan stew line).)

But why is it a “Mulligan” stew?  A “mulligan stew” is frequently described as being similar to an “Irish stew,” so perhaps Mulligan, an Irish surname, is merely a placeholder name indicative of its Irishness; as others have surmised.[ii]  But “Irish stew,” itself, was already used idiomatically, on occasion, from as early as 1805, with a meaning similar to “Mulligan stew”; something thrown together from random, disparate elements at hand. 

Which raises the question, why “Mulligan”?  The answer may lie in a popular play about a rag-tag Irish militia outfit in New York City . . .  

The Mulligan Guard Chowder

. . . which featured a chowder made with a cat.  And of course, if you make a chowder with a cat, isn’t it really a stew?

Coincidentally (or not?), the earliest examples of “mulligan stew” in print related to another group of rag-tag militia units; “Coxey’s Army.”

Coxey’s Army and Mulligan Stew

In 1894, the United States was in the second year of what would be a four year long depression; the worst depression in history up to that time.  To protest the economic policies that contributed to the Panic of 1893, and to lobby for the creation of a government jobs plan that would pay workers with paper currency, Ohio businessman Jacob Coxey organized an army of workers to march on Washington; and inspired workers in other parts of the country to organize similar armies to mount similar marches.  These rag-tag militia-like units were collectively known as, “Coxey’s Army.”[iii]

An army marches on its stomach, and Coxey’s armies (or at least some of them) marched on “mulligan stew.”  All of the earliest examples of “mulligan stew” I could find in print related to feeding Coxey’s armies:

Contributions of food came in liberally yesterday . . . .  The meat and potatoes were stewed together into what is called Mulligan stew, “because it goes further that way,” as Commissary Brown put it.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Seattle, Washington), April 12, 1894, page 5.

Tensions were high two weeks later, when one wing of the “Industrial Army,” under the command of “General” Hogan, commandeered a train in Montana to transport their members to Washington DC.  The real militia was called out, and there were rumors that the federal government was sending some “regulars,” including four companies of the so-called “Buffalo Soldiers,” who were stationed at Fort Missoula, Montana.  Through it all, the workers (or wannabe workers) ate “mulligan stew”:

Rations were served to each company and the men had what they called a “mulligan,” which consisted of a kind of Irish stew made of the scraps left over from the former meals. 

The Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana), April 24, 1894, page 4.

A few months later, a boatload of Coxeyites from the Northwest ate “mulligan stew” while passing through Detroit on their way to Washington DC:

Dinner was served today between the hours of 2 and 4 o’clock. . . .  The bill of fare consisted of “mulligan,” which closely resembles an Irish stew, potatoes, and black coffee.  “Mulligan” was the favorite and the men passed up their tin cans for refilling “full many a time and oft.”  Two or three men were having their hair cut while dispatching the delectable stew.  The floor is used for a table and the men eat with their fingers or improvised wooden spoons.  The cooking was done with oil stoves.  The stew was boiled in a battered old boiler and the coffee was prepared in an ex-water pail.

The Inter-Ocean (Chicago, Illinoi), July 23, 1894.

Other unemployed men, some of whom were headed to Washington DC to join the Coxey Army, enjoyed “Mulligan” stew on the road during the same period:

I soon found out they were on their way to Washington; two with the avowed intention of joining the commonweal army, the others on one of the aimless expeditions that go to make up the sum of existence for these latter-day nomads. . . .   During the afternoon Oakland bought his keg of beer, and on its arrival in camp it was voted unanimously to hold it until the next day and then to celebrate the day by cooking a “mulligan.” Now, mulligan is a stew of large proportions and many ingredients, and, as it would require considerable hustling to get together the stuff, we all started early.  To my share fell the tomatoes and potatoes.  Army was to get coffee, sugar, salt and pepper, and the rest were to provide meat, bread, and if possible, chickens. 

The Evening Star (Washington DC), May 17, 1894, page 3.

Although there is no direct evidence that “Mulligan stew” was a reference to “The Mulligan Guard Chowder,” the coincidence of a rag-tag army of workers eating “Mulligan stew” and a rag-tag Irish militia eating “Mulligan Guard chowder” may at least raise an eyebrow.  It seems plausible that someone in Coxey’s Army could have used “Mulligan stew” as a playful, pop-culture reference to “The Mulligan Guard Chowder.”  And even if the term did not originate in Coxey’s Army, it may nonetheless have been a reference to what had been a popular play fifteen years earlier.

“Mulligan stew” also owes a debt of gratitude to “Irish stew”.

Irish Stew

The Irish have long been associated with stew.  “Irish Stew” appeared in cookbooks as early as 1802.[iv]  The early recipes were generally pretty simple, and required very few ingredients; usually mutton (or optionally, beef), potatoes and onions, and sometimes thyme, parsley and/or carrots.  

Duncan MacDonald, The New London Cook, London, Albion Press, 1808, page 367.

But despite the simplicity of the recipes as they appeared in cookbooks, such stews were apparently known for being amenable to mixing whatever old or fresh ingredients were lying around.  As early as the 1805, “Irish Stew” was used idiomatically, to refer to thing made up of random collections of various ingredients; suggesting, perhaps, that some Irish stews may already have had something in common with what we now call a Mulligan stew.

In 1805, a writer likened the craft of writing poetry to the making of an Irish stew:

To the Author’s Grandson.

Into my room whene’er you pop,
You think it is some workman’s shop,
A Poet’s shop – where scraps and scratches,
Made like a motley quilt of patches;
. . .
A queer mixt medley, old and new,
Just as you make an Irish stew;
The Poet thus crams things together,
And stirs them with a Goose’s feather.

Mr. Pratt (Samuel Jackson), Harvest-Home, Volume 3, London, Richard Phillips, 1805, page 57.

In 1810, a theater critic described  production thrown together from old bits as an “Irish stew”:

Mr. Arnold’s Christmas dish, an Irish-stew, made up of old materials, appeared for the first time on the 26th.

The Monthly Mirror (London), January, 1810, page 65.

“Irish stew” was also used figuratively in the United States, from time to time.  In 1869, a review of the play, “An Irish Stew, or the Mysterious Widow of Long Branch,” for example, described the cast of characters as being, “mixed up in a regular Irish stew through the intolerable intermeddling of Mr. Macglider as a peace-maker.”[v] 

In 1886, a headline critical of inconsistent reporting in British newspapers as concocting “an Irish Stew With Socialistic Seasoning.”  Several London newspapers had apparently written editorials likening anarchist terrorists convicted of murder in the Haymarket Affair with pro-Irish independence agitators, like Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, in the United States.  Britain was then trying to negotiate an extradition treaty with the United States that would enable them to get their hands on those “political” criminals.  The American writer believed that comparing convicted political murderers to political agitators was a false equivalence.

Omaha Daily Bee (Nebraska), August 21, 1886, page 1.

 In 1887, an article about a Mexican dinner served at a banquet in Philadelphia described one of the dishes as, “Mexican-Irish stew”:

. . . “Puchero,” which came next, was made of fried cabbage, goat meat, fried carrots and fried bananas, and is known as a “Mexican-Irish stew.”

Arizona Weekly Enterprise (Florence, Arizona), June 18, 1887, page 1.
Since “Irish Stew” was sometimes regarded as a mix of incongruous elements, perhaps it was inevitable that a common Irish name, like Mulligan, would become the name of a “stew” made from whatever one has on hand.

But why Mulligan in particular?  Like many catch-phrases and new expression, its origin may have been on the stage.  In this case, its origins may stem from the well-known team of Irish comedians, Harrigan and Hart.

Irish Comedians

Hogan & Hart were one of the most successful comedy teams, producers and theater owners of the late nineteenth century.  In 1879, The New York Times referred to them as “ernest disciples of the type of gritty realism pioneered by Honore Balzac and Emile Zola.”[vi]

The reviewer compared Hogan & Hart’s series of “Mulligan Guard” plays to Zola’s series of Les Rougon-Macquart novels; stories about the lives of a middle class family during the Second Empire.  

 The “Mulligan Guard” series focused on the lives of members of the middle or lower classes in New York City.  The title characters were members of a neighborhood Irish militia company.  Other characters in the plays included members of a neighborhood black militia, the Skidmore Guards, captained by Simpson Primrose and the Reverend Palestine Puter; and a German couple, Gustavus Lochmuller and his wife Bridget.  Although the plays were considered low-brow entertainment (the New York Times reviewer assumed that names, Hogan & Hart, were only “vaguely suggestive” to its readers), Hogan & Hart’s Theatre Comique was the most successful theater in the city; and the Times gave them their stamp of approval:

Harrigan and Hart were formerly “variety performers,” and were highly esteemed in their profession.  This was their chrysalis state, for they soon developed in the butyterfly state of managers, and the Theatre Comique was their fertile garden.  Here they established the old-fashioned sort of song-and-dance performance, though it was soon observed that they were an unusually ambitious couple.  As time wore on, they began to introduce novelties into their business, and, thanks to their association with an able musician – Mr. David Braham – they were soon able to carry out an idea which had been fermenting in the brain of Mr. Harrigan.  The latter conc eived the project of placing upon his stage a series of plays depicting low life in New York, interspersed with original melodies.  The author of the Rougon-Macquart novels, it is needless to say, proceded from the same starting point.  Well, Mr. Harrigan wrote “Tue Mulligan Guards’ Picnic,” and Mr. Braham gave the piece a musical seting.  The success of the novelty was remarkable, and it was soon followed by another play of the same sort, “The Mulligan Guards’ Ball,” then by “The Mulligan Guards’ Chowder.”

[Their] plays have presented the same characters in new situations, and are connected in the manner of a magazine story, which is published serially.  Mr. Harrigan’s central purpose seems to have been to give a realistic picture of life among the poor wards of our City, although he has never hesitated to sacrifice realism to farce. . . . The basis of his work is simple Irishmen, Germans, and negroes figure in the story, and the absolute impossibility of these three elements of nationality to live in concord furnishes its amusing texture.

The New York Times Theater Reviews, 1870-1885, New York, The New York Times & Arno Press, 1975 (1879 D 21, 7:2).

The lower classes depicted in the plays were also fans.  This etching depicts an audience watching the “thrilling spectacle of the march of the Mulligan Guards” – with the guardsmen all decked out in mismatched, non-uniform uniforms:

An image from the novelization of the first episode of the Mulligan Guard shows the “march of the Mulligan Guards” as they go home after a day of drilling and a “target shoot.”  The joke of the episode was that they never could hit the target during the drill, so they had to literally “drill” holes in the wooden target in order to salvage their reputation.

The History of the Mulligan Guard, New York, Collin & Small, 1874, page 28.

 The song from the “Mulligan Guards,” was popular enough, and ubiquitous enough, that an Italian organ grinder had the song on his organ in 1878, when he was still in mourning over the recent death of King Vittorio Emanuele II:

An organ-grinder struck the town yesterday with his organ draped in mourning for the dead King.  His silent token of his grief was very touching until he began to grind out “The Mulligan Guards.” – Oil City Derrick.

Puck (New York), Volume 2, Number 47, January 30, 1878, page 13.

When the “Mulligan Guard Chowder” debuted in 1879, the New York Times gave it a favorable review:

The Mulligan Guard's Chowder” . . . is a very broad and realistic sketch of low life, but an irresistibly comic one.

The New York Times Theater Reviews, 1870-1885, New York, The New York Times & Arno Press, 1975 (1879 Ag 22, 5:2).

One advertisement for the play suggests that the chowder was made, like “Mulligan stew,” with random ingredients – including a “cat” or wild tomcat (proper name Thomas):

 The New York Herald, September 14, 1879, page 4.

A summary of incidents in the play, published in another advertisement, seems to confirm that the chowder may have been made with a cat; at least a cat is featured in the plot.  In scene 6, the action moves from Manhattan to the “Jersey Beach,” where there is some fishing, clam digging, a “Hot Chowder,” a funeral, and the “Appearance of the “Felis Maniculatus” – a cat (or a rat? [vii]).  The song that follows, “Dolly and Kitty and Mary So Pretty,” may be about a woman named Kate, or could a reference to the cat.

Although the scanty evidence does not prove a connection between the “Mulligan Guard Chowder” and “Mulligan stew,” the extended period of popularity of the “Mulligan Guards,” generally, suggests that the connection is possible.  The “Guard” were still popular enough during the mid-1880s that several political cartoons in Puck were modeled after them:

Puck (1884)

As late as 1893, Harrigan was still performing the “negro burial” bit from the “Mulligan Guard Chowder.”  Since that incident appeared in the same scene as the chowder incident, he may well have still been performing the chowder bit.  Although I could not find any specific reference to his performing the “chowder” bit into the 1890s, he or others may have kept it alive:

It is a pity that Mr. Harrigan cannot infuse the same up-to-date spirit into his productions, but the truth is that of recent years he has raked over his old material too thoroughly, and, besides, dozens of imitators have arisen with plays modeled on the ones that made him famous long ago, and now the public has grown a little tired of those phases of negro, Irish, and Italian characters which constitute Mr. Harrigan’s chief stock in trade.

The Sun (New York), August 31, 1893, page 5.

Ed Harrigan kept the “Mulligan Guard” characters and situations alive in the early 1900s, when he published a collection of “Mulligan Guard” stories.[viii]  Although the book did not include the cat-chowder incident from “The Mulligan Guard Chowder,” there are several references to chowder in the book.

 Although none of this proves that the “Mulligan Guard Chowder” was, in fact, the inspiration for “Mulligan stew,” it seems like a plausible explanation.  And, if “Mulligan stew” was inspired by a fictional “Mulligan Guard Chowder,” the “Mulligan Guard,” itself, may have been inspired by actual events.

Irish Militia

Neighborhood militia units were a common feature of life in New York City, and many of them resembled, in one way or another, the fictional “Mulligan Guard”:

There are a great number of militia companies in New York, and some of them are really very martial-looking indeed.  I am told there is a company of Highlanders, formed by the sons of far Caledonia; and there are German, French, Italian companies, &c.  There are a number of target companies, each known by some particular name – usually, I believe, that of a favourite leader who is locally popular among them. . . .

A few of them are “The Washington Market Chowder Guard” (chowder is a famous dish in the United States), “Bony Fusileers,” “Peanut Guard,” “Sweet’s Epicurean Guard” (surely these must be confectioners), “George R. Jackson and Company’s Guard,” “Nobody’s Guard,” “Oregon Blues,” “Tenth Ward Light Guard,” “Carpenter Guard,” “First Ward Magnetizers” . . . and multitudes of others.

. . .

Generally a target, profusely decorated with flowers, is carried before the company, borne on the stalwart shoulders of a herculean specimen of the African race, to be shot at for prize and glory, and the “bubble reputation” alone.  On its return from the excursion and practice, the target will display many an evidence of the unerring skill and marksmanship of the young and gallant corps.

Lady Emmeline Stuart-Wortley, Travels in America, Volume 1, London, Richard Bentley, 1851, pages 298-299.

The fictional “Mulligan Guard” may also have been based on a real-life “Mulligan Guard”:

At a Meeting of the James Mulligan Guard, held at their headquarters 125 Grand street, on Thursday evening, April 2, a full attendance being present, it was unanimously resolved to have an election for officers for the spring parade, and the following gentlemen were unanimously chosen: . . . Patrick McDonald; . . . Donahoe; . . . Donnelly; . . . Rourke; . . . Doyle; . . . Stuart; . . . O’Connor.  After election the members retired to an adjoining room and filled their bumpers [(glasses)].  The first toast was given to the Hon. James Buchanan, President of the United States; the second was the Army and Navy; the third, the James Mulligan Guard, one and inseparable; fourth, The Man whose name we bear; all of which were drank with three times three [(three cheers; three times)], and interspersed with various appropriate songs.

The New York Herald, April 5, 1857, page 7.

The name and ethnic makeup of the real and fictional militia units is not the only similarity between the two.  The life of the real-life James Mulligan, patron of the real-life Mulligan Guard, closely parallels the life of Terrance Mulligan, the fictional patron of the original fictional “Mulligan Guard.”[ix]

The History of the Mulligan Guard.

Who has not heard of the renowned Mulligan Guard? . . . Its members are earnest, honest, enthusiastic men, and the Guard will undoubtedly be the nucleus of a crack infantry regiment one of these days.  But even then it may be questioned whether it will allow its name to be changed, so proud are they of their patron, Terrence Mulligan, the Assistant Alderman of the red-hot Seventh [Ward] . . . .

The History of the Mulligan Guard, New York, Collin & Small, 1874.[x]

James Mulligan, the patron of the real-life militia, was a successful farrier (horse-shoer) and neighborhood politician who was active in Democratic and Tammany Hall politics.  He lived at 119 Grand Street in New York City, and owned an events facility at 125 Grand Street that he rented out for meetings, dinners, and balls. 

In 1854, a watershed year in Tammany Hall politics, he was on the Democratic ticket for School Trustee of the Fourteenth Ward.  He was also active in Irish politics.[xi]  In the mid-1840s, he was a member of the General Committee for the “United Irish Repeal Association”,[xii] a political movement that supported constitutional reform in Ireland and independence from Great Britain.   In the mid-1850s, James Mulligan served as President of the “Irish Aid Society,” a charity benefiting poor Irish in New York City.[xiii]  One of their programs granted money to people willing to relocate to “the West . . . whose virgin soil teems with fertility, ready to give up its golden treasures to the first efforts of industry.”

Although James Mulligan appears to have become a successful businessman and community leader, his earlier life involved some comic situations that would have been right at home in a “Mulligan Guard” skit. 

In 1838, Mulligan was fined $25 and costs for throwing a bucket of water or two over Mrs. Webb’s head after she laid out her daughter’s best petticoat to dry in front of his fireplace without permission.  He threw the petticoat out into the yard, calling the child a “brat.”  She said, “my child, sir, is no brat, sir; you nasty good for nothing ------!”  Mulligan told her to get out of the yard, “or I’ll throw a bucket of water on you!”  She dared him; “Oh brave blackguard, throw a pail of water on a woman!  I dare you to do it, you dirty fellow!” So he did – twice.[xiv]

The previous year, Mr. Mulligan was in court as plaintiff when one, Edward Mahony, stole “a turnip and trimmings – a watch and its appendages, the property of James Mulligan, No. 119 Grand street.”  The defendant claimed he was only borrowing it.  A third-party testified that Mahony had offered to trade watch-chains with him.  The verdict – “petty larceny only.”[xv]

Ed Harrigan, who created the “Mulligan Guard” series, was born in New York City in 1844 and would have been fourteen years old when the “James Mulligan Guard” held its meetings in 1858.  If Harrigan lived in an Irish neighborhood in New York City, and had a passing familiarity with the social and political scene, he may well have been aware of James Mulligan and his “Mulligan Guards.”  The “Mulligan Guard” series could have been based on his childhood recollections of a specific or general recollection of the real-life “James Mulligan Guard.”

Another element of “Mulligan Guard Chowder” was also based on real life.  “Chowder Parties” were a common feature of local political, social and military life.

Chowder Parties

The “chowder party,” a close cousin to the “clam bake,” dates to at least 1834.

In a discussion of how best to celebrate the Fourth of July in 1834:

For our own part, we are free to say that we like not the tumult of a city celebration, and shall seek our pleasure in a more quiet mode; but whether it shall be by means of a chowder party in company with “the trampers,” on Barren Island – by a family dinner at home, or by a visit to one of the thousand beautiful spots which are to be found upon our own island, or within fifty miles of New-York, yet remains to be determined.

The Long-Island Star (Brooklyn), June 26, 1834, page 3.

One of the Vanderbilts offered “Chowder Party” excursions in the 1840s:

Morning Herald (New York), July 24, 1840, page 3.

There was a “chowder party” in support of women’s suffrage in Seekonk, Massachusetts in 1842:

Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York), August 8, 1842, page 2.

 Six decades later, a newspaper article surveyed the history of “chowder parties” as the “Chowder Party” season heated up in the late summer of 1900.  The article describes how the “chowder party” had become a standard feature of social, political and militia life; similar to the fictional “Mulligan Guard Chowder” and with similarities to the real life of James Mulligan, the patron of the real “Mulligan Guard”:

The chowder party was originally an outing arranged by a few men, who made use of a “day off” to fish and then have a “bite” and a drink before coming home . . . .  Target shoots and picnics suffered because of the popularity of the chowder parties, and it was only a few years after their introduction that outing parties had to bear that name to make them attractive.

But as they grew in size the chowder part became less important, and a chowder party for a shop association, lodge, military company or political club now usually dispenses with clams; what it really needs is beer.

The men who go into politics for the purpose of securing office for themselves or for their friends, if they live in the lower part of the city, usually have headquarters where their friends may congregate [(as did James Mulligan)]. . . . The association bears his name, and every winter the saloons, barber shops and little stores have a placard in their windows on which there is a portrait of the leader and the announcement that the Patrick McCarthy or Moses Cohen or Giovanni Peanutti Associatino will have a “grand reception ball” at some hall in or near the district. . . .

It’s a long time between drinks from one grand ball and reception to another, and in order to keep himself well before his constituents and to show that he is still “it” the leader usually selects the dog days to give his friends an outing, which has for years taken the form of a chowder party.

New York Tribune, September 9, 1900, Illustrated Supplement, page 1.

In testimony before the New York Senate in 1893, Tammany Hall Democrats were grilled about using the sales of the Seventh Ward’s “chowder party” tickets to secure political favors, influence and positions:

“Is it not a fact that the saloon keepers and houses of prostitution paid $5,000 for chowder tickets?”

The witness replied that the insinuation was infamous.

Then Chairman Lexow innocently inquired, “How much chowder was supplied a man for $5?” and ex-Judge Ransom assured the Senator that there were many other things in chowder parties besides chowder.  That gave Mr. Goff an opening, and he added to the prevailing merriment by remarking that chowder parties, and even chowder, contained as many things as are in the list of a district leader.

The Sun (New York), June 8, 1894, page 2.

Mulligan Parties
By the early 1900s, “Mulligan” came full circle.  Whereas “Mulligan,” perhaps from “Mulligan Guard Chowder,” became “Mulligan Stew;” “Mulligan,” apparently from “Mulligan stew,” may have occasionally replaced “chowder” in “chowder party.”  Or, perhaps the expression, “Mulligan party,” merely reflected the fact that some people organized parties around a “Mulligan stew,” as others did around chowder.

There was a “Mulligan party” at Pike’s Peak in 1907:

The Evening Statesman (Walla Walla, Washington), February 7, 1907, page 5.

In 1913, Thomas Gaines was arrested for holding “mulligan parties” with stolen chickens:

The Tacoma Times (Tacoma, Washington), August 16, 1913, page 1.

 In 1915, one writer (thinking ahead, presumably, to the end of World War I) said:

A ‘Mulligan’ is a great affair. It’s a sort of cross between a Sunday school meeting in Japan and an English athletic meet in Berlin in 1917.

Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), July 26, 1915, page 12.[xvi]


The expression, “Mulligan stew,” may reflect a melding of “Irish stew” with Harrigan & Hart’s “Mulligan Guard Chowder”; a chowder that the fictional “Mulligan Guard” made with a cat.  The expression may have taken root when unemployed men organized themselves into militia-like units – “Coxey’s Army” – for a march on Washington to protest economic conditions and lobby for a federal jobs program.  The widespread use of “Mulligan stew” in Coxey’s army may have influenced the continued association of “Mulligan stew” with tramps and hobos.  And, the fictional “Mulligan Guard” may have been based on the actual “Mulligan Guard” that was active in New York City in the 1850s.

Of course, I could be wrong; if so, I want a do-over – a “Mulligan” – but that’s a whole nuther story.

[ii] See, for example, “Mulligan Stew”, (accessed June 19, 2016) and Barry Popik, “Mulligan Stew”, The Big Apple online Etymology Dictinoary (accessed June 19, 2016).
[iv] John Mollard, The Art of Cookery Made Easy and Refined, 2d edition, London, 1802, page 53 (Cutlets a la Irish Stew).
[v] The New York Herald, February 9, 1869, page 7.
[vi] The New York Times Theater Reviews, 1870-1885, New York, The New York Times & Arno Press, 1975 (1879 D 21, 7:2).
[vii] “Felis” is the genus of a type of cat and “Maniculatis” is a species of mouse..
[viii] Edward Harrigan, The Mulligans, New York, G. W. Dillingham Company, 1901.  
[ix] The original manifestation of the fictional “Mulligan Guard,” in 1874, was said to have been organized by a man named Hussey, with a patron named Alderman Terrence Mulligan.  Later versions of the “Mulligan Guard” appear to have been organized by a grocer named Dan Mulligan.
[x] The book does not list the name of the author, but the characters and situations appear to be at least based on Ed Harrigan’s play, as his name is mentioned on page 1 of the book as one of the leaders of the “Mulligan Guard.”
[xi] The New York Herald, October 26, 1854, page 1.
[xii] New York Daily Tribune, February 8, 1844, page 3.
[xiii] The New York Herald, September 6, 1855, page 2.
[xiv] TheMorning Herald (New York), January 23, 1838, page 2.
[xv] The Morning Herald (New York), August 16, 1837, page 2.
[xvi] Credit goes to Stephen Goransan for uncovering the sense of “mulligan” as a party, and finding the citation from the Salt Lake Telegram, July 25, 1915, page 12.