Even as I sorted through books one day – including cookbooks – in preparation for a garage sale to be held before moving into disabled-senior housing, a new cookbook enters. A gift from my son, it’s Oscar Tschirky’s (1886-1950) recipe collection. Oscar Tschirky was the famous maître d’hôtel at the Waldorf-Astoria, which has some special meaning for me. Occasionally my mom liked to go to the café there for blueberry pancakes. It was as close as she could get to being an elegant respectable lady as the world defines such. The book reminds me of her and the poem that follows.
Langston Hughes wrote the poem after walking past the Waldorf during the Great Depression. I’ve read that it was originally published in New Masses magazine, a long defunct American Marxist publication that was the literary organ of the cultural left during and after the Depression.
“The hotel opened,” Hughes wrote in The Big Sea: An Autobiography, “at the very time when people were sleeping on newspapers in doorways, because they had no place to go. But suites in the Waldorf ran into thousands a year, and dinner in the Sert Room was ten dollars! (Negroes, even if they had the money, couldn’t eat there. So naturally, I didn’t care much for the Waldorf-Astoria.)”
ADVERTISEMENT FOR THE WALDORF-ASTORIA HOTEL
Fine living . . . a la carte?
Come to the Waldorf-Astoria!
LISTEN HUNGRY ONES!
Look! See what Vanity Fair says about the
“All the luxuries of a private home. . . .”
Now, won’t that be charming when the last flop-house
has turned you down this winter?
“It is far beyond anything hitherto attempted in the hotel
world. . . .” It cost twenty-eight million dollars.
The famous Oscar Tschirky is in charge of banqueting.
Alexandre Gastaud is chef. It will be a distinguished
background for society.
So when you’ve no place else to go, homeless and hungry
ones, choose the Waldorf as a background for your rags–
(Or do you still consider the subway after midnight good
Take a room at the new Waldorf, you down-and-outers–
sleepers in charity’s flop-houses where God pulls a
long face, and you have to pray to get a bed.
They serve swell board at the Waldorf-Astoria. Look at the menu, will
CRABMEAT IN CASSOLETTE
BOILED BRISKET OF BEEF
SMALL ONIONS IN CREAM
Have luncheon there this afternoon, all you jobless.
Dine with some of the men and women who got rich off of
your labor, who clip coupons with clean white fingers
because your hands dug coal, drilled stone, sewed gar-
ments, poured steel to let other people draw dividends
and live easy.
(Or haven’t you had enough yet of the soup-lines and the bit-
ter bread of charity?)
Walk through Peacock Alley tonight before dinner, and get
warm, anyway. You’ve got nothing else to do.
– Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes’ photograph is in the public domain. The poem may be in the public domain too given when it was written.