Mose the Fireboy: The Imitators

“Mose Among the Britishers,” a collection of Lithographs inspired by Mose the fireboy.

Almost at once, the character of Mose encouraged a legion of imitators. Some were crass opportunists, producing their own unlicensed version of the Mose plays. But Mose also started to appear elsewhere, as a costumes character (often with his girlfriend Lize) in parades, often played by firemen. It was the start of a process in which Mose went from being a specific character to a mythic one. During the same year that “Glance at New York” debuted, other performers started borrowing Mose as a “type,” and the general public started to see him as part of a common treasury of characters that could be represented during public events.

Here are a few samples of artists and theaters inspired by (and often just ripping off) the character Mose during the first few years after his stage debut:

LIVING MODELS (May 30, 1848, Paimo’s Opera House, New York)

A tableaux of living models posed in costume, including the following: “Mose is about, and his ‘gal,’ Lize, calling forth the most uproarious mirth.” Likely models in costumes inspired by “A Glance at New York.”

MOSE IN ST. LOUIS (1848, St. Louis Theatre)

A regional version of “Glance at New York” produced by Ludlow and Smith.

MOSE AND JAKEY’S VISIT TO THE CHESTNUT (November 7, 1849, the Chestnut Theatre, Philadelphia)

A new sketch, presumably featuring Mr. Henry Gardener, who was also playing Mose at the Chestnut Street National Circus. “Jakey” was a character who represented a stageYankee, first played by comic John E. Owen. It is possible that Chanfrau appeared in this version, as he seems to have appeared in another sketch called “Jakey and Mose.”

NEW YORK IN SPOTS (April 16, 1850, Richmond Theatre, Richmond, VA)

Starring Mr. Burke as Mose.

MOSE AMONG THE BRITISHERS; OR, THE B’HOY IN LONDON (June 27, 1850)

Not a stage play, but a series of lithographs by Philadelphia artist A. Hart. The images purport to represent “a Philadelphia fireman” on a trip across England.

DOESTICKS: WHAT HE SAYS (1856)

A comic series of essays about the theater, written by a fictional Q.K. Philander Doesticks P.B., where he describes his experiences seeing a Mose play, and summarizes the plot in verse as follows: Enter Rose with Joe—sees Mose—Mose beaus Rose; Rose knows those beaux foes—Joe’s bellicose—so’s Mose—Mose blows Joe’s nose—Joe’s blows pose Mose—Rose Oh’s—Mose hoes Joe’s rows—Joe’s blows chose Mose’s nose—Mose shows Joe’s nose blows—Joe’s nose grows rose—Mose knows Joe’s nose shows those blows—Joe goes—Mose crows.

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Max Sparber

Max Sparber is a playwright, journalist, and history detective in Omaha, Nebraska.