"From hell to Harlem” (or “from Hades to Harlem") is a variation of the older expression “from hell to breakfast.” It means a considerable distance or a long time, or helter-skelter in all directions.
Dictionary of American Regional English
hell-to-breakfast, from adv phr Less freq from hell to bush (or Harlem); for addit varr see quots chiefly Nth, West CF hell-for-breakfast
1. Helter-skelter; in all directions.
1942 Berrey-Van den Bark Amer. Slang 44.7,
1966-68 DARE (Qu. MM12a,..“He shot into a flock of birds and they went ____”) Infs TX5, WY4, Scattered from hell-to-breakfast; NY92, Scattered from hell to Harlem; (Qu. MM12b,..“She broke her beads and they went ____”) Infs ID4, OR10. (Flying) from hell-to-breakfast.
1975 Gould ME Lingo 130, Hell to breakfast—One of numerous Maine terms for the general surroundings in all directions. “All over hell’s kitchen” is another.
2. Thoroughly, decisively, violently.
1928 Asbury Gangs 345, Policemen..clubbed the Gophers..from hell to breakfast.
1942 Berrey-Van den Bark
1946 White Autobiog. 159 KS, God-damning me from hell to breakfast.
1959 Robertson Ram 51 ID (as of c1875), I helped run the sons-of-bitches out of Missouri, and I cheered when a lot of the bastards were massacred...I fought ‘em from hell to bush.
3. For a considerable distance or long time.
1939 (1962) Thompson Body & Britches 499 NY, All the way from hell to breakfast, or, hell to Harlem.
1959 VT Hist. new ser 27.141, From Hell to breakfast...A long distance...Also, to Hell and breakfast. Occasional.
1967 DARE (Qu. A24, Speaking of someone who has always been the same way: “He’s been hot-tempered from ____”) Inf CO27, Hell-to-breakfast.
1972 NYT Article Letters ME, Do people besides us Down-Easters “go from Hell to Hackony”?
1985 Ladwig How to Talk Dirty 12 Ozarks, It went from hell to breakfast.
5 February 1909, Hartford (CT) Courant, “Got ‘cussed’ from Hades to Harlem”:
“...and was cussed from Hell to Harlem.”
2 February 1937, Miami (OH) Daily News-Record, pg. 2, col. 2:
Representative Snell of New York, the Republican leader, said he and his colleagues discussed “everything from hell to Harlem” in their conference.
Body, Boots, & Britches:
Folktales, ballads, and speech from country New York
By Harold William Thompson
Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott
All the way from hell to breakfast; or, hell to Harlem.
OCLC WorldCat record
From hell to Harlem
Author: Jashub Israel
Publisher: [Memphis, TN] : R. Martin Books Pub., ©2006.
Edition/Format: Book : Biography : English
New York City • Names/Phrases • (0) Comments • Tuesday, January 19, 2010 • Permalink