28 Nov

Sweet Recale

I am a rich merchant’s only son, my age is twenty-two,
I fell in love with a handsome girl, the truth I will tell you,
And because that I had riches great and she was of a low degree,
Which caused my parents for to frown and prove my destiny.

They sent me to Americay, my fortune for to seek,
I was shipwrecked on the Austria, that now lies in the deep,
But Providence to me proved kind, a plank brought me to shore,
I’m in hopes to see my handsome girl at Sweet Recale once more.

It was on the morning of the fourth just by the break of day,
This handsome girl stepped up to me and this to me did say,
“Where are you from, my nice young man, come quickly tell to me,
Or are you from the heavens above, where is your country?”

“Oh I am a stranger in this place, the truth to you I’ll tell,
For loving of a pretty fair maiden in the town of sweet Recale.
And because that I had riches great and she was of a low degree,
Which caused my parents for to frown which proved my destiny.”

“Oh come tell me are you married to that girl you left behind?”
“No, but I’m already promised and a promise that’s good and kind,
I am already promised to that girl in sweet Recale,
And except her no other fair maids will ever my favor gain.”

And this fair maid fell a-weeping tears rolled down her rosy cheeks,
“Oh here is twenty guineas in gold for to bear you o’er the sea,
For love is better, I do find, than gold or earthly store,
May heavens above return you love, to sweet Recale once more.”

In 1934, Minnesota music teacher Bessie Stanchfield put out a call for old St. Croix Valley lumbermen to send in songs for publication in the Stillwater Post-Messenger. A man living in North Dakota who said he had been a lumberjack on the St. Croix Valley fifty years before wrote saying “I spent two winters working in one of Isaac Staples’ camps on the Apple River [WI]. The foreman was Andy McGrath. Every Saturday night we had a dance. Every Sunday night we sang. Tom Harrington, the camp blacksmith, was a fiddler, and the singers included Hendy Lane, James Riley, and young Jim McGrath.” The letter writer referred to one old song once popular in the area and remarked “Jim McGrath sang it fine.”

This Jim McGrath may likely have been James E. McGrath, son of John McGrath from Wicklow, Ireland and a successful (for a time) lumber company operator for whom the town of McGrath, MN is named. In any case, singer Jim McGrath was still in the Stillwater area in 1934 and in Stanchfield’s unpublished papers at the Minnesota Historical Society, she writes that, though he was a reluctant singer, “after one old-timer, then another, dropped into the office to tell of [McGrath’s] clear tenor and his great memory for the old songs” McGrath finally relented and began recalling for her “those pleasant evenings in the bunk house” and the songs that went with them.

The Stanchfield papers include part of McGrath’s text for “Sweet Recale.” I have mixed the McGrath text with melody and text again recorded by Alan Lomax in 1938 from Beaver Island, Michigan singer John W. Green (you can listen to Green’s version online via the Library of Congress) and a few lines nabbed from a third version collected in 1935 in Alger, Michigan by Gardner and Chickering.

I have found three 19th century broadside versions of this ballad from Ireland where the place name is either Belfast, Derry or Limerick instead of Recale. Lomax spells it Raquale and Gardner spells it Recail. I assumed it was a Great Lakes place name until another version recently turned up on the Irish Traditional Music Archive from Inishowen Penninsula singer Denis McDaid who sings Rycale. I’m at a loss as to the location of this mysterious place name!

01 Sep

Lost on the Lady Elgin (revisited)

MCD_A026 Lost on the Lady Elgin

Up from the poor man’s cottage, forth from the mansion door,
Sweeping across the water and echoing along the shore,
Caught by the morning breezes, borne on the evening gale,
Came at the dawn of morning a sad and solemn wail.

Refrain—
Lost on the Lady Elgin, sleeping to wake no more,
Numbering in death five hundred that failed to reach the shore.

Sad was the wail of children, weeping for parents gone,
Children that slept at evening, orphans woke at morn;
Sisters for brothers weeping, husbands for missing wives,
These were the ties that were severed by those five hundred lives.

Staunch was the noble steamer, precious the freight she bore,
Gaily they loosed their cables a few short hours before,
Proudly she swept our harbor, joyfully rang the bell,
Little they thought ere morning it would peal so sad a knell.

——————————-

We return this month to the song “Lost on the Lady Elgin” from the repertoire of Minnesota singer Michael Dean. The song depicts the outpouring of grief that followed the tragic sinking of the side-wheel passenger steamer Lady Elgin in Lake Michigan 156 years ago in September 1860. The ship’s loss struck a particularly painful blow to the Irish community of Milwaukee’s Third Ward as many of the doomed passengers hailed from that area. The Lost Forty was in Milwaukee ourselves last month for their annual Irish Fest and we videotaped our version of the song in the historic Third Ward on the banks of Lake Michigan.

Michael Dean’s older brother James came to Milwaukee around 1865 and lived in the Seventh Ward—just north of the Third. James Dean served a long career as conductor for the Milwaukee Railroad. It is possible that Michael learned the song during a trip to visit his brother though the song also travelled all around the US and Canada and was popular throughout the Great Lakes region especially.

Since I began singing “The Lady Elgin” I have met people who have stories about family members singing the song and, in the case of one audience member I met at the Minnesota Irish Fair last year, an ancestor who was lost in the wreck itself.

15 Apr

Persian’s Crew (Laws D4)

(The version in the video is based on the one below but includes my own deviations which are, in part, on purpose and, in part, due to forgetfulness!)
Persian's Crew

Sad and dismal is the story that I will tell to you,
About the schooner Persia, her officers and crew;
They sank beneath the waters deep in life to rise no more,
Where wind and desolation sweeps Lake Huron’s rock bound shore.

They left Chicago on their lee, their songs they did resound,
Their hearts were filled with joy and glee, for they were homeward bound;
They little thought the sword of death would meet them on their way
And they so full of joy and life would in Lake Huron lay.

In mystery o’er their fate was sealed, they did collide, some say,
And that is all that will be revealed until the judgment day;
But when the angels take their stand to sweep these waters blue,
They will summon forth at Heaven’s command the Persian’s luckless crew.

No mother’s hand was there to soothe the brow’s distracted pain,
No gentle wife for to caress those cold lips once again;
No sister nor a lover dear or little ones to moan,
But in the deep alone they sleep, far from their friends and home.

Her captain, he is no more, he lost his precious life,
He sank down among Lake Huron’s waves, free from all mortal strife;
A barren coast now hides from view his manly, lifeless form,
And still in death is the heart so true that weathered many a storm.

There was Daniel Sullivan, her mate, with a heart as true and brave,
As ever was compelled by fate to fill a sailor’s grave;
Alas, he lost his noble life, poor Daniel is no more,
He met a sad, untimely end upon Lake Huron’s shore.

Oh, Daniel, Dan, your many friends mourn the fate that has on you frowned,
They look in vain for your return back to Oswego town;
They miss the love glance of your eye, your hand they’ll clasp no more,
For still in death you now do lie upon Lake Huron’s shore.

Her sailors’ names I did not know, excepting one or two,
Down in the deep they all did go, they were a luckless crew;
Not one escaped to land to clear the mystery o’er,
Or to lie adrift by Heaven’s command in lifeless form ashore.

Now around Presque Isle the sea birds scream their mournful notes along,
In chanting to the sad requiem, the mournful funeral song,
They skim along the waters blue and then aloft they soar,
O’er the bodies of the Persian’s crew that lie along the shore.
______________________________________________________

We are back to the repertoire of Minnesota singer Michael Cassius Dean this month with the second of two Great Lakes shipwreck songs (see N.S. Feb. 2013 for the other) recorded from Dean by folklorist Robert Winslow Gordon in 1924. As usual, the text is from Dean’s songster The Flying Cloud and the melody is my transcription of the Gordon recording.

The schooner Persian was headed from Chicago to its home port of Oswego, New York with a cargo of grain in the fall of 1869 when it was caught in a heavy storm just east of the Straits of Mackinac. The eight-man crew was never heard from again. The song began as a poem penned by Oswego man Patrick Fennel, a dear friend of the Persian’s first mate Daniel Sullivan. Fennel’s pen name was Shandy Maguire.[1] The melody used by Dean and other Great Lakes sailors and lumbermen who set the poem to music was one used for many songs in the region. Dean himself used the same air for “As I Rode Down Through Irishtown” (see N.S. Mar. 2013).

Read more about this song on it’s Traditional Ballad Index page: http://www.fresnostate.edu/folklore/ballads/LD04.html

 


[1] Walton, Ivan H. / Joe Grimm. Windjammers: Songs of the Great Lakes Sailors. Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Pr., 2002, p. 191.