BACKGROUND: My informant, AC, was born in the US and attended boarding school in NH. AC was very active in theater and this rhyme was something that the drama department would chant before a few other students brought to their attention that it was less light-hearted than it seemed.
CONTEXT: This piece is from a conversation with my friend where we talked about our time at boarding school.
THE RHYME: Three, six, nine, the goose drank wine. The monkey chewed tobacco on the streetcar line. The line broke. The monkey got choked. And they all went to heaven in a little rowboat!
AC: Yeah — we used to chant it like, before every show for good luck. I don’t really know where we got that from but like basically I was taught it from all the older [theater] kids and I guess they got it from the people before. But I think it might be a song or something, like there’s more words.
Me: And when did you stop [the chant]?
AC: Well um, I know you already know, some people pointed out the chant might have some racist undertones. Like the monkey that got choked on the line could be — it’s almost representative of a lynching of a black person. So yeah, we don’t use that chant anymore.
THOUGHTS: This rhyme is interesting to me because as someone who also briefly did theater in high school, I would watch other students chant this backstage before a show to get pumped up. I never really knew why this was what they chanted, it seemed completely unrelated to theater, but people seemed to really like its bouncy quality. The interpretation of the song as a slave allegory makes some sense to me. “The monkey” being a racist term for a black man and the rest of the rhyme details how the man minds his business on a streetcar until he is lynched and sent to Heaven. Some students disputed the racial interpretation of the rhyme, dismissing it as harmless. But based on the tumultuous history of the school — having been built from slave labor — I wouldn’t be surprised if that interpretation held some truth.