USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Boston’
general
Legends

The Woman in Black

“Ok, so this is a story of Georges Island, an island out in Boston Harbor.  During the Civil War, they built a fort out there called Fort Warren.  And that’s where they held prisoners of the Civil War, so Confederate soldiers were held out there.  Um, so there was a soldier out there who wrote a letter to his wife that he was being held out there and she got the letter, she was from Georgia.  So she comes up and she wants to break him out of jail.  So she ends up staying in Hull, right, which is a town right on the water and one stormy night, she rows out there, dressed in men’s clothing, and she had cut her hair, so she looked like a prisoner.  So she broke into the prison and she was doing everything she could to break her husband out of jail.  And as she was doing it, she was captured, along with her husband, and as they were about to take her, she went to take the pistol of one of the guards, and as she was grabbing at the pistol from the the guard, the gun went off, and it killed her husband.  And then she was tried for trying to break him out of prison, and she was convicted, and she was gonna be put to death.  And they said, “So you have one request.  What is your request?”  And she said, “I don’t wanna die in men’s clothing.”  They said, “Ok, that’s reasonable.”  So the guards at the fort went around, but there were no women on this island, so all they could find was like this black material and black robes.  So they put her in the lack robes and then they executed.  And from that day on, when you go out to that island… people swear that there is the “Lady in Black” that everyone sees walking around by herself.  And the legend is that that’s this woman.”

 

Conclusion:

 

This story was told to me by my dad’s buddy, Stephen.  As a Boston native, I found the story to be very interesting.  Apparently it was based on true events.  It’s funny, as Stephen was reciting the tale, I recalled a short news clip from a Boston station that I’d seen several years ago.  The clip showed a shadowy figure donning black robes standing in heavy winds on an island in Boston harbor.  When Stephen, got to the end of the story, I put two and two together.  This was one of my favorite pieces of folklore that I collected.

 

Musical

Trot Trot to Boston

Folklore Piece

‘This is a song my mom would always sing to me and my siblings when we were little. She’d place us on her lap and move them up and down while she sang “Trot Trot to Boston / Trot Trot to Lynn / Look out little [T.R.] / You might fall in!” and then pretend to drop us between her legs. The second first was “Trot Trot to Boston / Trot Trot to Town / Look out little [T.R]/  you might fall down!” Then repeat the dropping motion. Finally, “Trot Trot to Boston / Trot Trot to Dover / Look out little [T.R]/  you might fall Over!”

 

Background information

“Yeah, I learned it from my Mom. I mean, I don’t really remember learning it, and I certainly don’t really remember her performing it, but I’ve seen her do it with some of my younger cousins, and I have too. Uh, I don’t know, I just, I like the piece because it’s catchy, and it makes me nostalgic about Boston and my Mom and stuff, you know? You’ve probably heard it too, right?” ( I have)

Context

He certainly did not bounce me on his lap, however he did say that he “would definitely do this with his kids when he’s older, no matter where he lives. I just like the way I hold on to something from my home town, you know? Being 3,000 miles away, like, you lose a lot of that. I think I wanna move back eventually, but who knows?”

Analysis

My mom also performed this song for me when I was younger. I, too, perform it with my younger cousins and babies from the Boston area. I’ve always found it so interesting, because growing up in a town north of Boston where most people move to from all over the country, we don’t have too many unique traditions or pieces of folklore that bring us together as a town. But this song, even though it’s about Boston, is shared amongst almost all of us in the metropolitan Boston area. I tried to find the origin of this story, and was unable to locate a direct source. However, the book Trot Trot to Boston, published in 1987 is referenced as saying that it is a Mother Goose poem. Additionally, there are a number of variations of the poem I found. An online forum found here has at least 8 variations of the song.

The informant said that it reminds him of his mother, too. It’s funny how songs that are performed to us when we are children – often before we can even remember – make us so nostalgic. Certainly we can’t remember the circumstances under which these songs were performed. However, we know that our mothers took care of us at a time that they sang this song, and it’s so embedded within us, associated with childcare and motherly love, that it’s hard not to look at it so fondly.

 

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Boston’s Marathon Monday

INFO:
On the day of the Boston Marathon, the entire city of Boston basically has a drinking holiday. From your freshman year to your senior year, you’re trained to know that when the marathon is happening, you have a day off and that everybody is going to get “totally shitfaced.” You start drinking in the morning, and keep drinking, and keep drinking… The goal is to be drunk and run outside to watch the marathon runners go through, as the marathon route goes through their campus.

People plan their drinking out the night before, and smuggle booze by the finish line. People don’t cheer the marathon runners for more than about an hour after the first people pass through, but the entire city is essentially in celebration.

BACKGROUND:
The informant lives in Los Angeles now, but had previously been a student at Boston University for 3.5 years. Though he chose not to recount the events that happened during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, he still engages with Marathon Monday in a positive way, though he missed the 2014 marathon because he was in Los Angeles.

CONTEXT:
The informant shared this with me in conversation.

ANALYSIS:
There are actually a lot of exceptions when it comes to American public “drinking holidays” — sports games and Independence Day between two of them. With the Boston Marathon, which is a sport event tied into a city celebration, the emotional connection residents feel with the race is extremely strong. I really love the fact that Boston residents can still celebrate the event even in the face of tragedy, and have rallied around both the marathon organization and the city itself.

general

Trot Trot to Boston

The informant is a 22 year old college graduate that is now working at a software company in Madison, WI. He grew up in Upton, Massachusetts until he left Upton to go to college in Los Angeles, California. . Upton is a small (population 7,542) town about 45 minutes south-west of Boston. He grew up in a loosely Catholic household with both of his parents and two younger sisters (3 years younger and 7 years younger).

I first heard this rhyming song before I thought to collect it, approximately 2 years ago when he jokingly performed the piece for me. I asked him to repeat the rhyme and asked him a few more questions about it on the date specified below. The song/rhyme is usually said by parents to their small children. He mainly remembers his father saying the rhyme to him and his younger sisters when they were small enough to easily fit on his lap but old enough to sit upright (i.e. they were not newborns).  The words are as follows:

Trot trot to Boston,

Trot trot to Lynn,

Watch out little baby,

Or you might fall in!

 

The rhyme is said while the child is on the adult’s lap. Overall, the rhythm of the rhyme is reminiscent of a horse’s gallop, which makes sense when you take the “trot trot” as referring to horses (not the child) trotting. As each syllable is said, the adult moves their legs by lifting their heels, creating a physical movement for the child that is very much like a what would be experienced during a horse ride. As the adult says the last two words (“fall in”), the adult moves their knees apart and lets the child drop slightly as if they are falling. The adult, of course, does not let the child actually fall and usually has their arms around the child to make sure this does not happen.

Both Boston and Lynn are cities in Massachusetts and are only ten miles apart, making a horse ride between them a feasible idea. The route between them is also near the coast, which may mean that “falling in” refers to falling in some sort of water or marshy land. The informant remembers his father saying this rhyme when they were being silly, so it is not an attempt to seriously scare the child by letting them think the adult would drop them. This plays with the feelings between of protection needed by children. By saying the child could fall, letting them fall a little bit but preventing them from completely falling to the ground, the parent is effectively saying “I’ve got you” without having to say those words.

There are several variations of this rhyme that use different cities in Massachusetts, some of which are published in a book called Trot-trot-to-Boston: Play Rhymes for Baby by Carol Ra. (the ISBN for the 1987 version is 9780688061906)

Though the informant does not have children or any nieces or nephews to tell this rhyme to, he does subject his girlfriend to the rhyme if he is in a particularly silly mood.

[geolocation]