USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘massachusetts’
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.

 

Customs
Humor

Top Place to Go On a Date in Shrewsbury

“Okay, so, umm, the guy who created the pill, um, invented it in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. And there, the first factory where, um, they started, like, getting manufactured or whatever is in Shrewsbury. Umm, and now it’s like a thing, I guess, where you like take your significant other on a date to the factory where the pill was first made. So, that’s a thing people do in Shrewsbury. Or, like, not my generation but like, people who are, like, slightly older, that’s what they do.”

 

It’s an interesting and funny story. You can understand the connection between dates and the pill factory, I guess? It seems odd, but the way I see it, dates lead to love which lead to sex which leads to a need for the pill. Perhaps whoever first started this trend was hoping to have a happy, birth-free relationship. It’s cutely ironic and sounds like something that was meant to be a joke, but perhaps became mainstream after one couple did it.

What’s also interesting, though, is what the source says about this not being part of her generation. It’s something that occurred among an older generation and then died before her generation go to following in their footsteps. Perhaps it’s because the factory was still in use during this older generation’s childhood. They may have seen and known of the factory, probably even heard about it once a week, what with what they were manufacturing. So when it shut down, it was more relevant for that generation to sneak in and see what was going on and, eventually, start going on dates there.

The source’s generation, however, would’ve grown up never knowing about the factory. Had they not researched it or heard about it, they might never have known what was made there. If they don’t know what the factory was for, then it loses the attraction as being a “hot date” spot. The irony and comedy of it is lost.

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.

Legends
Narrative

The Legend of Tom Cook and the Devil

My informant shared with me the local legend of Tom Cook from Westborough, Massachusetts

“Back in about the 1700s there was a clever thief named Tom Cook. He was not the type of thief that you would think, a Robin Hood of the town I guess you could say. He would steal from the rich and give to the poor. So he was a good thief. Anyway, he was not a villain. When Tom was a baby, he was very near death, so his mother made a deal with the devil in order to spare his life. She promised the Devil that Tom would serve him, and cause mischief in a life of thievery. However, since Tom was a good thief who gave away all his loot to those less-fortunate than him, the Devil felt cheater. One morning, when Tom was getting dressed, he heard a knock at the door. He went and opened it to find the Devil himself standing there. The Devil said that he was here to claim Tom’s soul. Tom then asked the Devil if before he took him, if he could finish getting dressed. The Devil, seeing no harm in the request, agreed. However, this was a trick, and for the rest of his life Tom never finished getting dressed. He always had one shoe missing, or a belt buckle un-done, or sometimes one suspender un-clipper. Because the Devil had agreed to wait until he was finished dressing, the Devil could never claim his soul, and Tom died in his old age, with his shirt un-buttoned, and his soul rose up to heaven instead of down to the Devil.”

My informant told me that she had heard this story on a tour of her town that her class took when she was in third grade. She always remembers the story because she thought that Tom was an extremely clever person for being able to out-smart the devil. She informed me that the story was extra-special because the house that Tom lived in still stands today, and they saw it on their tour. That made the legend even more believable to her, seeing the door that the Devil himself walked up to. She doesn’t really ever tell the story of Tom Cook to many people, only unless they make a comment about how the old house should be torn down.

I am from this town of Westborough, MA, and I remember going on the town tour that my informant described. I agree that what made the legend believable was actually seeing Tom Cook’s house. I remember it being light blue, with broken windows and an overgrown lawn. The roof had been caving in and it looked like the scariest house I had ever seen. This image made the legend so real because such a house is hard to imagine could still exist. Sadly, the house was town down this year, and with it, what I believe to be a great deal of the believability of the Tom Cook legend.

The story of Tom Cook appears in authored literature in:

Allen, Kristina Nilson. On the Beaten Path: Westborough, Massachusetts. Westborough Civic Club and Westborough Historical Society, 1984.

 

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