The Titanic – Children’s Song

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 52
Occupation: Homemaker
Residence: Lancaster, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: April 15, 2021
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context:

My informant, RW, is my mom. She grew up in Texas and attended YMCA camps most summers in her childhood in the 1970s. I have heard her sing this song to my brother and I at many points, but never knew exactly where she learned it. This piece was collected informally at home when I asked her to sing it again for me to record. I refer to myself as SW in the text.

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Main Text:

RW: “This was from the YMCA camp I believe. Or… I think it was YMCA camp… it was at GDRA in Texas, I think it was YMCA but… 

‘The Titanic never made it

And never more shall be

It was sad when that great ship

Went down to the bottom of the sea

It was sad, how sad!

It was sad, too bad!

It was sad when that great ship

Went down to the bottom of the…

Uncles and aunts!

Little bitty children lost their pants!

It was sad when that great ship 

Went down to the bottom of the sea’

And it’s all happy and peppy and you sing right along with ‘everybody died, yay!’ There was a lot more to that song, but that’s like the chorus.”

SW: “So you did that at YMCA camp, did it spread past there? Did everybody know it?”

RW: “All of my friends did!”

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Analysis:

This is a good example of the juxtaposition of tragic events in a joking context in folklore. While it’s not necessarily directly reckoning with the Titanic sinking since my mom learned it at YMCA camp in the 1970s, it is still an example of how children often have a morbid curiosity and like to make jokes about the things we would consider generally unfit for children to know about. In a way, it is also boundary exploration and learning how to express taboo topics in a way that is socially acceptable. By singing about the Titanic sinking, kids are learning how to navigate the unstable world of topics adults try to shield them from in their own unique and playful way.