Mary Mack (I)
DESCRIPTION: "Oh Mary Mack, Mack, Mack, All dressed in black, black, black...." The singer speaks of love, and engages in a series of unprofitable transactions. Much of the song consists of floating verses, e.g. "I went to the river... And I couldn't get across."
EARLIEST DATE: 1846 (Halliwell)
KEYWORDS: playparty nonballad courting commerce
FOUND IN: Britain(England(West)) US(MA,MW,SE,SW) Australia
REFERENCES (13 citations):
Courlander-NFM, pp. 158-159, "(Mary Mack)" (1 text); p. 279, "Mary Mack" (1 tune, partial text)
Lomax-Singing, pp. 72-73, "Johnnie Bought a Ham" (1 text, 1 tune)
Opie-Game 145, "Miss Mary Mack" (4 texts, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Miss Allen, "Children's Game-Rhymes" in Relics of Popular Antiquities, &c , The Folk-Lore Record (London, 1878 ("Digitized by Google")), Vol. V, #14 p. 87, "Darby's Son" (1 text)
Henry Carrington Bolton, Counting-Out Rhymes of Children (New York, 1888 ("Digitized by Google")), #795 p. 117, ("Miss Mary Mack, dressed in black") (1 text)
James Orchard Halliwell, The Book of Nursery Rhymes Complete (Philadelphia, 1846 ("Digitized by Google")), #413 p. 202, ("Parson Darby wore a black gown"); #421 p. 205, ("Darby and Joan were dress'd in black") (2 texts)
G.F. Northall, English Folk-Rhymes (London, 1892 ("Digitized by Google")), p. 395, ("Betsy Blue came all in black, Silver buttons down her back"), ("Darby's son was dressed in black, With silver buttons behind his back"); p. 387 ("Darby and Joan were dress'd in black, Sword and buckle behind their back"), ("Parson Darby wore a black gown, And every button cost half-a-crown") (4 texts)
Mrs Lois Rather, "Circle Clap Chants" in Western Folklore, Vol. XVIII, No. 4 (Oct 1959 (available online by JSTOR)), #2 p. 294 ("Say, Say, Say, O Mary Mac, Mac, Mac") (1 text)
Anna Raudnitzky, "The Greatest Thing in the School-Room" in N.C. Schaeffer, editor, The Pennsylvania School Journal, Vol. XLVII (Lancaster, 1898[?] ("Digitized by Google")), (May 1899[?]) p. 510, ("Mary Mack dressed in black") (1 text)
Winifred Smith, "A Modern Child's Game Rhymes" in The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. IXL, No. 151 (Jan 1926 (available online by JSTOR)), #6 p. 83, ("Mary Mack, dressed in black"); #9 p. 83 ("Tinkle bells and cockle shells, E-V-I-V over, Mary Mack, dressed in black") (2 texts)
Leah Rachel Clara Yoffie, "Three Generations of Children's Singing Games in St. Louis" in The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. LX, No. 235 (Jan 1947 (available online by JSTOR)), p. 41 ("Mary Mack, Mack, Mack") (1 text)
Harold Courlander, _A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore_, Crown Publishers, 1976, pp. 535-536, "Mary Mack" (1 text, 1 tune)
Gwenda Beed Davey and Graham Seal, _A Guide to Australian Folklore_, Kangaroo Press, 2003, p. 151, "(Mary Mack)" (1 short text, described as a handclapping game)
Hunter children "Miss Mary Mack" (on JohnsIsland1)
Children of Lilly's Chapel School, "Mary Mack" (on NFMAla6, RingGames1)
cf. "The Swapping Boy" (plot)
cf. "Turkey in the Straw" (floating lyrics)
cf. "Went to the River (I)" (floating lyrics)
NOTES: Not to be confused with the music hall song of the same title, which involves what sounds to be a shotgun wedding. - RBW
Raudnitzky: "Once upon a time, now long ago, there lived in the city which we know as Gotham, two little sisters who were wont to amuse themselves with ... ['Mary Mack']."
One spiritual includes the verse "Look over there what I see, Mary and Mac, Dressed in black. Where shall I be when the first trumpet sound? Where shall it be when it sound so loud? Goin' ter wake up de dead" (source: Anna Kranz Odum, "Some Negro Folk-Songs from Tennessee" in The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. XXVII, No. 105 (Jul 1914 (available online by JSTOR)), #3 p. 257 "Goin' ter Wake Up de Dead" (1 text)). Apparently not knowing about the rhyme, Odum reasonably takes Mac to be a corruption of Martha, Mary of Bethany's sister (John 11:1-12:11); or perhaps he has it right and the rhyme is corrupted.
On the other hand, Archer Taylor in English Riddles from Oral Tradition (Berkley, 1951) apparently lists "Mary Mack all dressed in black, Silver buttons down her back" as riddle #656 with the solution "coffin" (source: Robert A Georges and Alan Dundes, "Toward a Structural Definition of the Riddle" in The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. LXXVI, No. 300 (Apr 1963 (available online by JSTOR)), p. 114).
Perhaps this should be named .".. Dressed in Black." Among the subjects are "Darby and Joan" -- having nothing to do with the "Father Grumble" take off -- or "Darby's son" and "Betsy Blue," both in black, with silver buttons down the back (Northall). - BS
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