Glendy Burk, The
DESCRIPTION: The singer complains, "I can't stay here 'cause they work too hard; I'm bound to leave this town; I'll take my duds and tote 'em on my back when the Glendy Burk comes down." He describes the "funny" boat and promises to take his girl to Louisiana
AUTHOR: Stephen C. Foster
EARLIEST DATE: 1860 (sheet music)
KEYWORDS: ship work hardtimes travel
FOUND IN: US(MW) Australia
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Meredith/Anderson, pp. 109-110, "When the New York Boat Comes Down" (1 text, 1 tune -- a heavily localized version sung to the tune of "Year of Jubilo"; also fragments of another version)
RickabyDykstraLeary 62, "The Selkirk" (1 fragment, 1 tune, clearly this although the boat's name is changed to the "Selkirk")
Saunders/Root-Foster 2, pp. 93-96+427, "The Glendy Burk" (1 text, 1 tune)
Emerson, pp. 19-20, "The Glendy Burk" (1 text)
ST MA109 (Full)
NOTES [435 words]: This song, for some reason, seems to have done particularly well in Australia, with several localized versions ("The New York Boat," "The Bundaberg") known. These versions on their faces often bear little resemblance to Foster's song -- but in almost all cases (as the titles show), the errors are simple errors of hearing. In the case of Rickaby's "The Selkirk," it is clear that the song was deliberately rewritten, but Rickaby had only one verse and a chorus, and the only change in those eight lines is the name of the boat; unless a version shows up with a full text, I'm going to continue lumping it here.
It's also worth noting that the tune I learned for this song (from Debby McClatchy) is not the same as Foster's sheet music. Thus this text has acquired at least two new tunes over the years. Highly unusual, given that Foster is credited with more tunes than texts, and that very many of his texts are in fact quite poor.
I have to suspect, in fact, that this song sat on a shelf somewhere for several years. Note that Saunders/Root firmly date the sheet music to 1860. And yet, there was a real ship, the Glendy Burke which went into service on the Ohio and the lower Mississippi in 1851 (according to scattered Internet sources). But Bruce D. Berman's Encyclopedia of American Shipwrecks, p. 245, says that this Glendy Burke was snagged and sunk at Cairo, Illinois in 1855. I find no record of a replacement built in the period after that. The logical conclusion -- though it is obviously not certain -- is that Foster wrote this song prior to the boat's sinking, or at least five years before the song was published.
According to Ken Emerson, Doo-Dah! Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture, Da Capo, 1997?, p. 255, "The steamboat Glendy Burke (never a sure speller, Foster dropped the "e") had been built in Jefferson, Indiana, in 1851, and named for a New Orleans banker, merchant, and legislator, Glenn D. Burke, with whom Morrison Foster had done business back in 1843.... [T]he Glendy Burke was no longer even afloat. In 1855, the 435-ton side wheel packet hit a snag and broke up near Cairo. Its wreckage damaged other vessels for decades. Foster's 'mighty fast boat' was nothing but a navigational hazard."
(This probably needs a minor correction. Steven S. Lohmeyer points out to me that Jefferson, Indiana is not on a river (and probably is too small to have supported a major boat-builder anyway); the reference should be to "Jeffersonville, Indiana," home of the Howard Steamboat Yard, which *is* on the Ohio River, across from Louisville, Kentucky. - RBW
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