Crying Family, The (Imaginary Trouble)
DESCRIPTION: Tom is courting Nancy; her parents worry. Old Kate fears that the lovers will have a child who will drown. She tells the young ones, and "They all went crying home, Tom, old man, wife and daughter. Each night the ghost doth come and cries upon the water"
EARLIEST DATE: 1932 (Springfield, MA, _Sunday Union_ for Jan. 3, according to Flanders/Ballard/Brown/Barry-NewGreenMountainSongster)
KEYWORDS: ghost courting
FOUND IN: US(NE)
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Warner-TraditionalAmericanFolkSongsFromAnneAndFrankWarnerColl 62, "Imaginary Trouble" (1 text, 1 tune)
Flanders/Ballard/Brown/Barry-NewGreenMountainSongster, pp. 14-17, "The Crying Family" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Robert E. Gard and L. G. Sorden, _Wisconsin Lore: Antics and Anecdotes of Wisconsin People and Places_, Wisconsin House, 1962, pp. 104-107, "[no title; filed under the heading "Yodelings of Champin Raftsmen]" (1 text, source not listed)
ST Wa062 (Full)
cf. "The Nervous Family" (theme: much worry about nothing)
NOTES [311 words]: This is believed to be the only ballad in which the ghost of someone who never existed appears. One wonders whose achievement is greater -- the ghost's or the songwriter's.
Flanders compares this with item #34 in the Grimm collection, "Clever Else" ("Die kluge Else," from Dortchen Wild, 1819). This is sort of semi-true: In the folktale, Else and her family are paralyzed by fear of a future disaster to a child. But while the gimmick is the same (monomaniacal fears of an improbable and preventable death), the plot is quite different. "Clever Else" is Thompson motif J2063. The motif of "Bewailing a calamity that has not occurred" is J2198 (although Thompson's only instance is from India).
Also similar, but not a song, is the tale called "The Three Sillies" on pp. 9-14 of Jacobs: Joseph Jacobs, collector, English Fairy Tales, originally published 1890; revised edition 1898 (I use the 1967 Dover paperback reprint), from the Folk-Lore Journal, with versions traced back at least to 1852. It is also found on pp. 61-63 of Katherine Briggs, British Folktales (originally published in 1970 as A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales), revised 1977 (I use the 1977 Pantheon paperback edition). This tale tells of a family which panics about a mallet stuck in a beam; they worry that it might fall out and kill someone, but never consider taking it down themselves.
L. Frank Baum also used the same general gimmick in The Emerald City of Oz; according to Michael O. Riley, Oz and Beyond: The Fantasy World of L. Frank Baum, University of Kansas Press, 1997, p. 163, in "Flutterbudget Center... live all the people who worry excessively about improbable things that have not happened."
Gard/Sorden say that raftsmen sang this "awakening the echoes in Witch's Gulch at the Dells" [on the Wisconsin River]. Presumably the echoes sounded like a family crying. - RBW
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