The Mary Ellen Carter
|"The Mary Ellen Carter"|
|Written by||Stan Rogers|
|Original artist||Stan Rogers|
"The Mary Ellen Carter" is a song written and recorded by Stan Rogers, intended as an inspirational hymn about triumphing over great odds. It tells the story of a heroic effort to salvage a sunken ship, the Mary Ellen Carter, by members of her former crew. It is one of the most popular songs written by Rogers.
Though the song chronicles the efforts to salvage the ship, the lyrics end on a hopeful note but without telling whether the ship was raised. The description of the salvage ends with the lines:
We've patched her rents, stopped her vents,
Dogged hatch and porthole down,
Put cables to her fore and aft
and girded her around.
Tomorrow noon, we'll hit the air
And then take up the strain
And make the Mary Ellen Carter rise again.
The song appears on three of Rogers' albums:
The song has become a classic of the genre and many artists covered it even before Rogers' death, including Jim Post who began performing it in the 1980s, as did Makem and Clancy, and the English a cappella trio, Artisan, who went on to popularise their harmony version of it in UK folk circles throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and Portland, Maine-based folk group Schooner Fare. Ian Robb recorded it with the other members of Finest Kind on his album From Different Angels. It was recorded by the seven piece Newfoundland band The Irish Descendants as part of the tribute album Remembering Stan Rogers: An East Coast Tribute, performed by a large number of acts at Rogers' favorite venue in Halifax, Dalhousie University.
It was recorded by Williamsburg, Virginia-based Celtic rock band Coyote Run as part of their self-titled Coyote Run album. According to liner notes with their 10 Years and Running retrospective album, Coyote Run's recording of the song was done with the same 12-string guitar that Stan Rogers himself had used when recording the song.
As a tribute to Stan Rogers, "The Mary Ellen Carter" has been sung to close the annual Winnipeg Folk Festival every year since his death.
Connection to the sinking of the Marine Electric
So inspiring is the song that it is credited with saving at least one life. On February 12, 1983 the ship Marine Electric was carrying a load of coal from Norfolk, Virginia to a power station in Somerset, Massachusetts. The worst storm in forty years blew up that night and the ship sank at about four o'clock in the morning on the 13th. The ship's chief mate, 59-year-old Robert M. "Bob" Cusick, was trapped under the deckhouse as the ship went down. His snorkeling experience helped him avoid panic and swim to the surface, but he had to spend the night alone, up to his neck in water, clinging to a partially deflated lifeboat, and in water barely above freezing and air much colder. Huge waves washed over him, and each time he was not sure that he would ever reach the surface again to breathe. Battling hypothermia, he became tempted to allow himself to fall unconscious and let go of the lifeboat. Just then he remembered the words to the song "The Mary Ellen Carter".
And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go
Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.
Rise again, rise again—though your heart it be broken
Or life about to end.
No matter what you've lost, be it a home, a love, a friend,
Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.
He started to sing it and soon was alternately shouting out "Rise again, rise again" and holding his breath as the waves washed over him. At seven o'clock that morning a Coast Guard helicopter spotted him and pulled him to safety. Only two men of the other thirty-three that had been aboard survived the wreck. After his ordeal, Cusick wrote a letter to Stan Rogers telling him what had happened and how the song helped save his life. In response, Cusick was invited to attend what turned out to be the second-to-last concert Rogers ever performed. Cusick told his story in the documentary about Rogers, One Warm Line.
- Rise Up Singing page 203-4
- "Whatever happened to ... the sailor who survived the Marine Electric disaster?". Retrieved 2008-08-22.
- "One Warm Line, excerpt". Retrieved 2008-08-22.
- "One Warm Line". Retrieved 2008-08-22.