The Ship that Never Returned
The Ship That Never Returned is an 1865 song written by Henry Clay Work, about a ship that left a harbor and never came back. No reason for why the ship never returned is given in the words of the song. A plausible explanation for a ship that never returned is that for as long as men put to sea to the present day, ships were lost at sea without a trace due to weather, unseaworthiness, or other causes—even piracy. In the 1800s, with no weather forecasting, radar or radio, this was not an uncommon event.
The song became so popular that Carl Sandburg's collection American Songbag recorded an adaptation from the Kentucky mountains. The melody was adapted in "Charlie on the MTA," created in 1948, as a campaign song for Walter A. O'Brien about a man who couldn't get off a Boston subway train because, rather than change all the turnstiles, the M.T.A added an exit fare—Charlie did not have the extra nickel to get off the train. The Kingston Trio recorded the song in 1959 (as "M.T.A.") and had a hit with the recording in the same year. The tune also formed the basis of "Wreck of the Old 97", about a 1903 train wreck.