The Old Gray Mare

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The Old Gray Mare is an old folk song, more recently regarded as a children's song.[1]

Origins[edit]

History[edit]

Some authors[2][3][4] have said that the song originated based upon the performance of the horse Lady Suffolk, the first horse recorded as trotting a mile in less than two and a half minutes. It occurred on 4 July 1843 at the Beacon Course racetrack in Hoboken, New Jersey,[2] when she was more than ten years old.[2][3] One author[2] attributed the song to Stephen Foster, although the composer is usually listed as unknown. The archival evidence, however, is that the song originated a few decades later in the nineteenth century as a campaign ditty, composed as an epithet of Baltimore mayor Ferdinand Latrobe by Democratic Party (United States) political operative and appointee Thomas Francis McNulty.[5] The book The Gallant Gray Trotter[6] featured Lady Suffolk.[7]

Lyrics[edit]

The old gray mare, she kicked on the whiffletree,
Kicked on the whiffletree, kicked on the whiffletree,
The old gray mare, she kicked on the whiffletree,
Many long years ago.
Many long years ago, many long years ago,
The old gray mare, she kicked on the whiffletree,
Many long years ago.
The old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be,
Ain't what she used to be, ain't what she used to be,
The old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be,
Many long years ago.
Many long years ago, many long years ago,
The old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be,
Many long years ago.
  • (Note that "mule" is sometimes substituted for "mare".)
  • (A wiffletree is a force-distributing mechanism in the traces of a draft animal. As an energetic younger horse, the mare still had the spirit to kick even though she was harnessed up to pull a plow or similar.)

Pattern[edit]

The repetitive pattern of the song is common to many traditional folk songs, including London Bridge is Falling Down. The melodic system of the two songs is also similar, with the middle of the three repetitions of the phrase being sung to a similar melody, but down a scale degree.[8] The melody has also been used in American songs such as Ain't I Glad I Got out the Wilderness and Ain't You Glad You Joined the Republicans, and in turn is related to the melody of the spiritual Go in the Wilderness.[9]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Opie, Iona Archibald and Opie, Peter (1997) Children's Games with Things: marbles, fivestones, throwing and catching, gambling, hopscotch, chucking and pitching, ball-bouncing, skipping, tops and tipcat Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, page 147, ISBN 0-19-215963-1
  2. ^ a b c d Hotaling, Edward (1995) They're off!: horse racing at Saratoga Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, New York, page 25, ISBN 0-8156-0350-9
  3. ^ a b "The Horse in 19th Century American Sport: The Golden Age of the Trotting Horse" International Museum of the Horse
  4. ^ Reed, Jerry (22 July 1967) "A look At My Mail" The Progress-Index (Petersberg, Virginia, newspaper) page 8, upon Lady Suffolk being inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Trotter in Goshen, New York
  5. ^ This URL directs the reader to the online archive of Time Magazines and, specifically, there, to the Milestones, June 6, 1932, section of Vol. XIX, No. 23 of the U.S. Edition of Time Magazine of the same date. See Milestone for 1932 death of Thomas Francis McNulty. A Time Magazine subscription may be needed to read this far into the Milestones for June 6, 1932, online, but reader shall find Vol. XIX, No. 23 of Time Magazine, also, housed at various major U.S. research libraries, which are freely accessible to the public.
  6. ^ Foster, John T. (1974) The Gallant Gray Trotter Dodd-Mead Publishing Company, New York, ISBN 0-396-06869-3
  7. ^ Staff (20 April 1974) "'Lady Suffolk' Fictionalized" Steubenville Herald Star p. 14, col. 5
  8. ^ Jay Rahn, "Stereotype Forms in English-Canadian Children's Songs: Historical and Pedagogical Aspects", Canadian Journal for Traditional Music (1981)
  9. ^ Go in the Wilderness lyrics on http://traditionalmusic.co.uk

References[edit]