Monday, June 05, 2006

Why IS Miss Mary Mack All Dressed In Black?

Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack,
All dressed in black, black, black,
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons
All down her back, back, back.

Miss Mary Mack

Inquiring minds want to know--especially those with 6 year old daughters.
Especially 6 year old daughters with the book, who read the book--out loud
over and
over and

Out of curiousity, I did a little bit of research to see where this rhyme comes from.
Actually, I was trying to find something redeeming about the rhyme so that I could withstand the constant the sing-song repetition.

According to Everything2:

This is an old folk song sung at summer camps across the country and usually taken as a mostly meaningless bit of rhyme. Though it's impossible to determine exactly what the origins of the lyrics are (many of these songs have verses that come after one another mostly non sequitor, sometimes making diametrically opposed points, suggesting that they were cobbled together over time, not written all at once), an interesting possiblity presents itself:

Two of the first ironclads ever built were the U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia, fighting for opposite sides in the American Civil War. In 1862, they met in a historic battle (a stalemate) that marked the end of wooden ocean combat. The Virginia had been built upon the partially burned hull of the U.S.S. Merrimack, a northern frigate salvaged from a mostly-burned harbor when Virginia seceeded from the Union, and though rechristened, she went down in history, for whatever reason, under her former name.

The Merrimack, former wooden hull covered in metal, was black in color. Being an ironclad, she had metallic rivets all along her hull to hold her together.

The song is typically sung aloud and passed on through memorization, not written down. Is it possible that the words to the first verse are really

Miss Merrimack, mack, mack,
All dressed in black, black, black,
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons
All down her back, back, back.

Now, I'll grant you that this is probably more than you could ever want to know about Miss Mary Mack, but...

Yeah, you're right. It is.
(But I think it's kinda cool)


Anonymous said...

I'm doing a bit of research for an inservice and plan to use the rhyme. This information makes it much more palatable to the males in the group--since this is considered a girly rhyme.

Now, no longer a "girls thing".

Daled Amos said...

But what will the women in the group and the anti-war contingent say?

Anonymous said...

Where I grew up in Virginia this was a song for jumping double dutch in competition.You were awarded silver buttons usually antique,prized put on your black dress which had to be a certain length.,not making it easy to jump double dutch.Most of our games and rhymes were of English or Irish origin.Mary Mack was a woman.I think.My family of both origins who arrived here before Jamestown plus Native American.and others....We played games like .rolling bat..similar to cricket