Stuff You Should Know

Stuff You Should Know

If you've ever wanted to know about champagne, satanism, the Stonewall Uprising, chaos theory, LSD, El Nino, true crime and Rosa Parks then look no further. Josh and Chuck have you covered.... Show More

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May 20, 2020 15 min
Did you know the little nursery rhyme is controversial? It’s true: Two towns in New England can barely stand to see one another on the map (kind of). Learn more about your ad-choices at
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Episode Transcription

The text below is machine transcribed.

Hey welcome to short stuff, I'm Josh, there's Chuck. This is short stuff.

We are talking about little nursery rhyme, pretty adorable in its nature that you may have heard of before it's called Maryhand a little lamb wait. A minute was: was this lamb's fleece as white as snow?

It was, and there was something remarkable about it in that wherever Mary went, the lamb went as well.

It sounds like a stocker to me a little bit, so this is pretty interesting in that this is controversial. I mean this cute little nursery rind that every English speaking kid on the planet has heard at one time or another, especially if Youre raised in America may have had number one, a real life origin in number two. There are two towns in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, where the local historical societies will fight each other with bike chains and brass knuckles if they run into one another in public yeah. This is really interesting in Sterling Massachusetts.

If you go you're going to see a little copper statue of a little lamb and it's Mary saw yours little am specifically which she brought to school in Eighteen. Fifteen yeah she was a little girl who - and this I guess we should say allegedly for all this stuff, because they're everyone's saying that each other is wrong.

So allegedly Mary save this little lamb, nursed it back to health overnight and over a few days the lamb got much better and then she was going to go to school one day and her brother Nat said who won't you bring that lamb to school since you'd love it so much much you marryit and she did bring the lamb to school, hiding it in a basket under her chair and at one point she stands up to take part in a recitation lesson and the lamb bleets, the teacher laughs.

She takes the lamb outside and kills it.

No s takes ae lamb outside and stores it in the shed.

But this caught the idea of a guy named or the eye of a guy named John rollstone yeah. He was an older boy who, I guess was visiting the schoolhouse where all tjist took place that day he was on his way off to Havod and he died shortly after of Tubrculosis. But before that he wrote a poem th several lines, Tjis, basically what everybody knows from Mary had a little lamb supposedly that night he was so taken by this thing by this event, came back the next day on horseback and handed Mary. The little poem he wrote for Her and Mary Sawyer went on for the rest of her life as Mary, the girl, with the little lamb that she'd nurse back to health and these the source of the famous nursery ry Mary, had a little lamb yeah and it's important to note that he wrote but to three stanzas of that poem, and I think he was just thought it was cute. I think it's an adorable story that not only did she nurse this little lamb and take it to school, but this you know rising freshman at Harvard was so smitten. With this whole thing on his little visit to the school that he wrote a poem about it, it'Sright it's endurable, then he died of Tumberculosis later that year.

Yea Point that out again - and so he he so John Rolstone and Mary Sawyer - are the source of the inspiration and the the basis of that nursery. I Mary had a little lamb as far as sterling Massachusetts is concerned, but if you drive a little further north about ninety miles north into New Hampshire, South West New Hampshire, you come across the town of Newport.

You will get a totally different story that there their position is basically that Mary Sawyer was a lying old lady who lied her whole life and made up this fantastic tale and that it was really Sarah Joseph a Hale who was a native of Newport, New Hampshire, who was very famous for setting up the first Thanksgiving in the United States, like as as a national holiday she's, the one that made that happen that she's, the one who wrote Mary had a little lamb right, and I think we should take a break okay and before we do that, I want to point out that Josh did not misspeak. Her Middle Name was JOSEPA and not Joseph or Josephine Yeah. It just sounded a little funny and people might think why did Josh Spice that one up put a little mustard on so we'll come back and explain more about her story and where Henry Ford figures in right after this all right so Sara Joseph Josepha Hale, I like Josepho, but I hadn't considered Jo SEFA. That's Os, that's a good one too! That sounds really biblical like she's. Do she suddenly just grew a beard without a mustache right? You know what I mean yes like come to me Joseph and let me put oils on your feet right, that's exactly! What I was thinking were remember what congressman was it that literally anointed someone? So it was Ashcroft, I think. Wasn't it was it thet yeah? What a bizarre time it was. I think it was. It was Ashgroft yer totally right it. He also sang some Weird Patriotic Song about the Eagle flying high. Around the same time, you got some bad press. Everybody was like wow you'R, bonker's Buddy, oh man. I missed that guy. He was fun fen for the newscycle.

He really was all right, so Sarah Josepa Hale moved to Boston in Eighteen D, twenty eight - she was a poet and a writer, and she was actually the editor of the very first women's magazine in the US called Goddy's ladies book, and it was here in Boston that she met ha man named Lowell Mason, who was a musician and composer who said you know what?

If we get some of these poems and set them to music, they would be called songs and we can use these in schools to make a little kids good moral kids when I think of Loll this kind of folk musician, children's music study, proponent guy, have you ever seen that Mr Show, where David Cross is like the the guy who skulpted the little the little body that he moves from Appalachan Folkcart?

That guy that's, who I think of when I thik with this guy.

You know just kind of weird and hapless and like out of it and like his whole focus, is learning to get music into schools for children, and just I don't know why. But it's really stuck in there.

You know our Buddy Scott Ackerman wrote for Mr Show.

It was kind of his entre into the entertainment industry and Te Tes at yeah. He does a spot on impression of Bob Oaden Kirk.

Oh Yeah, O it's great you gotta to that. It's very funny, all right, so mason and Hale are writing songs. Together, they put F fifteen poems to music called poems for our children, and we should point out that the original tune that they wrote for her version of Mary had a little lamb was not the familiar melody that we know that came on later. I think yeah.

Apparently, that comes from a British song that goes merrily. We roll along roll along roll along merrily. We Roll along over the Darkplu Sea.

Hey Nice! Oh thank you.

Thank you. I've practice pretty extensively for it.

Ias onkey I'm little tone deff his little pitchy, but it was fine. Okay, thanks I'll go with. It was fine.

No, it was good, but yeah that came on later the original melody. I don't even think we know that.

Do we no but I'l. If you can get your hands on Juvenile Lyar Leer Lire that that book that it was originally in, I think the notes are in there.

Okay, it sounds like in Agada Dabida, let your go to so Mary Sawyer, going back to her the little girl who allegedly actually nursed this little lamb, who followed her around and stalked her.

She said you know what those first three verses of your poem, Miss Hale, is exactly like the ones that John Rolstone wrote about my true story.

What is up with that yeah? I guess she just thought that Somehow Sarah Josepha Hale had gotten her hands somehow on this.

This poem that John Ralsonad had written for and just expanded on that and so Josepha Hale was like.

No that's not it at all. I made this whole thing up from scratch. Using strictly my imagination, I've never heard of you or your delightful little story from your childhood about the lamb sounds totally made up by the way right and so tha. This was like.

So now you had two upstanding women, Sara Josepha Hale, the founder of the the American holiday Thanksgiving Yeah and Mary Sawyer, who went on to become the matron of her local hospital.

We're basically saying that one another was lying without saying that one another was lying and two towns like reputations, were on the line yeah and they actually is older. Ladies signed sworn statements saying that what they were saying was true and correct, and it kind of went on like this. For a little while - and I promised Henry forwd yeah - and here we're going to deliver, because in one thousand nine hundred and twenty seven automobile magnate Henry Ford got involved and was firmly in the Mary Sawyer Camp Firm. He was just a fan of hers. I guess because he bought the original frame from that Red School House and moved it to Sudbury where he owned an in, and he wrote a book about this called the story of Mary and her little lamb.

I find that him moving the end to subberry, confuses Thi story tremendously, because it just takes two small towns and adds a third one unnecessarily. If, yes, sure you know, but yes, Henry Ford, rode a sixty page book, just basically touting Mary Sawyers story, much to the Chagrin of the town of Newport, New Hampshire, ind, its historical society, and to this day they will say, like Henry Ford made you a great car, I don't know how he would be really as in a Storian. So you know his opinion doesn't count for much what I want to know as what was on the other. Fifty six pages, Al Right, you know, yeah, couldn't it taken more than four to tell this little story? No, I know I don't know what he talked about and I think my joke bone is broken because I can't come up with anything stupid to AD.

Well, it depends on.

There are very much two camps here and to this day people that defend hail.

I mean people that defend sawyers are like you know. This is sweet, sweet girl who had this sweet story. Why would she make this up and tell it her? Whole life right and hale defenders were like well. Why would she just conjure up this polem out of thin air, or I mean? Why would she copy it and claim right? She conjured it from thin air because they like she wouldn't have even known about this poem Yeah. She just from what I can tell she doesn't seem like the type who would have committed plagiarism and then stuck to the Li, her entire life yeah.

So mystery, it's a mystery and even Henry Forg couldn't solve it, but to end this one, because we don't really have a resolution to it.

There is like t the full poem by Sarah Josepha Hale.

It ends pretty cutely because she's talking about how everyone wanted to know why the lamb loved Mary, so much and in the porliament says. Well, it's because Mary loves the LAMB BACK and then it ends with and you each gentle animal in confidence may bind and make them follow at your will.

If only you are kind and that sweet thing to teach little kids be kind of animals and you can basically be the boss of them.

Yes and you will never be a serial killer, that's right because you're kind to them rather than torture, somthing, that's right! Well, let's IT for short stuff! Everybody we're at Stuff You Should Know, is a production of ihart radios. Howse stuff works for more podcast to my heart, radio, eciuse it the IHEART radio at Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite, shows

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