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GUEST,Bob Coltman Origins: Portland County Jail (20) RE: Origins: Portland County Jail 19 Jul 13


Lighter, any chance you can reprint the text from Anderson's The Hobo? I've tried on a couple of Google and other book pages but succeeded only in getting the first verse. It's slightly different, but closely similar:

I'm a stranger in your city, my name is Paddy Flynn,
I got drunk the other evening, and the coppers run me in,
I had no money to pay my fine, no friends to go my bail,
So I got soaked for ninety days in the Portland County jail.

It then notes: "Chorus" ... but I can't seem to get that part of the page. (Very restrictive, or else I'm just not getting it right.)

Interesting implication that the song existed around 1917 and was popular enough to serve as the tune for a Wobbly song. Wobblies commonly picked well-known tunes, to get maximum impact for their lyrics.

So how well-known was "Portland County Jail?" And why do we find no trace of it in collections back then?

I don't think we can be sure that the earlier song's tune was necessarily the same as the one in Sandburg. Likely, maybe, but not a certainty. One of the things I've wondered about is whether "PCJ" has different tunes in different places.

And I'd sure like to know what that chorus is! No chorus appears in the Sandburg version, unless the 2nd verse might sometimes be used as a chorus (possible).

I'm rarin' to find that earlier version somewhere in print. I don't suppose the Journal of American Folklore (Perrow, or other) had anything on it? I've been through the Perrow material fairly closely, but I might have missed it ...

Then the whole question: are there any other "(place name) Jail" songs that are clearly related to PCJ, or is it unique? It had an author ... who? Was it a broadside? Newspaper poem (but what paper would print it?)? How did it circulate so widely as implied?

And where did it circulate? Maine? Oregon? Someplace else? Here's the germane part of Sandburg's headnote:

"A Chicago newspaperman who happened to do in real life what Paddy Flynn does in this song, got ten days, as Paddy Flynn did, in the Portland County Jail. While recovering from his bootleg headache, he learned the first three verses of a song there. For the fourth, we are indebted to philosophers at the extreme left in the labor movement and in modernist art in Chicago. .... "

He makes it sound as if "McGurk's" verse was made up by union intellectuals with the help of the Chicago arts crowd—believable? As for the Chicago newspaperman, who he? Sandburg himself? A friend? This purports to be testimony of someone who allegedly was IN that jail. Maine? Oregon? Someplace else? When? Further the deponent sayeth not. And all honors to the great Carl, whom I revere, but (in the style of the period) the whole is flimsy and fact-free as a politician's farewell speech.

My National Geographic Atlas finds no Portland Counties, but there are Portlands in Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, North Dakota, New York, Ohio, Ontario (anyone else think it has a slightly Canadian sound?), Oregon, Tennesee, Texas.

That suggests the scope of the game, once we admit that "Portland County" is a myth and it was just some County Jail located in a Portland of some description, somewhere.

Mysteries ... all answers much appreciated.

Thanks all!

Bob


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