The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #457   Message #3884913
Posted By: Joe Offer
26-Oct-17 - 07:48 PM
Thread Name: Origins: Baltimore Fire..a 'new' old verse....
Subject: RE: Origins: Baltimore Fire..a 'new' old verse....
Norm Cohen's American Folk Songs: A Regional Encyclopedia (pp 176-177) has a transcription of the Charlie Poole recording, plus notes.

Here's Norm Cohen's transcription:


It was only through a fault by an error
That I heard a cry I ever will remember.
The fire sent and cast its burning embries
On another fated city of our land.

Fire, fire, I heard the cry,
From every breeze that passes by,
All the world was one sad cry of pity,
Strong men in angry praise [anguish prayed?]
Calling loud to heaven for aid
While the fire in ruins was laying
Fair Baltimore, the beautiful city.

Amid an awful struggle of commotion
The wind blew a gale from the ocean,
Brave fireman struggled with devotion
But the efforts all proved in vain.

Notes: The Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 raged from 10:48 A.M. Sunday, February 7, to 5:00 P.M. the following Monday. More than 1,200 firefighters were required to bring the blaze under control.
The fire was reported first at the John Hurst and Company building at 10:48 A.M. and quickly spread. By 1:30 P.M., units from Washington, D.C., were arriving. Efforts to halt the fire's spread by dynamiting buildings around the existing fire proved unsuccessful. Contributing to the duration of the fire was the lack of national standards in firefighting equipment. Although fire engines from nearby cities (such as Philadelphia and Washington, as well as units from New York City, Wilmington, and Atlantic City) responded, many were useless because their hose couplings failed to fit Baltimore hydrants. As a result, the fire burned over 30 hours, destroying 1,526 buildings spanning 70 city blocks.

Charlie Poole (1892?1931), the North Carolina hillbilly musician who sang the text of 'Baltimore Fire' for the Columbia Phonograph Corporation in 1930, was a hard-drinking rambling musician who traveled throughout North Carolina and adjacent states, making a living by his music. When he started making phonograph recordings in 1925, he and his band proved to be one of the most popular groups in the Appalachian region, and he enjoyed a successful musical career until his excessive drinking led to an early heart attack at age 39. Poole's recording is the only one of 'Baltimore Fire' until the 1950s. Then, other folk revival groups, entranced with the style of the North Carolina Ramblers, recorded many of their best hits, and 'Baltimore Fire' gained a new career on recordings and in concerts. Unfortunately, Poole had a tendency to garble his words (alcohol is an effective solvent for syllables), and most transcriptions of his text give the first line as 'It was by a silver falls by a narrow,' but with the written text as a guideline, his words can be deciphered.