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Origins: Granite Mills / Granite Mills Fire


Ed. 13 Jan 04 - 02:30 PM
Charlie Baum 13 Jan 04 - 06:32 PM
Ed. 13 Jan 04 - 06:41 PM
Ed. 14 Jan 04 - 04:00 PM
Sooz 15 Jan 04 - 04:09 AM
Joe Offer 16 Dec 09 - 03:47 PM
Joe Offer 16 Dec 09 - 04:24 PM
Joe Offer 16 Dec 09 - 05:45 PM
Ruth Archer 16 Dec 09 - 06:33 PM
Ed. 01 Jul 10 - 05:39 AM
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Subject: Origins: Granite Mills (Granite Mill Fire)
From: Ed.
Date: 13 Jan 04 - 02:30 PM

I'm trying to find the source for the words of 'Granite Mills' as recorded by Cordelia's Dad

There's a version of the song in the DT: The Granite Mill Fire from the book 'Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia'

The words to the Cordelia's Dad version are somewhat different:

Granite Mills

In this vain world of trouble, many accidents occur
I'm going to sing about one, as sad as you ever heard
It was in Fall River city, they were all burned up and killed
Imprisoned in a factory known as the 'Granite Mills'

        Now it was my opinion, and it's my opinion still
        They might all have been saved, had the truth been told
        From the flames of the burning mill

The first scene was a cruel one, the girl so young in years
She was standing at the window, and her eyes were bathed in tears
She was standing at the window as she called her mother's name
"Oh mother, mother, save me!," and she fell back in the flames

The next scene was a hard one, as she passed before my eyes
She was leaping out a window, down from the roof so high
With a crack, she fell down on the ground, she was bruised and burned and killed
Three hundred people lost their lives in the flames of the burning mill

One poor girl tried to escape by sliding down a rope
But when she got but halfway down, the burning strands they broke
I hope her soul has gone to rest in a place that's dearer still
Above, above, in heaven above, far away from the burning mill

Any ideas? There's a contemporary account of the incident on this page


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Subject: RE: Origins: Granite Mills (Granite Mill Fire)
From: Charlie Baum
Date: 13 Jan 04 - 06:32 PM

From the Liner Notes from Cordelia's Dad's CD Spine:

1. Granite Mills Watching TV in the USA you'd think Canada was somewhere beyond the moon. We certainly don't hear much about the history of conflict and cultural and economic ties between New England and the Maritimes and Quebec. A lot of the people who worked in the Massachusetts mills in the late 19th century came from Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Quebec, many of them young girls (especially well documented in all that's been written about the mills in Lowell). After a concert last year we talked with a man whose family had worked the mills in Fall River for several generations. He said the fast and furious nature of the mill work meant the machines had to be oiled frequently, often carelessly. The combination of oilsoaked pine floors with inadequate exits, fire fighting equipment, and alarms, was a recipe for disaster. The fire this song is about was burning for 15 minutes before the alarm was even sounded. I made the tune for this one.

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Subject: RE: Origins: Granite Mills (Granite Mill Fire)
From: Ed.
Date: 13 Jan 04 - 06:41 PM

Thanks Charlie, but I was already aware of those notes. They don't mention where Tim Eriksen got his set of words from, which was my question.

Yes, I have tried emailing him...

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Subject: RE: Origins: Granite Mills (Granite Mill Fire)
From: Ed.
Date: 14 Jan 04 - 04:00 PM

Refresh. Anyone?

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Subject: RE: Origins: Granite Mills (Granite Mill Fire)
From: Sooz
Date: 15 Jan 04 - 04:09 AM

Great version by Kathryn Roberts and Sean Lakeman!

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Subject: DT Correction: The Granite Mill Fire
From: Joe Offer
Date: 16 Dec 09 - 03:47 PM

Here's the Traditional Ballad Index entry for this song:

    Burning of the Granite Mill, The [Laws G13]

    DESCRIPTION: Workers in a Fall River factory are routinely locked into their workplace. The mill catches fire and the workers -- who could have been saved if conditions had been better -- die in agony
    AUTHOR: unknown
    EARLIEST DATE: 1932 (Creighton-NovaScotia)
    KEYWORDS: fire death disaster
    Sept 19, 1874 - Burning of the Granite Mill in Fall River, Massachusetts. The tragedy, in which 20 died, three disappeared, and 36 were injured, was aggravated by the failure to sound a fire alarm for twenty minutes
    FOUND IN: US(NE) Canada(Mar)
    REFERENCES (3 citations):
    Laws G13, "The Burning of the Granite Mill"
    Creighton-NovaScotia 118, "Granite Mill" (1 text, 1 tune)
    DT 675, GRANITML

    Roud #1823
    File: LG13

    Go to the Ballad Search form
    Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
    Go to the Bibiography
    Go to the Discography

    The Ballad Index Copyright 2009 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.

    Here are the Digital Tradition lyrics, with correction of OCR errors:

    Was in Fall River City
    When the people was burned and killed,
    In a cotton manufactory
    Called as the Granite Mill.
    At seven o'clock the firebells rang
    But oh, it was too late,
    The flames they were fast spreading
    And at a rapid rate.

    They were men and women there
    And children too, I'm told,
    Who might have been saved from out of the flames
    If the truth was only known.
    But oh, the villains that locked the doors
    And told them to keep still,
    It was the bosses and overseers
    That burning Granite Mill.

    The first scene was a touching one
    From a maid so young in years,
    She was standing by a window and
    Her eyes were filled with tears.
    She cried, "Oh, save me! Save me!"
    She called her mother's name,
    But her mother could not save her
    And she fell back in the flame.

    The next scene was a horrible one
    Just as it caught my eye.
    They were leaping from a window
    From up so very high,
    And the only means of their escape
    Was sliding down a rope,
    And just as they were half way down
    The burning strands they broke.

    Christ, Christ, what a horrible mess,
    They were mangled, burned and killed,
    Six stories high, and falling from
    The burning Granite Mill.
    But I hope their spirits has fled
    To a better place far still,
    Up high, up high, up in the sky
    Above the Granite Mill.

    From Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia, Creighton
    Collected from Tom Henneberry, who learned this song in the 1890s,
    says it describes a fire in Fall River, New York (sic), of about
    that time. The locking-in aspect is reminiscent of the Triangle
    Shirtwaist Company fire in New York City. RG

    DT #675
    Laws G13
    @disaster @fire @work
    filename[ GRANITML

    The above is an exact transcription of the version in Helen Creighton's Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia, #118, pp. 257-258. Note that Fall River is mistakenly identified as being in New York. The fire actually occurred in Fall River Massachusetts, 19 September 1874.

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Subject: RE: Origins: Granite Mills (Granite Mill Fire)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 16 Dec 09 - 04:24 PM

It might be worthwhile to post the news account that Ed linked to above. It came from
Unfortunately, the original source3 is not cited.

Fall River MA, 19 September 1874



This morning, a little before 7 o'clock, an alarm of fire was sounded from boxes 72 and 74, and it was soon found that Granite Mill No.1 was on fire in the central part - the spooling room in the fifth story. The fire is supposed to have been occasioned by the friction of one of the mules. It spread so rapidly that the help were immediately bewildered and panic stricken, and could not avail themselves of the fire escape, which was ample to save all. The room was instantly filled with smoke, and the help huddled into the south end where the flames had not come.

Men, women, and children rushed to the windows gasping for air, pushed their arms through the glass and screamed for help. Some in their desperation broke through the glass and frames, and pitched themselves headfirst to the ground, where they were killed instantly or shattered in a terrible way. The sight to the spectators was sickening in the extreme. The screams of the injured and the groans of the dying with the roar and crackle of the flames made a scene of horror which was terrible to every beholder. 

As soon as the flames had been partially quenched, firemen and police, with willing help, rushed into the charred house, and began the dread work of recovering the dead. They lay in every conceivable posture - scorched, bleeding, strown about the floor, and especially near the windows. By means of ropes, the mutilated forms were let down to the ground, and if they were recognized they were taken to their homes, or if burnt beyond recognition, to the Mission chapel, on Pleasant Street, or to the station house.

The streets were filled with those who had lost friends, or believed they had; and sobs and shrieks of the bereaved were the most heartrending portions of the scene. 

Haggard faces scanned each bloody quilt or gunny sack which covered the mute forms as they were borne to the chapel, and new victims added new anxiety to those who as yet had no tiding of those who were missing. The killed were mostly women and children -and they naturally suffered most from the panic, yet a few men were among the victims. The following are the casualties as far as we have been able to learn:

James Smith, son of Robert Smith, worked in the mule room, was suffocated and burned. Residence Tremont Street. 

Margaret and Kate Murphy, daughters of Mrs. Mary Murphy, on Quarry Street, aged 20 and 16, were thrown from the fifth story windows and are both dead. Another sister of these girls was taken to the Police Station, and afterwards recognized and taken to her home. Thus the three sisters in one family are taken by a flash.

James Turner, about 50 years of age, tended the elevator. His body was taken to the station house before it could be recognized. He resided at 188 Bedford Street and leaves a widow. It is supposed he jumped from the window.

Thomas Kaveny, aged about 35, spinner, killed by falling from the window. Residence at 28 Robeson Street. Leaves a widow and mother.

Annie J. Smith, Granite Street, aged 18, worked in the spooling room and was killed by jumping from the window.

Edson B. Keith, aged 18, son of Wm. H. Keith, worked in the dressing room, slid part of the way down a rope; is injured internally. Resides on Maple Street.

Hannah O'Brien, worked in the spooling room, jumped from the fifth story; spine severely injured and is not expected to recover.

Joseph Ramsbotham, Twelfth Street, worked in the fifth story, made fast one end of a rope to some machinery, and slid down as far as the second story, when he supposes he let go, as his hands were blistered. His right leg was broken near the ankle and his back sprained. Two or three others were saved by means of this rope.

A girl residing at No.9 Town Avenue, had a fracture of the right leg, above the knee.

Alfred J. Biddiscomb, a shoe maker, doing business on the corner of Fourth and Pleasant Streets, was slightly injured about the head in trying to rescue some of the sufferers.

Marie Brodeur and her brother John, both injured, the former with a broken leg and a bruised face, and the latter, head and face badly cut and bruised.

Arebellar Keith, daughter of Wm. R. Keith, 20 years of age, jumped from the window and is so severely injured that she cannot recover. 

Isabel Moorhead, No. 1 Fifth Street, 38 years of age, working in the spooling room; jumped out of the window, broke her arm, and was seriously injured internally.

Ellen Jones, corner of Third and Rodman Streets, 27 years old, worked in the spooling room; came down on a rope and fell two stories; injured seriously.

Anne Dwoney, corner of Third and Morgan Streets, 16 years old, worked in the spooling room; jumped out of the window; bones broken and seriously injured; unconscious.

Maggie Dwoney, 12 years old, worked in the spooling room; jumped out of the window; arm broken and considerably bruised. 

Delia Beaunoyer, missing; Victorine Beunoyer, severe contusion by jumping from spooling room; Delia Poitras, badly wounded; Maggie Lannigan, contused wounds; Maggie and Katie Sullivan, sisters, Ford Street, fatally injured; two children of Christopher Haley, Bedford Street, fatally injured. Horace Coffey, missing; Kate Harrington, Six and a Half Street, hand burned; John Corbett, 8 years old, pitched from a window, was not much hurt.

Charles Lawton caught a girl in his arms as she jumped from the upper story window, and carried her bleeding across the street into a dwelling house, and cared for her. She begged him to stay by her until she died.

Ellen Jane Hunter, daughter of William Hunter, 15 years old, missing. At noon there were eleven dead bodies in the mission chapel.

Mr. Charles Brett, overseer of the spinning room, where the fire originated, positively denies the rumor afloat that the operatives were unable to escape from the mill on account of locked doors. Mr. Brett informs us that there was no door locked in any part of the mill, and every possible effort was made to assist all in danger to escape from the burning building. There was no door in the mill that could be locked but the lower one on the ground floor, and that was never fastened except at night.

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Subject: ADD Version: The Burning of the Granite Mill
From: Joe Offer
Date: 16 Dec 09 - 05:45 PM

Here, after almost six years, is the answer to Ed's original question.


In this world with care and trouble
Many accidents occur.
I am going to sing about one
The saddest you ever heard.
'Twas in Fall River City
Where the people were burned up and killed,
Imprisoned in a factory
Known as the Granite Mills.

At seven o'clock the fire bell rung;
The alarm it was too late.
The fire it was a-raging.
It was at a fearful rate.
Men and women were in it,
Children I suppose as well.
They all might have been saved had the truth been known
From the flames of the burning mill.

The first scene was a cruel one.
A girl so young in years,
She was standing at the window
And her eyes were bathed in tears.
She was standing at the window
And she called her mother's name,
"O mother, mother, save me."
And she fell back in the flames.

The next scene was a horrid one
And as she passed my eyes
She was leaping out of a window
And from the roof so high.
There was a poor creature who tried to escape
By sliding down a rope
And when she got about halfway down
Those burning strands, they broke.

Crash, crash she came upon the ground.
She was bruised, burned and killed.
Three hundred people lost their lives
In the flames of the burning mill.
And now I am going to conclude my song
And if you will all agree
I will try and please you one and all
And all this company.

It was my opinion
It is my opinion still
They all might have been saved had the truth been known
From the flames of the burning mill.

[When we have undergone such a terrible scene, I think the singer continues the torture by withholding "the truth"!]

[Recalled later as first half of last stanza.]
I hope her soul has gone to rest
In a place that is dearer still
Above, above in heaven above
And away from the burning mill.

The Granite Mill, in Fall River, Massachusetts, was built in 1863, and was burned on September 19, 1874; the fire started in an unoiled mulehead. It was a five-story building, 378 feet long by 70 wide, with a pitch roof and a tower in the center front. The fire alarm was not sounded for twenty minutes and in the meantime over fifty persons were trapped in the attic, of whom the Boston Traveller of September 20 reported twenty known dead, three missing, and thirty-six injured.
A version of "The Burning of the Granite Mill," with the air, is in
Creighton's Ballads and Songs from Nova Scotia, pp. 257—258.
Many of the employees of the Fall River Mills came from Maine and the Canadian Maritime Provinces. We find the ballad sung, therefore, quite where we should expect to find it, in Maine and Nova Scotia, as well as in Vermont.

A different song, "The Burning Granite Mill," to the air, "Wreck of the London," sung with great applause by Johnny Gibbons, is in Maud Beverly's Don't Leave Your Mother, When Her Hair Turns Grey Songster, p. 23 (Barry Collection of Ballad Prints). We may quote the last stanza:

    "Oh! Where is my three children," the widowed mother cried;
    "Where is Katy, Maggie, Annie, they were my only pride!"
    Thus mournfully the mother wept, as a group moved slowly on
    Bearing the bodies of her children from the Granite Number One.

Source: The New Green Mountain Songster (Flanders, Ballard, Brown, Barry, 1939), pp. 229-231

Sent in by Mrs. A.A. Mills, Florence, Vermont

Click to play

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Subject: RE: Origins: Granite Mills (Granite Mill Fire)
From: Ruth Archer
Date: 16 Dec 09 - 06:33 PM

Thanks for that, Joe. I used to sing this song, which I also got from Cordelia's Dad, and wondered where the specific version Tim Eriksen sings had come from.

Anyone fans of Tim/Cordelia's Dad might be interested to know that the band is doing a reunion gig at Sidmouth FolkWeek 2010. It's got to be about 10 years since their last UK gig, so this is a very special opportunity.

Tim Eriksen will also give some Shape Note singing workshops and solo performances. And if you ask nicely, he might just sing Granite Mill. :)

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Subject: RE: Origins: Granite Mills (Granite Mill Fire)
From: Ed.
Date: 01 Jul 10 - 05:39 AM

Well, thanks from 6 years later!

Noted from the top link:

Summer 2010 Tuesday, August 3:
Cordelia's Dad rock reunion at Sidmouth Festival in England. Tim Eriksen, Peter Irvine, Cath Oss and guests plug in for a retrospective electric set.

Wish I could be there. Play loud guys and scare a few people away!

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