Origin of "Barges"

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ThDanks

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Oct 21, 1998, 3:00:00 AM10/21/98
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Does anyone know the origin of the song "Barges"? It has been sung by Girl
Scouts for generations, and printed in various Girl Scout songbooks back into
the 1930s, always attributed to "Traditional". Recently, a Girl Scout friend
said she sang it with Girl Guides 30-40 years ago in England. Can anyone give
it a more complete history? Thanks.

Theresa Danks

"Life is a symphony; play your part." -- Steve Schuch


LauraSM

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Oct 21, 1998, 3:00:00 AM10/21/98
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Theresa wrote:

>
>Does anyone know the origin of the song "Barges"? It has been sung by Girl
>Scouts for generations,

Unfortunately, I don't.

However, I had not heard (or thought of) this song in years, and it brought
back many memories of my years at Girl Scout camp (where I was first introduced
to folk music).

Thanks for reminding me!

Laura

Barrie McCombs

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Oct 23, 1998, 3:00:00 AM10/23/98
to ThDanks
I asked a similar question on this group about three years ago. No one
seemed to know, although there was some confusion between the Girl Guide
song and a Ralph McTell song of the same name. At that time, I went
down to the local Guide Shop, just to get a book with the words and
chords.

- Barrie

------------------------------------------------
Barrie McCombs, MD, CCFP, CCFP(EM)
Director, Medical Information Service
University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Telephone: 403-220-8551
Fax: 403-270-2330
Email: bmcc...@ucalgary.ca
------------------------------------------------

Ken McClurg

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Oct 24, 1998, 3:00:00 AM10/24/98
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ThDanks <thd...@aol.com> wrote in article
<19981021030514...@ng106.aol.com>...


> Does anyone know the origin of the song "Barges"? It has been sung by
Girl

> Scouts for generations, and printed in various Girl Scout songbooks back
into
> the 1930s, always attributed to "Traditional". Recently, a Girl Scout
friend
> said she sang it with Girl Guides 30-40 years ago in England. Can anyone
give
> it a more complete history? Thanks.
>
> Theresa Danks
>
> "Life is a symphony; play your part." -- Steve Schuch
>

> I don't know any definite history of the song, but I was told some twenty
years ago that it was
written by a guide leader while she was convalescing in bed, passing the
time watching barges
on the canal outside. Sounds plausible ! Anyway, its a great song round
a campfire.

Ken McClurg

Mark Buckles

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Oct 24, 1998, 3:00:00 AM10/24/98
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Barges? I don't got to show you no stinken BARGES!

Spam block in effect:
CLINTON...@cts.com
To reply, remove CLINTON

ThDanks

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Oct 25, 1998, 2:00:00 AM10/25/98
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> I don't know any definite history of the song, but I was told some twenty
>years ago that it was
> written by a guide leader while she was convalescing in bed, passing the
>time watching barges
> on the canal outside.

Which Guides, where? This is a story I haven't heard before.
Thanks to everyone who's been replying.

hans...@gmail.com

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Jun 15, 2012, 10:02:05 PM6/15/12
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On Wednesday, October 21, 1998 2:00:00 AM UTC-5, ThDanks wrote:
> Does anyone know the origin of the song "Barges"? It has been sung by Girl
> Scouts for generations, and printed in various Girl Scout songbooks back into
> the 1930s, always attributed to "Traditional". Recently, a Girl Scout friend
> said she sang it with Girl Guides 30-40 years ago in England. Can anyone give
> it a more complete history? Thanks.
>
> Theresa Danks
>
> "Life is a symphony; play your part." -- Steve Schuch

I heard it was from a child dying of cancer. He/she saw the barges in the river outside her hospital room and dreamed up the song as she wished to have freedom.

thewin...@gmail.com

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Sep 4, 2013, 11:42:20 PM9/4/13
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I also learned this song in Girl Guides in the late 80's/early 90's, and our leader told us it was written by a little girl who laid bedridden in hospital in Japan. She watched the barges from the window, wishing she could sail away from her illness and into some grand adventure. We were also told she died before finishing the final verse. Our company's tradition was to hum a verse at the end in her memory. I do not know where our leader got this story, and have no idea whether it is true or just a beautiful piece of folklore... but when I sing it, I still hum a verse and think of a sick little girl and am happy she left such a wonderful piece of herself behind for all of us. ^_^

veyn...@gmail.com

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Mar 23, 2014, 8:26:56 AM3/23/14
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I heard the same story in California at Camp Fire Girls camp in mid 1960's

n.harr...@gmail.com

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May 28, 2014, 1:29:15 AM5/28/14
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I've heard that same story although I don't recall it being in japan. In my girl guide group our leader said essentially the same thing that someone wrote it why they were bedridden from a illness and died before finishing the last verse as well. We always hummed the last one in respect to her as well

kare...@gmail.com

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Jul 10, 2014, 1:51:57 AM7/10/14
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On Tuesday, October 20, 1998 11:00:00 PM UTC-8, ThDanks wrote:
> Does anyone know the origin of the song "Barges"? It has been sung by Girl
> Scouts for generations, and printed in various Girl Scout songbooks back into
> the 1930s, always attributed to "Traditional". Recently, a Girl Scout friend
> said she sang it with Girl Guides 30-40 years ago in England. Can anyone give
> it a more complete history? Thanks.
>
> Theresa Danks
>
> "Life is a symphony; play your part." -- Steve Schuch

I also went to Camp Fire Girls camp and heard this song in the 60's. We were told of the story of a Canadian girl that was terminally ill and had the view of a harbor in Vancouver. We also hummed the last (4th, I believe) verse as she never finished the final verse.

catju...@gmail.com

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Mar 2, 2015, 12:25:37 PM3/2/15
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Hi all

I'm a stranger to this forum, but I just wanted to add something that may or may not be useful.

A few years ago I dated a woman that knew many MANY campfire songs she had learned as a girl, and she used to sing them, happily, at a moment's notice. One of them was "Barges." The thing that always struck me about the song wasn't so much the lyrics as the melody.

I was raised in a household full of music, most of which was classical. The melody of "Barges" always always, (I heard it for the first time from this woman) reminded me of a goodly portion of the music from Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring." If you do a search for this music (which had its premiered sometime in the 1940s) and listen to it, the section I'm referring to is well past the halfway mark (the piece is about 25-30 minutes long).

Anyway, perhaps I am only stating something that is already known, in which case, I apologise. I thought I might add this, just in case..

Peace & goodness to all!

reltub...@gmail.com

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Jun 1, 2015, 7:28:39 PM6/1/15
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On Wednesday, October 21, 1998 at 12:00:00 AM UTC-7, ThDanks wrote:
> Does anyone know the origin of the song "Barges"? It has been sung by Girl
> Scouts for generations, and printed in various Girl Scout songbooks back into
> the 1930s, always attributed to "Traditional". Recently, a Girl Scout friend
> said she sang it with Girl Guides 30-40 years ago in England. Can anyone give
> it a more complete history? Thanks.
>
> Theresa Danks
>
> "Life is a symphony; play your part." -- Steve Schuch

Try this http://dragon.sleepdeprived.ca/songbook/songs6/S6_3.htm

browny...@gmail.com

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Jan 24, 2016, 7:43:37 AM1/24/16
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Yes, my Brownie leader told me the same.

camachoc...@gmail.com

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Feb 4, 2017, 2:12:46 AM2/4/17
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All I remember is that there was a little girl who wrote the song from her hospital window and she ended up dying .

Theresa Danks

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Apr 13, 2017, 12:42:54 PM4/13/17
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On Wednesday, October 21, 1998 at 3:00:00 AM UTC-4, ThDanks wrote:
> Does anyone know the origin of the song "Barges"? It has been sung by Girl
> Scouts for generations, and printed in various Girl Scout songbooks back into
> the 1930s, always attributed to "Traditional". Recently, a Girl Scout friend
> said she sang it with Girl Guides 30-40 years ago in England. Can anyone give
> it a more complete history? Thanks.
>
> Theresa Danks
>
> "Life is a symphony; play your part." -- Steve Schuch

Almost twenty years and this thread is still active :-)
The story about the dying girl is well-travelled. Especially since she seems to have been spotted in England, Canada, and even Japan. But I think that part of the story is beautiful folklore.

People with more education in these topics than I say that the structure of the song--the long falling line in the middle--is very old. The note about Copeland is interesting--of course he borrowed other folk music for Appalacian Spring, but now I guess I have to listen for the Barges section in the second half.

As to the origins, given that the song is best known by Girl Scouts, and we got many of our traditions from English Girl Guides, I'm willing to believe in a British origin. I'm told there are "sailing barges" on the Thames, which supports the reference to both sailing and barges. However, I've also gotten to know many chanteysingers and fans of "sea music" of all kinds, and Barges is unknown in those circles (except, of course, for Girl Scouts). Even a woman who specialized in barge music hadn't heard of it. So, I'm going to consider this as a still open mystery.

kate...@psdblogs.ca

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Apr 18, 2017, 3:28:28 PM4/18/17
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On Wednesday, October 21, 1998 at 1:00:00 AM UTC-6, ThDanks wrote:
> Does anyone know the origin of the song "Barges"? It has been sung by Girl
> Scouts for generations, and printed in various Girl Scout songbooks back into
> the 1930s, always attributed to "Traditional". Recently, a Girl Scout friend
> said she sang it with Girl Guides 30-40 years ago in England. Can anyone give
> it a more complete history? Thanks.
>
> Theresa Danks
>
> "Life is a symphony; play your part." -- Steve Schuch

Barges was written by a girl who was ill and was looking out her window and could see barges passing by, but she died before she could finish it, and that's why you hum at the end of the song to honour her.

CJB

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May 21, 2017, 3:23:31 AM5/21/17
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On Wednesday, 21 October 1998 08:00:00 UTC+1, ThDanks wrote:
> Does anyone know the origin of the song "Barges"? It has been sung by Girl
> Scouts for generations, and printed in various Girl Scout songbooks back into
> the 1930s, always attributed to "Traditional". Recently, a Girl Scout friend
> said she sang it with Girl Guides 30-40 years ago in England. Can anyone give
> it a more complete history? Thanks.
>
> Theresa Danks
>
> "Life is a symphony; play your part." -- Steve Schuch

Words are here:

http://dragon.sleepdeprived.ca/songbook/songs6/S6_3.htm

http://www.nightheron.com/trees_activityguidebarges.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dF2i6RQUqAE

Google for more links ...

Chris B.

CJB

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May 21, 2017, 3:30:05 AM5/21/17
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Lots of back story here:

http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=7838

CJB

alyssas...@gmail.com

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Jan 21, 2018, 7:25:34 PM1/21/18
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I do

A GS Troop leader had a Disease And was in the hospital near A river and “Barges’’ would go by every night so before she died in the hospital she wrote this song. I know this because I am a Girl Scout and we learned the song

tacobu...@gmail.com

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Apr 9, 2018, 9:11:03 PM4/9/18
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Yes almost 20 years later and I am looking for the answer to this question as well!

John Geoffrey

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Apr 11, 2018, 4:08:04 PM4/11/18
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hmm... sice when do ships have red and green lights, as this is part of
the song I found. not that this information would help that much.

Sam

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Apr 12, 2018, 4:09:43 AM4/12/18
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> hmm... sice when do ships have red and green lights, as this is part of > the song I found. not that this information would help that much.

Frequently - they are the ship/boat running lights. See:

https://aceboater.com/en/sidelights-port-starboard-side

John Geoffrey

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Apr 15, 2018, 3:40:56 PM4/15/18
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no, sorry, had a typo in there. But when did this get introduced? Since
when are they running lights like that?

Sam

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Apr 16, 2018, 9:13:43 AM4/16/18
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For a long time. Do a google search for:

"when did ships start using running lights"

wilmal...@gmail.com

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Nov 23, 2018, 9:17:56 AM11/23/18
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wilmal...@gmail.com

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Nov 23, 2018, 9:20:29 AM11/23/18
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I'm rather disappointed to see that this song wasn't necessarily written here in Louisville KY!! The ill child dying in a hospital is the same in all the stories but the location seems to be different. I always believed that the barges were the ones on the Ohio River as they pass through.

acal...@umd.edu

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Oct 3, 2019, 9:29:40 PM10/3/19
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reading through the posts, what strikes me is how universal the song is. Anyone can recognize a place where barges pass, and relate to it as their own location. I also find it intriguing that the legend about a sick girl/woman is also fairly universal, especially with the respect to humming the last verse as a way of honoring this person's memory.

And to the running light issue, from the very brief research I found, running lights of red and green are documented as far back as 1848 when the Lord High Admiral (British) published regulations requiring this combination of lights.

nbaker...@gmail.com

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Oct 7, 2019, 1:35:02 PM10/7/19
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I heard that in the 60s at camp.

nbaker...@gmail.com

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Oct 7, 2019, 1:35:49 PM10/7/19
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You are right...not an adult, a child.

kassko...@gmail.com

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Jan 12, 2020, 1:37:52 AM1/12/20
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Sang it in scouts in Wyoming in the 80s with much love.

We were told it was written by an old lady and after she died, the music was found on her piano the next day.

Lyzette Celestite

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Sep 22, 2021, 4:13:28 PMSep 22
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On Saturday, January 11, 2020 at 10:37:52 PM UTC-8, kassko...@gmail.com wrote:
> Sang it in scouts in Wyoming in the 80s with much love.
>
> We were told it was written by an old lady and after she died, the music was found on her piano the next day.

I was told by my elementary school music teacher that the song (or at least the lyrics) was written by a little girl who died of cancer. The little girl was said to love watching the barges on the Columbia River (so she would have lived in Oregon or Washington if this was true). There are some Portland hospitals near the Columbia river, there are probably some in Vancouver as well (and other smaller cities and towns in both states). It is certainly true that barges travel the Columbia River and do go out to sea directly from it. One commenter was confused by the red and green lights for port and starboard; these lights function as turn signal lights at night. While that isn't as urgent at sea, it is extremely important to know which way a vessel is turning in a river. I don't think a barge could actually make a full turn in the Columbia River (I doubt it's wide enough), but those running lights would still be required. Perhaps they could or do use those lights to indicate on which side they intend to pass another vessel (another extremely important thing to know). The song was especially memorable to me because I've always believed she lived in the area where I grew up. Whatever the real story is, it's a pretty little song.

Theresa Danks

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Sep 27, 2021, 11:41:09 AMSep 27
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Hi,
I'm impressed my post from over 2 decades ago is still active. Yes, the story of the sick girl is universal, although always moved to the location where it's being told. I wonder if it's a girl because this song is best known among Girl Scouts and Guides.
As to the lights, they're not turn signals such as on a car, which are only on when signaling a turn, but on all the time at night so other traffic can tell which way a vessel is moving. In the days before radios, other signals would be shown or sounded to signal intention to change course, but the running lights or sidelights are always shown at night. In the past 20 years, I've also learned to sail tall ships in busy harbors, so knowing about things like running lights has become important. In fact I "borrowed" the tune of Barges to write a song about what I've learned, including that the red and green lights are masked so that they're only seen from directly ahead and to the side (22.5 degrees abaft the beam, to be exact.) So you can only see both red and green lights on a vessel from one viewpoint. "Starboard shines green and port is glowing red. Hey, Cap, that barge is dead ahead!"
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