Did you ever play the hand clapping game "Miss Mary Mack"? If you were ever an eight year old girl in America, you probably did. I suddenly thought of hand games the other day and found myself singing "Miss Mary Mack" in my car. Then I had a realization: This is the strangest song! What the heck is this about? Which is what I think most of us realize, as adults, when we stop and think about the lyrics of most oral-tradition children's songs. Ring-Around-The-Rosie is about the black plague, London-Bridge-Is-Falling-Down is when London Bridge literally fell down, houses, people and all, killing many. So where did "Miss Mary Mack" come from?
Who is Mary Mack and why does she smoke a pipe? Well, the internet says (via Wikipedia): The origin of the name Mary Mack is obscure, and various theories have been proposed. According to one theory, Mary Mack originally referred to the USS Merrimack, a United States warship of the mid-1800s named after the eponymous Merrimack River, that would have been black, with silvery rivets. This may suggest that the first verse refers to the Battle of Hampton Roads during the American Civil War
What the hee-ha? Thats my very own backyard!... of sorts (not that I had any ancestors there at that time..but) I grew up in that area! And of course the internet is never wrong (*wink).
None the less, it still doesn't make any sense, or answer any questions. Its just fun. The lyrics are silly. So while I mulled over them, sitting in bay area traffic, I thought up some illustrations. Here is my interpretation of "Miss Mary Mack" for you all! Pencil on paper. (I had the intention to watercolor them, but decided not to for the time being.)
Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack
All dressed in black, black, black
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons [butt'ns]
All down her back, back, back.
She can not read, read, read
She can not write, write, write,
But she can smoke, smoke, smoke
Her father's, pipe, pipe, pipe
She asked her mother, mother, mother
for fifty cents, cents, cents
To see the elephants, elephants, elephants
Jump the fence, fence, fence.
They jumped so high, high, high
they touched the sky, sky, sky
And didn't come back, back, back
Till the 4th of July, ly, ly!