Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Origin of 'Jingle Bells' Song Is Debated
AP ^ | December 21 2003 | RUSS BYNUM

Posted on 12/21/2003 11:39:53 AM PST by bradactor

Origin of 'Jingle Bells' Song Is Debated

By RUSS BYNUM, Associated Press Writer

SAVANNAH, Ga. - Dashing in the sun, through oaks and Spanish moss. Sleigh riding's no fun, when there's no snow to cross.

Could "Jingle Bells" really be a song of the South?

It's not hard to see why balmy Savannah has a tough time selling the Christmas carol as a native creation. Or why the claim makes folks in Medford, Mass. — hometown of the song's composer — cry humbug.

This much is known: James Pierpont was the organist at Savannah's Unitarian Universalist Church in 1857 when he copyrighted the song "One Horse Open Sleigh," a title later changed to "Jingle Bells."

One of the most popular American Christmas songs, "Jingle Bells" made Pierpont a pre-Civil War one-hit wonder. But did he write it here as a piece of homesick, holiday nostalgia? Or did he compose it years before in Medford, not seeing the tune as a moneymaker until he drifted south?

"No one really knows where he was when he wrote it — that's the rub," said Constance Turner, Pierpont's great-granddaughter in Coronado, Calif. "Evidently, James was quite the free-spirit and he published some bad songs and one, at least, we know of that's a very good song."

Medford, just outside Boston, claimed the carol without challenge until 1969, when Milton Rahn, a Savannah Unitarian, announced he had linked the song's composer to Georgia.

Rahn was listening to his daughter play "Jingle Bells" on the piano when he glanced at the sheet music and noticed the composer's name: J. Pierpont.

He had earlier found letters John Pierpont Jr., the church's pastor from 1852 to 1858, had written home to Medford saying his brother, James, had come to Savannah as an organist and music teacher. Further research found the composer had married in Savannah in 1857 weeks before he copyrighted "Jingle Bells."

"I saw this as something to help us get publicity for the church," Rahn said.

Pierpont, who lived from 1822 to 1893, was said to be a wanderer who ran away to sea at 14 and later went to California during the Gold Rush. During the Civil War, he joined a Confederate cavalry regiment in Savannah, bucking his family's staunch abolitionist views.

Though Pierpont came from an aristocratic family — his nephew was the financier John Pierpont (J.P.) Morgan — he never made much money himself.

His other songs included several touting the Confederate cause, with titles such as "We Conquer Or Die" and "Strike For The South." But none struck a chord like "Jingle Bells."

After Savannah erected a "Jingle Bells" marker across from the church in 1985, then-Mayor John Rousakis declared the tune a Savannah song.

To folks in Medford, that made Rousakis and Rahn a pair of grinches out to steal their Christmas history. A series of not-so-jolly exchanges followed.

"In the words of Shakespeare, it is our intention to keep our `honor from corruption,'" Medford Mayor Michael McGlynn wrote in a 1989 letter to Rousakis. "We unequivocally state that `Jingle Bells' was composed ... in the Town of Medford during the year 1850!"

Rousakis fired back with an equally strong, unyielding letter.

"James L. Pierpont is still here with us," Rousakis wrote, noting the composer's Savannah burial. "I am sure (Pierpont) will join us in spirit when we finally and formally proclaim Savannah, Georgia, as the birthplace of `Jingle Bells.'"

According to Medford, Pierpont was inspired by the winter sleigh races down snow-filled Salem Street in Medford and wrote the song at the Simpson Tavern, a boarding house with the only piano in town.

Ace Collins, author of the 2001 book "Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas," says he found more proof of Medford being the rightful birthplace while researching his chapter on "Jingle Bells."

Collins said he found a New England newspaper from the early 1840s that mentioned "One Horse Open Sleigh" debuting in Medford at a Thanksgiving church service. The song proved so popular, he said, Pierpont gave a repeat performance at Christmas.

When it comes to which city deserves bragging rights, Collins gets diplomatic. Pierpont may have written his song in Medford, he says, but Savannah made him realize its universal appeal.

"Savannah was the key," Collins said. "If it can play in Savannah, where snow was a novelty, it can play anywhere."

TOPICS: Culture/Society; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: bells; christmas; jingle; lyrics; music; origins; song

1 posted on 12/21/2003 11:39:55 AM PST by bradactor
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: bradactor
Al Gore penned the tune just before he invented the Internet and while he and Tipper were inspiring the movie "Love Story." It was originally set to the tune of "Look to the Union Label" that his mother used to sing to him. Yeah, Yeah you know my wife--Morgan Fairchild...
2 posted on 12/21/2003 11:56:04 AM PST by The Great RJ
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: bradactor
Jingle Bells, Batman Smells,
Robin laid and egg,
The Bat-mobile lost a wheel,
and the Joker got away.

-Traditional Children's parody, circa 1970
3 posted on 12/21/2003 12:06:34 PM PST by Diverdogz
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: bradactor

By who?
4 posted on 12/21/2003 12:30:36 PM PST by sharktrager (There are 2 kinds of people in this world: people with loaded guns and people who dig.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Diverdogz
When I was a kid, we had the following parody of Jingle Bells:

Jingle Bells, Santa smells
Rudolph ran away,
Oh what fun it is to ride,
In a beat-up Chevrolet

circa 1975

5 posted on 12/21/2003 12:36:58 PM PST by SamAdams76 (Merry Christmas!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: SamAdams76
Good one. Brings back memories.

Here's one I just found on the web:

Dashing through the mall...
On a late December day,
Through the $tores we go
Charging all the way...

Ching ... Ching ... Ching ...

Bell$ on register$ ring
Making checkbook$ light,
Oh, what fun it is to buy up
Everything in $ight!

Ching ... Ching ... Ching ...

Jingle Bells Jingle Bells
The kids all yell and scream
To us it sounds like anarchy
But to them it's harmony-HEY!

Jingle Bells Jingle Bells
The children tipped the tree
Antique ornaments smashed to bits
The kids each say "not me"

Dad goes to work each day
Engineering things for flight
But his real job is at home
Refereeing little fights

Mom drives the kids around
In an ancient Caravan
Karate, swimming, children's choir
Espresso in her hand-HEY!

Jingle Bells Jingle Bells
Jingle all the way
Our wish to you is that you have
A... Happy... Holi-dayyyyyyyyy.

6 posted on 12/21/2003 1:17:13 PM PST by Diverdogz
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: Diverdogz
Dashing through the snow in my rusty Chevrolet.
Down the road I go, sliding all the way.
I need new piston rings. I need some new snow tires.
My car is held together by a piece of chicken wire!

Oh, rust and smoke, the heater's broke, the door just blew away.
I light a match to see the dash and then I start to pray-ay.
The frame is bent, the muffler went, the radio's okay.
Oh, what fun it is to drive this rusty Chevrolet!

I went to IGA to get some Christmas cheer.
I just passed up my left front tire and it's gettin' hard to steer.
Speeding down the highway, right past the county cops.
I have to drag my swampers just to get the car to stop.

Bouncing through the snowdrifts in a big, blue cloud of smoke.
People laugh as I drive by; I wonder what's the joke!
I have to get to Wal-Mart to pick up my layaway,
Cause Santa's comin' soon in his big, old, rusty sleigh!

Oh, rust and smoke, the heater's broke, the door just blew away.
I light a match to see the dash and then I start to pray-ay.
The frame is bent, the muffler went, the radio's okay.
Oh, what fun it is to drive this rusttttttttty Chevroooooooleeeeeet!
7 posted on 12/21/2003 1:30:28 PM PST by Harmless Teddy Bear (Prancer II: Pass the Mashed Potatoes and Gravy. - Delicious! A Holiday Movie for the whole family!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: bradactor
Well the man is Buried here in Savannah. The historical marker at his grave says he did it here. Thats good enough for me. Yankees, they have to claim everything :)
8 posted on 12/21/2003 2:43:37 PM PST by Conan the Librarian (I am a Librarian. I don't know anything....I just know where to look it up.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson