Death, Songs, & Songs About Death

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Come all good people,
my story to hear,
of what did befall me
at this time last year...

Oil Painting of the Beadle Family Annihilation Victims Connecticut 1782


Taim Sinte ar do Thuamba first written in Irish Gaelic by an anonymous author. This poem and it's notable English translation by Frank O'Connor would be set to music many times. It's most well known under it's English name: 'I Am Stretched On Your Grave'.

Oil Painting of the Beadle Family Annihilation Victims Connecticut 1782


The first notation for The Cruel Mother in folk song collections. This song is often conflated with and probably related to the later Maid and the Palmer ballad from the latter half of the 18th century. This song describes a mother who has murdered her children rather than face the consequences of bearing children out of wedlock being confronted by the spirits of her dead children. They are not kind and leave her indespair after telling her that she will go to Hell when she dies, and they will be in Heaven. In some versions she dies from the shock of the encounter, in others she commits suicide, in other she survives but not further information is given.


The murder ballad The Maid and the Palmer appears in the broadsides, portraying an unwed mother who has murdered several children rather than reveal her illicit affairs. Earlier versions hint at incestual abuse as the cause of her pregnancies and the earliest versions make it very explicit. The song contains strong themes of the supernatural and a lot of moralizing, but in the cracks of that narrative we can see the tragedy of a woman forced to bear children she does not want in a culture that will judge her just as harshly for having children out of wedlock, regardless of their father's identity.

Oil Painting of the Beadle Family Annihilation Victims Connecticut 1782


Twa Sisters tells a story of jealousy between siblings, almost always over a mutual lover or suitor. People must find it relatable because this song, Child Ballad 10/Roud Index #8/TSB No. A 38, clearly gets around. Across Northern Europe there are hundreds of variations. And that number doesn't include the numerous variations that crossed the Atlantic Ocean. The creepy supernatural twist makes it all the more memorable.

February 10, 1683

In Hogstow, not far from Shrewsbury England, a miller's apprentice murdered Anne Nichols, his lover of 2 years. Anne discovered that she was pregnant with his child and her family pressured him to marry her. He decided to kill her instead. A tale as old as time, apparently. This crime inspired The Bloody Miller which in turn inspired murder ballads on both sides of the Atlantic. The date and basic description of the murder are corroborated in the diary of a local minister.

March 17, 1725

A specific date is given in the song Greenland Whale Fisheries, and this is the earliest I saw in the recorded lyrics. This song gives a fictional but accurate account of the life of sailors on board commercial whaling vessels.

January 26, 1726

An estimated date for the crime that The Gosport Tragedy is based on suggested by writer David C. Fowler in his 1979 book The Gosport Tragedy: Story Of A Ballad. No specific name is given for the victim so more concrete details are impossible to confirm. Fowler was able to research the movements of the HMS Bedford through British military records and they correspond with these dates.


The Bloody Gardener relates the brutal murder of a woman in a murder for hire scheme engineered by her future mother-in-law. This theme is less common but whispers of the same kind of unhealthy incestual relationships portrayed in The Maid and the Palmer. This seems to be a fictional though not implausible series of events

Oil Painting of the Beadle Family Annihilation Victims Connecticut 1782

December 11, 1782

On this date in Wethersfield, Connecticut, the patriarch of the Beadle family took the lives of his wife and five children, ranging in age from 6-11 years in the predawn darkness. He implemented a carefully crafted plan so that the maid would be gone from the house while he brutally murdered his family with an axe. After they were gone he took his own life with two pistol shots to the head as the sun rose. Among his papers friends found his will, which detailed how he had planned this event for three years and believed that God had ordained his actions.

This is the earliest documented familicide in the history of the United States of America.


The year referenced in the legal documents indicting the accused for the murder of Omi Wise. Her birth date is unknown due to her orphan status, and the date of her death is disputed because of sensationalism and misinformation. One has to hope that Naomi Wise used the nickname Omie in her life and preferred it, because she is known through the song written about her murder to this day as Omie Wise. The facts are sparse and mostly missing from the ballads carrying her name. Omie had two children when she was killed, aged 4 and 9 years old. Her age is disputed mostly based on the speculations of those who don't want to believe or don't understand that a 10 year old girl can give birth. Lina Medina was 5 when she gave birth to a healthy, full term baby. So it's certainly possible that Ms. Wise became a mother at 10 years old. Girls give birth at these young ages almost exclusively in abusive situations, with a weighty power imbalance over the victim's head. The implications of these facts are very uncomfortable.


Down in the Willow Garden


Pretty Polly

Oil Painting of the Beadle Family Annihilation Victims Connecticut 1782

May 18, 1827

Maria Marten is murdered by her lover and the father of her most recent child in Polstead, Suffolk, England. This crime inspired several broadsides that became folk songs under the titles Marie Marten, The Ballad of Marie Marten, and The Red Barn Murder. As well as theories of wrongful execution, adultery, infanticide, and tales of prophetic dreams. Of course some of these are more far-fetched than others. Maria Marten's murderers body was dissected in a public dissection theatre, used in experiments involving elecrtrifying his muscles, stripped of flesh, put on public display, and mechanized to point at a collection box when visitors approached it.

December 25, 1831

Frankie Silver


Andrew Rose


Wayfaring Stranger

August 20, 1866

The United States of America Civil War may be finished, but the country's struggle with opiates is just beginning.

Photograph Portrait of Tom Dooley's victim Laura Foster North Carolina 1868

May 25, 1868

Tom Dooley, The Ballad of Laura Foster.

Photograph Portrait of Mary Ellen Smith North Carolina 1892

July 19 1892

Mary Ellen Smith is murdered by the man who was her lover and the father of her stillborn child in the. After she refused to be banished from his life he invited her to meet him in a secluded location and held her in his arms so he could shoot her in the chest. Ms. Smith's murder inspired the songs Ellen Smith and Poor Ellen Smith, both distinct tellings of the events that share the same innaccuracies. The guilt of Ms. Smith's killer has never been in much dispute, and a witness saw him washing his hands in the very spring he had invited Mary to meet him at not long after the last sighting of her with a man that matched his description.

September 18, 1893

Wratten Family Murders



Red River Valley


January 31, 1896

Pearl Bryan

October 15, 1899

Frankie and Johnny


December 24-25, 1900

At a party on Christmas Eve that lasted late into the night Delia Green was shot by her boyfriend in the middle of the gathering. Her killer ran away immediately but was chased down by the host of the party who was also the owner of the possibly illicit home bar the party was held in. It was also Ms. Green's workplace, where she was employed as a scrub girl cleaning up the place. Delia was taken across the street to her home where she died from her injury the next afternoon, Christmas Day. She was just 14 years old, and so was her murderer. In court he had the attitude that the ballads inspired by this crime capture, but they leave out all of the context. Ms. Green didn't cheat or trifle. Her killer was very clear about his motive. He didn't like how she talked back to him when he talked openly about their intimate relations to the other people at the party. Specifically, she called him a 'son of a bitch', and for that her 14 year old boyfriend shot her to death. And then people started singing Sweet Delia, Another Rounder Gone, and the one we still hear, Delia's Gone. The story has wandered a long way from the historical facts.


November 20, 1901

Nell Cropsey


The House of the Rising Sun first begins to be recorded in collections of folk songs. Song collectors think it may be older. There are few details in this song to verify, but there was absolutely a brothel in New Orleans operating under the name of The House of the Rising Sun. Historians are mostly agreed that the song was originally about a woman, but the houses of ill repute in 19th century New Orleans certainly became the ruin of many a man, woman, or child. In all the ways described or suggested by the song and more.


The tragic tale of the Young Girl Cut Down In Her Prime begins to circulate in England. Landmarks referenced in the song, such as the State Hospital, lead historians to believe that the song originates in London. It is also known by the names Bad Girl's Lament and One Morning In May.

December 1916

Lula Viers


In the Pines


Little Sadie


St. James Infirmary Blues


December 25, 1929

The Lawson Family Massacre


I Hate The Capitalist System


You Are My Sunshine


January 14-15, 1947

The night that robbed Elizabeth Short of her life and turned her into a symbol of violence and victimization: The Black Dahlia.


January 1, 1948

Plane Crash at Los Gatos Canyon



Long Black Veil

June 25, 1959, 12:04 AM

The murderer that inspired Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska is pronounced dead after being executed by electric chair in Lincoln, Nebraska.


Only the Hangman


May 4, 1970, 12:24 PM


August 3, 1978

The David Family Suicides in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the United States of America.