(The Frozen Girl)
Young Charlotte lived by the mountain side in a wild and desolate spot,
No dwelling there for three miles round except her father’s cot.
And still on many a wintry night young swains would gather there,
For her father kept a social board and she was young and fair.
Her father loved to see her dressed as fine as a city belle,
For she was the only child he had and he loved his daughter well.
It is New Year’s eve, the sun is down, why beam her longing eyes
Out at the frosty window for to see the sleighs go by?
At a village inn fifteen miles off there is a merry ball tonight,
The air is cold and piercing, but her heart beats warm and light.
Yet restless beams her longing eyes till a well-known sound she hears,
When dashing up to the cottage door young Charlie’s sleigh appears.
“Oh, daughter dear,” the mother cries, “this blanket around you fold,
It is a dreadful night, you know, and you’ll catch your death of cold.”
“Oh, nay, oh nay!” fair Charlotte said, and she laughed like a gypsy queen.
“To ride in blankets, muffled up, I never shall be seen.
“My silken cloak is warm enough, you know it is lined throughout,
Besides, I have a silken shawl to tie my neck about.”
Her bonnet and her gloves were on, she jumped into the sleigh,
And away they rode by the mountainside and over the hills away.
There is life in the sound of the merry bells as o’er the hills they go,
What a creaking do* the runners make as they bite the frozen snow.
With muffled face all silently, five cold long miles they passed,
When Charlie in a few frozen words the silence broke at last.
“Such a night as this I never knew, the reins I scarce can hold.”
When Charlotte said in a feeble voice, “I am exceeding cold.”
He cracked his whip and hurried his steeds more swiftly than before.
Until at length five other miles they quickly did pass o’er.
At length said Charles, “How fast the ice is gathering on my brow!”
Young Charlotte said in a feeble voice, “I am growing warmer now.
Still on they glide through the frosty air and in the cold starlight.
Until at length the village in and the ball-room were in sight.
They reached the place and Charles jumped out and held his hands for her,
“Why sit you there like a monument, have you no power to stir?”
He asked her once, he asked her twice; she answered not a word.
He asked her for her hand again, and yet she never stirred.
He took her hands within his own — oh, God, they were cold as stone.
He tore the mantle from her brow, the cold stars on her shone.
Then quickly to the lighted hall her lifeless form he bore;
Young Charlotte was a frozen corpse and never spoke no more.
He sat himself down by her side, and the bitter tears did flow,
He said, “My dear intended bride, I never more shall know.” **
He threw his arms around her neck and kissed her marble brow
And his thoughts went back to the place where she said, “I’m getting warmer now.”
He put the corpse into the sleigh and quickly hurried home,
And when he reached the cottage door, oh, how her parents mourned!
They mourned for the loss of their daughter dear, and young Charlie mourned for his bride,
He mourned until his heart did break, and they slumber side by side.
* Dean here reads “doth.”
** Dean here reads “You no more shall sorrow know,” which is sensible (unlike many of the other readings in the book), but it is such a clumsy line that I have substituted this reading based on that found in other versions of the song.
(Click here for a PDF version of the music) * (Click here to hear an MP3 Recording)
This is one of the most popular American folk songs of all time; I have at least thirty versions in my library, and the books I checked mention 25 more versions but do not print them in full; it appears that, in all, more than 200 versions have been collected. It has been found in thirty of the fifty states (which means nearly every state where songs have been collected): Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachussets, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. It has also been found in most parts of eastern Canada.
Surprisingly, given how popular it is, there has been much controversy about the author, and even more about just what event, if any, it is based on. But the most widespread view is that it originated with a poem called “A Corpse Going to a Ball,” first published by Seba Smith probably in 1843. Norm Cohen, who is usually very reliable about these things, has examined the Smith poem, and he is convinced it is the original.
No one seems to have suggested a composer of the tune — perhaps not too surprising, given that most of the melodies I’ve heard have been unimpressive. This is a song that survives almost entirely on the strength of the lyrics and the idea.
Source: The text is Dean’s, except for changes in punctuation and the two changes noted. The music posed more of a problem than usual. For starters, Dean prints his text in stanzas of four long lines. The majority of tunes are only two lines long. Of course, it is perfectly possible to sing the song to the shorter tunes, but I tried to find a Midwestern melody suited to Dean’s stanza form. So: The main tune shown here is from Nellie Ryland of Ashland, Ohio, and is printed in Mary O. Eddy’s Ballads and Songs from Ohio.
The tune, though, is pretty banal. Most versions of the song are so monotonous that you can play them on guitar just by using the tonal chord (e.g. C in the key of C) for the whole song! It took me quite a while to find even a vaguely interesting accompaniment. So, if you want another tune, here are two possibilities:
(Click here for a PDF version of the music)
This tune is from Emelyn Elizabeth Gardner and Geraldine Jencks Chickering’s Ballads and Songs of Southern Michigan, and was supplied by Kathryn Bowman of Detroit, from the singing of her aunt, Mrs. Peter Miller. It appears to be a two-strain tune based on the same four-strain roots as the Eddy melody.
(Click here for a PDF version of the music)
This melody is from Carl Sandburg’s American Songbag, and is said to be from Dr. James Lattimore Himrod of Chicago, who probably learned it in Indiana.
The incident inspired a poem, a song and also a doll called “frozen Charlotte”. Thanks for this posting. https://poltrack.net/2019/12/31/a-corpse-goes-to-the-ball/
My grandmother sang this to me often, but the tune was quite different. Would you like us to send it to you? She was raised in Clay County West Virginia, born in 1914.
Tunes often vary in folk songs, especially in a case like this where the text probably came first; it may have been set to several tunes. And the tune I sing is difficult (a dozen years later, I no longer have the range to sing it!); even if your grandmother’s tradition started with the same tune I used, it could have changed over time.