Music Inspired by Disasters, Death and Destruction

America's music has been inspired by love, people, experiences and virtually all of life, nature and the universe. Among those inspirations have been many terrible events that cause grief, pain and terrible loss of life. This month's edition provides you with a survey of some of the songs written by authors to commemorate real events in the history of American life. The songs are not meant to celebrate, but to serve as a memorial to the event and those who lost their lives during these horrific events. Some of the events were of man's own doing, caused by engineering defects, carelessness or perhaps some ignorance. Society has learned from many of these events and we live today in a safer environment that makes the likelihood of such events unlikely. Other events, inspired by natural causes cannot be prevented but the effects can now be diminished through better communication, preparation and even construction such as tornado shelters, Unfortunately, ignorance cannot be eliminated as a cause and we will still experience the result of that and despite all efforts, events may still occur with massive loss of life.

All of the songs presented here were inspired by actual events. Some of those events are still well remembered today as they were truly life changing. Others are not at all remembered or remembered only by a select few historians, people who live in areas where the event took place or students of history. The Chicago fire and the sinking of the Lusitania are probably more widely remembered than the St. Louis cyclone, the Iroquois Theater fire, the Slocum fire and the St. Paul mine disaster. However, those and others we present were in most respects even more disastrous than those that are remembered. And, just as in life's disasters, some of the songs are beautiful expressions of memoriam and others themselves border on musical disaster. Regardless of musical quality, all represent an important reminder of the events and those who suffered and died as a result of the events.

Lost on the Lady Elgin Lost on the Lady Elgin
Words and Music by Henry C. Work
Published 1861

The Great Lakes in the U. S. may seem benign to those who are not familiar with them however the are large, deep and subject to fast developing storms that over the centuries have claimed thousands of ships. The exact number of shipwrecks in the Lakes is unknown; the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum approximates 6,000 ships and 30,000 lives lost, while historian and mariner Mark Thompson has estimated that the total number of wrecks is likely more than 25,000. ¹

Just before midnight on September 7, 1860, a side wheel steamboat named the Lady Elgin left Chicago bound for Milwaukee.  The almost 700 (estimates vary due to many unticketed passengers aboard) passengers on the steamer were returning from a long day’s outing. The ship originated in Milwaukee earlier that day and was loaded with a contingent of Wisconsin militia who had sailed to Chicago to take part in a Democratic convention. There is an interesting political story related to this ship and an excellent account of the entire event at a site titled "The Wreck of the Lady Elgin."

The Elgin was ready to depart at 11pm but the veteran Captain expressed some concern about the weather which had turned stormy.By around 2:30 am, the winds had built to gale force but despite the waves and wind, the Elgin was weathering the storm. Shortly after that time, a 128 foot schooner, the Augusta, sailed directly into the side of the Elgin, impaling herself in the ships side. When the August broke loose, the Elgin began to break up and soon sunk The weather hampered rescue efforts and in all, approximately 430 people were lost, many never found.

The song, is a bit like a funeral dirge, certainly appropriate for the event. It has three verses that tell the sad story of the loss of life with a peaceful if not tender melody. The chorus is pleasant with hymn-like harmony.

Henry C. WorkHenry Clay Work was born in 1832 in Middletown, CT and died in 1884 in Hartford. His family moved to Illinois when he was still a child and he was educated there. The family later returned to Connecticut and young Henry was apprenticed to a printer. He studied music and wrote verse on his own and soon began to write songs, both the music and lyrics. He was inspired by the Civil War to write Marching Through Georgia, Wake, Babylon is Falling and other songs of the war that became popular. During the 1870's he wrote a number of temperance songs that were popular. He also was known for sentimental songs such as The Ship That Never Returned and wrote the famous, My Grandfather's Clock (1876, his last successful song). A man of many talents, Work was also an inventor and patented a rotary engine, a knitting machine and a walking doll. He lost his personal fortune by investing in a fruit farm that failed and lived in New York before returning to Connecticut before his death.

His primary publishing associations were with Root and Cady and Cody. An interesting anecdote about his printer background is that he often composed by typesetting the music as he composed and completely bypassed the usual steps of a hand manuscript or even trying his music on the piano first! Considered a first rate melodist and his songs had a nearly universal appeal. Though his song Come Home Father is somber, and he was an intense supporter of causes, Work also had a playful side and his 1862, Grafted Into The Army was and still is a funny song and it has continued in the repertoire for over 100 years. Much of his music stands on its own against that of Stephen Foster and though less well known today, Work is probably one of only a few of the truly original American popular song composers to invent American popular music style and who influenced the following generations of songwriters.

Click on the sheet music cover image or here to listen and see the music using the Scorch plug-in
Click here for the midi version
Click here for the lyrics

Billow of Fire The Billow of Fire,
Words and Music by P. P. Bliss
This edition Published 1877

This work was originally published on the occasion of the great Chicago fire but this re-issue was published and dedicated to Mr. D. L. Moody and Bliss on the occasion of another great disaster that resulted in the death of Bliss and Moody.

The great Chicago fire of 1871 was one of America's greatest disasters of the 19th century. Said to have been caused when a cow kicked over a lantern in a barn and started the fire (The legendary Mrs. O'Leary's cow). The fire burned over two days from October 8 through the tenth and destroyed thousands of buildings, killed an estimated 300 people and caused an estimated $200 million in damages. Though the Chicago fire is most remembered, The same day the Great Chicago Fire began, a fire broke out in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, in which more than 1,000 people perished!

The event which caused the republication of the song was one of America's worst railroad disasters.On the afternoon of December 29, 1876 the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railway Train No. 5, The Pacific Express, left Erie, Pennsylvania, in deep snow. Two locomotives, "Socrates" and "Columbia", were hauling 11 railcars, including two express cars, two baggage cars, one smoking car, three coaches, and three sleeping cars that carried 159 passengers. At about 7:30 pm the train was crossing over the Ashtabula River about 1,000 feet (300 m) from the railroad station at Ashtabula, Ohio when the bridge gave way beneath it. The lead locomotive made it across the bridge, while the second locomotive and the rest of the train plunged 76 feet (23 m) into the water. Some cars landed in an upright position. The wooden cars were set alight by the heating stoves and lamps and soon small, localized fires became an inferno. Of 159 passengers and crew on board that night, 92 were killed or died later from injuries. Among the dead were the composer of this song, Philip Paul Bliss and his wife Lucy. Bliss escaped from the wreck, but the carriages caught fire and Bliss returned to try to extricate his wife. No trace of either body was discovered. Sadly, many others of the dead were unidentified Bliss, his wife the others are buried in a mass grave, marked by an obelisk in Ashtabula's Elm Grove Cemetery.

P. P. Bliss ( Philip Phillipp) (b. 1838, Rome, PA - d. 1876, Ashtabula, Ohio) His father was Isaac Bliss, a practicing Methodist, who taught the family to pray daily. Isaac loved music and allowed Philip to develop his passion for singing. At age 10, while selling vegetables to help support the family, Bliss first heard a piano. At age 11, he left home to make his own living. He worked in timber camps and sawmills. While working, he irregularly went to school to further his education. Inspired by a revival meeting at age 12, Bliss joined the Baptist Church. Bliss had little formal education and was taught by his mother, from the Bible.At 17, Bliss finished his requirements to teach. The next year, in 1856, he became a schoolmaster at Hartsville, New York, and during the summer he worked on a farm. In 1857, Bliss met J. G. Towner, who taught singing. Towner recognized Bliss’s talent and gave him his first formal voice training. He also met William B. Bradbury, who persuaded him to become a music teacher. His first musical composition was sold for a flute. In 1858, he took up an appointment in Rome Academy, Pennsylvania. In 1858, in Rome, Bliss met Lucy J. Young, whom he married on June 1, 1859. She came from a musical family and encouraged the development of his talent. She was a Presbyterian, and Bliss joined her Church. At age 22, Bliss became an itinerant music teacher. On horseback, he went from community to community accompanied by a melodeon. Bliss’s wife’s grandmother lent Bliss $30 so he could attend the Normal Academy of Music of New York for six weeks. Bliss was now recognized as an expert within his local area. He continued the itinerant teaching. At this time he turned to composition. None of his songs were ever copyrighted. ³His fame as a composer was in writing gospel songs, many of which persist to this day. Though he was a Baptist, some of his songs have crossed over to other sects. He perished in the fire of the great Ashtabula train wreck in 1876 along with his wife Lucy

The song is in a common style of the day, a solo with a four part chorus.
Click on the sheet music cover image or here to listen and see the music using the Scorch plug-in
Click here for the midi version
Click here for the lyrics

St. Louis CycloneThe St. Louis Cyclone
Published & Copyright 1896
Music by George Evans
Words by Ren. Shields

Cyclones, known today as tornadoes, have always been a threat to the United States and in particular, the mid-western states. As a weather phenomenon, the U. S. experiences more tornados than other parts of the world but they do occur in some other countries. The 1896 St. Louis – East St. Louis tornado was a historic tornado that occurred on Wednesday, May 27, 1896, as part of a major tornado outbreak across the Central United States that day, continuing across the Eastern United States on the 28th. One of the deadliest and most destructive tornadoes in U.S. history, this large and violent tornado was the most notable of an outbreak which produced other large, long-track, violent, killer tornadoes. It caused approximately $2.9 billion in damage adjusted for 1997, or over $10,000,000 in damage in 1896.²

The tornado spawned from the super cell became the third deadliest and the most costly tornado in United States history. It touched down in St. LouisMissouri, then one of the largest and most influential cities in the country. At least 137 people died as the tornado traversed the core of the city leaving a 1 mile (1.6 km) wide continuous swath of destroyed homes, schools, saloons, factories, mills, churches, parks, and railroad yards. A few of the destroyed homes were swept away. Numerous trees were downed at the 36-acre (0.15 km2) Lafayette Park, and a barometer recorded a drop to 26.74 in Hg (906 hPa) at this location .Uncounted others may have died on boats on the Mississippi River, which could have swept their bodies down river.

Where the tornado crossed the Mississippi and struck the Eads Bridge, a 2 in × 10 in wooden plank was found driven through a 5⁄16 in wrought iron plate. The tornado continued into East St. Louis, Illinois, where it was smaller, but more intense. Homes and buildings along the river were completely swept away and a quarter of the buildings there were damaged or destroyed. An additional 118 people were killed, and 35 of those deaths alone occurred at the Vandalia railroad freight yards. The confirmed death toll is 255, with some estimates above 400. More than 1,000 were injured. The tornado was later rated F4 on the Fujita scale.

Whereas several of the songs written about disasters featured this month were written by relative unknown composers who were driven by the pathos of the events, this song (and the two above) is by a pair of more "mainstream" writers and their expertise is evident in the quality of the work. Though the musical experience is quite varied, one common theme among these songs is the lyrics focus on the sorrow, sadness and devastation for those left behind.

George EvansGeorge Evans (b. 1870, Wales - d. 1915, Baltimore) Evans' family brought him to the US at age seven. He became a performer before he was a composer. Known as a black face minstrel, he starred in Lew Docstader's Minstrels at one point in his career. According to histories, Evans was well known for his comedic routines which he also performed on vaudeville. In 1894 Evans wrote the song I'll Be True To My Honey Boy which became quite popular and resulted in him gaining the permanent nickname of Honey Boy. Some of his compositions are still well remembered and have become classic "gay 90's style songs. Almost all of his songs were in collaboration with Ren Shields. Among them are In The Good Old Summertime (1902), In The Merry Month of May (1903), Come Take a Trip In My Air-Ship (1904), You'll Have to Wait Till My Ship Comes In (1906) and of course, Waltzing With The Girl You Love (1905).

Ren. ShieldsRen Shields (b. 1868, Chicago, IL - d. 1913, Massapequa, NY) Shields started his career as have many songwriters as a youth in minstrel shows and vaudeville. He sang as a part of the Empire State Quartet in vaudeville from 1890 - 1894 and also performed with Max Million beginning in 1894. Somewhere along the way, Shields met George Evans, composer and fellow vaudevillian and the two collaborated on a number of songs many of which are still remembered more than a century later. Among his hit lyrics are; In The Good Old Summertime (1902) (Scorch format), In The Merry Month of May (1903), Come Take a Trip In My Air-Ship (1904), Steamboat Bill (1910, and Waltzing With The One You Love (Scorch format) (1905).

Click on the sheet music cover image or here to listen and see the music using the Scorch plug-in
Click here for the midi version
Click here for the lyrics


Iroquois on FireThe Iroquois on Fire
Published & Copyright 1904
Words and Music by Zella Evans

The Chicago fire may be the most remembered conflagration from the past but several others cost much more in lives lost. Though many of these fires were limited in area, the loss of life was horrific. One such disaster was the fire in the Iroquois theater in Chicago on December 30, 1903.On that day the Iroquois presented a matinee performance of the popular musical Mr. Bluebeard. The play, featured Dan McAvoy as Bluebeard and Eddie Foy as Sister Anne. The December 30 performance drew a sellout audience. Tickets were sold for every seat in the house, plus hundreds more for the "standing room" areas at the back of the theater. Many of the estimated 2,100–2,200 patrons attending the matinee were children. The standing room areas were so crowded that some patrons instead sat in the aisles, blocking the exits.

Sparks from an arc light ignited a muslin curtain, probably as a result of an electrical short circuit. A stagehand tried to douse the fire with Kilfyre canisters, but it quickly spread to the gallery high above the stage. There, several thousand square feet of highly flammable painted canvas scenery flats were hung. The stage manager tried to lower the asbestos fire curtain, but it snagged.4 Calm at first, the crowd turned top panic and due to the size of the crowd, limited exits, false exits (painted doors and windows that were not actual doors or windows) and some blocked exits hundreds died by incineration, trampling, crushing and asphyxiation. By most accounts, over 600 people perished however that count is questioned as many bodies were removed before a count was made.
This event was instrumental in causing the change to many of the fire codes for theaters and buildings across the nation.

Unfortunately, I cannot find any information about the composer, Zella Evans. Unlike some of the songs about disasters, this one seems to have a gayer, more upbeat sound to it which is somewhat bizarre given the tragic scope of the subject. Perhaps Ms. Evans wanted to try to not make the song so much a sad affair but one that paints a more uplifting view of the spirits of those who were lost. The lyrics on the other hand, do spell out the horror and terror of the event.

Click on the sheet music cover image or here to listen and see the music using the Scorch plug-in
Click here for the midi version
Click here for the lyrics


The Slocum Disaster
Published & Copyright 1905
Words and Music by Cecil Mann

From land to sea we find yet another fire disaster with even greater loss of life.The Slocum disaster is another that has been long forgotten by most of America but it deserves to be remember for its loss of life and effect on ship safety. The PS General Slocum was a passenger steamboat built in Brooklyn, New York, in 1891. During her service history, she was involved in a number of mishaps, including multiple groundings and collisions. What happened on to the Slocum on June 15, 1904 would make the other evens seem insignificant and would result in the deadliest disaster in New York before 9/11 that killed many women and children and ultimately erased a German community from the map of Manhattan.

According to the Smithsonian's fine article on the event; "It was, by all accounts, a glorious Wednesday morning on June 15, 1904, and the men of Klein deutschland—Little Germany, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side–were on their way to work. Just after 9 o’clock, a group from St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on 6th Street, mostly women and children, boarded the General Slocum for their annual end-of-school outing. Bounding aboard what was billed as the “largest and most splendid excursion steamer in New York,” the children, dressed in their Sunday school outfits, shouted and waved flags as the adults followed, carrying picnic baskets for what was to be a long day away. As the ship reached 97th Street, some of the crew on the lower deck saw puffs of smoke rising through the wooden floorboards and ran below to the second cabin. But the men had never conducted any fire drills, and when they turned the ship’s fire hoses onto the flames, the rotten hoses burst. Rushing back above deck, they told Van Schaick that they had encountered a “blaze that could not be conquered.” It was “like trying to put out hell itself.” Onlookers in Manhattan, seeing the flames, shouted for the captain to dock immediately. Instead, Van Schaick, fearing the steering gear would break down in the strong currents and leave the Slocum helpless in mid river, plowed full speed ahead. The crew distributed life jackets, but they too were rotten. Boats sped to the scene and pulled a few passengers to safety, but mostly they encountered children’s corpses bobbing in the currents along the tidal strait known as Hell Gate. One newspaper described it as “a spectacle of horror beyond words to express—a great vessel all in flames, sweeping forward in the sunlight, within sight of the crowded city, while her helpless, screaming hundreds were roasted alive or swallowed up in waves.”He aimed for a pier at 134th Street, but a tugboat captain warned him off, fearing the burning ship would ignite lumber stored there. Van Shaick made a run for North Brother Island, a mile away, hoping to beach the Slocum sideways so everyone would have a chance to get off. The ship’s speed, coupled with a fresh north wind, fanned the flames. Mothers began screaming for their children as passengers panicked on deck. As fire enveloped the Slocum, hundreds of passengers hurled themselves overboard, even though many could not swim .Passengers trampled children in their rush to the Slocum‘s stern. One man, engulfed in flames, leaped over the port side and shrieked as the giant paddle wheel swallowed him. Others blindly followed him to a similar fate. A 12 year-old boy shimmied up the ship’s flagstaff at the bow and hung there until the heat became too great and he dropped into the flames. Hundreds massed together, only to bake to death. The middle deck soon gave way with a terrific crash, and passengers along the outside rails were jolted overboard. Women and children dropped into the choppy waters in clusters. In the mayhem, a woman gave birth—and when she hurled herself overboard, her newborn in her arms, they both perished. The death toll of 1,021, most of them women and children, made the burning of the Slocum New York City’s worst disaster until the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The fire was believed to have been touched off by a carelessly tossed match or cigarette that ignited a barrel of packing hay below deck."5

The song is a rather simple one with a somewhat familiar sound to it. For 1905, it seems a bit dated, almost belonging in the 1880's or before. Nonetheless, it is a fine tribute to a long forgotten disaster and the hundreds who who died a terrible death. The Slocum Disaster may have been the only song written by Mann as I cannot find any reference to any other songs by him. He is not mentioned in any of our books in our reference library or across the internet in the searches I conducted.

Click on the sheet music cover image or here to listen and see the music using the Scorch plug-in
Click here for the midi version
Click here for the lyrics

St. Paul Mine Disaster
Published & Copyright 1910
Music by Raymond Williams
Words by Jennie Williams

One would think that with a title such as this, the disaster occurred in St. Paul Minnesota but far from it, the St. Paul mine was named after the company that opened the mine to supply coal for their trains, the  Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad. The disaster occurred in Cherry, Illinois and it is remembered today as the Cherry Mine disaster. 

The mine was a deep one, with three horizontal shafts linked by vertical shafts and accessed by a lift via a tall steel tower. Each shaft was connected through a series of wooden ladders and stairs.The mine was worked by many immigrants, mostly Italian, many of whom spoke no English. The crews included a number of children, some as young as 11 years old. "On Saturday, November 13, 1909, like most days, nearly 500 men and boys, and three dozen mules, were working in the mine. Unlike most days, an electrical outage earlier that week had forced the workers to light kerosene lanterns and torches, some portable, some set into the mine walls .Shortly after noon, a coal car filled with hay for the mules caught fire from one of the wall lanterns. Initially unnoticed and, by some accounts, ignored by the workers, efforts to move the fire only spread the blaze to the timbers supporting the mine. The large fan was reversed in an attempt to blow out the fire, but this only succeeded in igniting the fan house itself as well as the escape ladders and stairs in the secondary shaft, trapping more miners below. The two shafts were then closed off to smother the fire, but this also had the effect of cutting off oxygen to the miners, and allowing a suffocating mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen, to build up in the mine."6 Though 200 men escaped to the surface and rescuers brought up more, 249 men and boys lost their lives. Miraculously, 21 men had managed to block themselves off from the fire and emerged eight days later. In 2009, One hundred years after the disaster, a memorial was erected to those who lost their lives.7

The Williams' who wrote this song deserve an "E" for effort. I've not been able to find any biographical information on the pair however did find a Jennie and Raymond Williams who were brother and sister whose birth and death dates would fit this pair (Jennie 1866-1949, Albert Raymond, 1869 - 1949) and it could be that they were the writers. However, in researching them, I found quite a few Jennie & Raymond Williams'. Perhaps a relative or family member will read this and let us know more about them.

Click on the sheet music cover image or here to listen and see the music using the Scorch plug-in
Click here for the midi version
Click here for the lyrics


Of course, a list of memorable disasters must include the Fate of the liner Titanic. Perhaps of all disasters, the sinking of the tItanic is the most remembered across the globe. Here then, is a presentation of that song from one of our very early articles, March of 2001:

The Fate of the Titanic

Music by: Delbert Rhoades
Lyrics by: Rhoades
Cover artist: unknown

Whenever we think of ships and the sea, thoughts of the Titanic cannot be far from mind. Several of the songs this month (2001, March) speak to the dangers of the sea (Des Seemanns Los, The Ship That Never Returned, We Were Shipmates, Jack and I) and of course those who go down to the sea in ships face the prospect of never returning home. This work is one of many songs written in 1912 to commemorate the loss of the Titanic. It is one of the rarer works as it was published by the author as publisher in Mendon, Ohio. Mendon is a small town in Northwestern Ohio near the Indiana border. Mendon boasts a population of 717 and covers a land area of less than a square kilometer.

     The song carries a wonderful sentiment but I have to admit that musically I can see why it has not survived. Though the melody is a very pleasant one, the song suffers from the continued repetition of the short phrase and wears thin very soon. As an historical document, this song is an important part of the transportation category of sheet music. Obviously Mr. Rhoades was moved by the incident and wrote this touching song as a tribute to those who died. We offer you this piece in the same way, as a tribute to the sea and those who have risked and lost their lives. We began this month's feature with a song that saluted a ship that never returned, we end it with the same.

     Delbert Rhoades was a longtime resident of Mendon, and was a piano tuner by trade. He also repaired watches, even though he was legally blind! In searching for information about Mr. Rhoades, I did make contact with some current Mendon, Ohio residents who were kind enough to find some information for us. The following information was kindly provided by Mr. Rex Emans;

    "John Maurer (78 years old) Still runs the Hardware Store in Mendon, remembers (Del) playing cards in the furniture store ( morgue in back room). He was legally blind ,but could see some if held cards REAL close to his eye, He ALWAYS wore a Derby hat , suit and vest , dressed up all the time. Was clean shaved. Never married , but rumor has it he dated Clara Rager. He lived with a John Maurer who said Del also was a watch repairman , Said he held the watch real close to his eye and could fix them., but was a good piano tuner and repairman."

Hear this song  (scorch)
MIDI version



At The Mercy of the Flood
Published & Copyright 1913
Music by Al Andriesse
Words by Harry Gibson

Over the decades, Americans have suffered many floods, some remembered, some not, but few have been chronicled by song. The one flood that seems to have the most national remembrance both in history and song is the famous Johnstown Pennsylvania flood of May 31, 1889 after the catastrophic failure of the South Fork Dam on the Little Conemaugh River 14 miles (23 km) upstream of the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. That flood resulted in over 2,000 lives lost and massive damage. Sadly, in 1977 another dam break at Johnstown resulted in even more death and destruction. In recent memory we have the great flood of New Orleans, recent floods in Texas and floods around the world.

However, many other floods have occurred that are lost to memory, even locally but resulted in massive destruction and death. On such "lost" flood is the great flood that occurred in central Ohio in 1913. That flood, extended from March 25 through 26, 1913 and inundated the cities of Dayton, Columbus, Cincinnati and even into Indiana as rain flooded rivers overran their banks due to a massive late winter rainstorm. The death and destruction from this "Great Flood" are second only to that of the Johnstown flood. An estimated 650 people lost their lives and damages exceeded $330 million, a huge sum in 1913. The storm caused additional flooding down the Mississippi and affected states down river as well. I suppose that due to the widespread nature of the event, it is more remembered in localities than nationally however, the author lived for many years in Dayton, Columbus and Cincinnati and never heard anything about this massive disaster until finding this song.

Click on the sheet music cover image or here to listen and see the music using the Scorch plug-in
Click here for the midi version
Click here for the lyrics



As The Lusitania Went Down
Published & Copyright 1915
Music by F. Henri Klickmann
Words by Arthur J. Lamb

Though the Titanic may be the number one remembered sea disaster, the Lusitania may be the second but in political import, it is number one. It also marked a change in America's music as chronicled by our Director Emeritus, Richard Beil in his excellent video presentation, The Music Changed When the Lusitania went down.

Despite the political and social implications, the torpedoing of the Lusitania, remains one of the most tragic losses of life at sea. Sadly, the event was not caused by natural events but by Germany's declaration of unlimited submarine warfare during the First World War.

Called the "Greyhound of the Seas", the ship, built in 1903 was the fastest liner of her times with a cruising speed of 25 knots. From 1907 to 1915 she sailed from Liverpool to New York on a regular schedule. Her departure from New York on May 1, 1915 would be her last. "On May 7, the ship neared the coast of Ireland. At 2:10 in the afternoon a torpedo fired by the German submarine U 20 slammed into her side. A mysterious second explosion ripped the liner apart. Chaos reigned. The ship listed so badly and quickly that lifeboats crashed into passengers crowded on deck, or dumped their loads into the water. Most passengers never had a chance. Within 18 minutes the giant ship slipped beneath the sea. One thousand one hundred nineteen of the 1,924 aboard died. The dead included 114 Americans. The sinking enraged American public opinion. The political fallout was immediate. President Wilson protested strongly to the Germans. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, a pacifist, resigned. In September, the Germans announced that passenger ships would be sunk only with prior warning and appropriate safeguards for passengers. However, the seeds of American animosity towards Germany were sown. Within two years America declared war."8 It has been postulated, and argued for 100 years as to whether or not she was carrying ammunition and war materials in her hold for decades, the Allies denied any such cargo. However recent discoveries by divers indicate she was indeed carrying munitions. Over the years much of the support for the idea has been the rapid sinking of the ship combined with reported secondary explosions.

Many songs were written about the Lusitania sinking but this is perhaps the most published. It is perhaps the best of the songs presented in this article and was written by two of the most respected and prolific authors of songs from the period. The quality is reflective of their reputations.

F. Henri Klickmann(1885 - 1966) also wrote, Floatin' Down to Cotton Town in 1919 with Jack Frost and Waters of The Perkiomen in 1935. Klickman was an extremely versatile composer having written many instrumental and ragtime compositions such as A Trombone Jag (1910) and High Yellow Cake Walk and Two Step (1915) as well as a wide variety of songs. Interestingly, Waters of The Perkiomen was originally a work for accordion. Klickmann wrote quite a few pieces for accordion and is one of the more popular composers for that instrument. In addition to all this, he also wrote "classical" style music, including a concerto for tenor sax. Klickmann wrote a large number of ragtime works that are popular in today's resurgence of ragtime interest. A simple search of the internet will return many, many references to his music and a number of sites that feature his music.

He was well known as not only a composer but as an orchestrator and arranged music for a number of acts including the famous Six Brown Brothers who were responsible for the popularization of the saxophone in vaudeville and recording. Klickmann composed a number of pieces they recorded in 1916 and 1917 as well as published commercial arrangements of them including the tune Chicken Walk. There is an audible improvement from 1914-15 in the sophistication of the writing attributed to Klickmann. Klickmann composed in a wide range of popular styles and his hits include; Sweet Hawaiian Moonlight (Sibelius scorch format); Good-Bye (1914) a "hesitation waltz"; Knockout Drops Rag; The Dallas Blues (1912), and My Sweetheart Went Down with the Ship, a 1912 tear jerker about the Titanic. With a long and fruitful life, Klickmann turned to arranging in later years and arranged some of Zez Confrey's great piano jazz works such as Kitten On The Keys.

Arthur J. Lamb (b. 1870, Somerset, England - d. 1928, Providence, R. I.) is perhaps most well known as the lyricist for the famous and still popular, Asleep In The Deep (for a German version, see Des Seemanns Los in our feature about music of the sea). This song though, was his best selling hit song at the time. As with many songwriters, Lamb followed up the success of "Asleep" with At The Bottom Of The Deep Blue Sea in 1899 and another sea themed song, Out Where The Billows Roll High (Scorch format) in 1901, both with music by W. H. Petrie. Other popular songs by Lamb include Dreaming Of Mother And Home, 1898, When The Bell In The Lighthouse Rings Ding, Dong, 1905, The Bird On Nellie's Hat, 1905, You Splash Me and I'll Splash You, 1907 and the 1917 War song, Good Luck To The USA.

Click on the sheet music cover image or here to listen and see the music using the Scorch plug-in
Click here for the midi version
Click here for the lyrics


Wreck of the Shenandoah, The
Published & Copyright 1925
Words and Music by Maggie Andrews

Aviation disasters have been with us almost from the day man first flew in powered flight. In aviation's earlier days, aviation disasters were small in the way of casualties but large in the news. Compared to today, with the loss of jumbo jets and catastrophic crashes, such early accidents hardly seem to qualify as disasters but to the public at that time, they were. During those early years of aviation, as the commercial aviation industry was trying to establish itself, any accident became news that was disastrous to the industry. Trying mightily to prove their value and safety, such accidents, whether civil or military, undermined the claims of safety and amplified fear in the potential customer base. Gordon Reublin, an aviation pioneer in Northeastern Ohio, followed virtually every stage of aviation's development and saved a huge trove of newspaper and magazine articles as well as personal photos at aviation events and particularly the Cleveland Air Races. As a pilot during those Golden Years, he witnessed many of the tragic events and was present for many of them. In his collection are many items relating to the development of lighter than air ships and specifically this event.

In the early 1920's, the U. S. Navy determined that lighter than air ships would be of value. Concepts included using them as aircraft carries in the air but they were "intended primarily to conduct long-range scouting in support of fleet operations, the rigid airship was uniquely qualified to perform that role at a time before long-range aircraft and advanced radar. Although they were relatively vulnerable to attack, and would have been rendered obsolete relatively quickly by advances in heavier-than-air technology, large rigid airships still offered capabilities otherwise unavailable in the years before World War II, and might even have provided early warning, and perhaps even deterrence, of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor."9

On September 3, 1925, on its 57th flight, Shenandoah was caught in a storm over Ohio.  Updrafts caused the ship to rise rapidly, at a rate eventually exceeding 1,000 feet per minute, until the ship reached an altitude over 6,000 feet.  Shenandoah rose, fell, and was twisted by the storm, and the ship finally suffered catastrophic structural failure, breaking in two at frame 125, approximately 220 feet from the bow.  The aft section sank rapidly, breaking up further, with two of the engine cars breaking away and falling to the ground, killing their mechanics. The control car, attached to the bow section, also separated from the ship and crashed to the ground, killing the six men still aboard, including the ship’s captain, Lt. Cdr. Lansdowne. Without the weight of the control car, the remaining bow section, with seven men aboard, including Navigator Charles Rosendahl, ascended rapidly.  Under Rosendahl’s leadership, the men in the bow valved helium from the cells and free-ballooned the bow to a relatively gentle landing.  In all, fourteen members of the crew were killed in the crash.10

This song was written the same year as the wreck and the photos on the cover are actual photos of the wreckage.

Click on the sheet music cover image or here to listen and see the music using the Scorch plug-in
Click here for the midi version
Click here for the lyrics

Richard A. Reublin, July, 2016

This article published April, 2016 and is Copyright © 2016 by Richard A. Reublin and The Parlor Songs Academy. Text, images or music may not be reproduced in part or in total without express written permission of the author or a Director of the corporation. Though the songs published on this site are often in the Public Domain, MIDI renditions are protected by copyright as recorded performances.
1. Wikipedia, List of Shipwrecks in the Great Lakes
2. Wikipedia, The 1896 St. Louis Tornado
3. Wikipedia, P.P.Bliss
4. Ibid., The Iroquois Theater Fire
5., A spectacle of horror
6. Wikipedia, The Cherry Mine Disaster
7. By Office of U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson -, Public Domain
8. Eyewitness to History, The Sinking of the Lusitania

9., Dirigible and Zepplin History Site
10., ZR-1 U.S.S. Shenandoah

Parlor Songs is an educational website about American popular music and the history of the genre

If you would like to submit an article about America's music for publish on the website, contact the email on the main page. I also welcome suggestions for subjects for future articles.

All articles are written by the previous owners, unless otherwise stated.

© 1997-2024 by Parlor Songs (former owners Richard A. Reublin or Richard G. Beil). Before using any of these images, text or performances (MIDI or other recordings), please read our usage policy for standard permissions and those requiring special attention. Thanks.

I respect your privacy and do not collect or divulge personal information.

Return to Top of Page