Tuesday, December 9, 2014

“Alle alle Ochsen frei” and the Kingston Trio

by Roger Franke
Retired high-school German teacher, rural LaGrange County, IN 

      The winter of 2013-2014, now somewhat of a distant memory, provided me with more than ample opportunity to take on several household projects that had been on the back burner far too long. It started with the culling out and reorganization of an LP record collection, moved on to a huge jumble of compact cassettes, and followed up with a foray into a highly disorganized and huge heap of CDs -- with a snow-blocked driveway and roadway, all the while, preventing any escape to more enjoyable pursuits away from home.

         In my first attack on the CD collection, I came across an almost forgotten title “The Kingston Trio -- Collector’s Series.” Hmm, I thought to myself, might as well make a tedious job at least tolerable by listening while sorting.

         The lead-in song was “Scarlet Ribbons for Her Hair.” Yep, I remembered that one. The second track launched into the ballad that made the Trio famous, “Tom Dooley,” which not only topped the pop music charts in 1958, but also credited the group with starting the so-called folk music boom in America.

         As the selections continued to play, sorting again captured my attention, that is, until the “needle” hit track 18. It was almost at the end of the song when my brain finally registered a question. Was that a German phrase I just heard in the refrain? I replayed it, this time paying more attention to the lyrics. Sure enough, they were singing something like “Alle Alle Oxen free,” a mixture of German and English which translates as “All All Oxen free.” -- But why?

         My thoughts took me back to my boyhood school days at Flatrock, a rural German-Lutheran elementary school in Madison Township, Allen County, Indiana. To be sure, German was no longer at that time in the latter 1940s and early 1950s the main language of communication. Several pupils sometimes spoke in Plattdeutsch with each other, particularly when they wanted the details of conversation to remain private -- a talent, by the way, that I envied. But for the most part English was the language of the day.

         At recess time, we pupils often played a game called hide-and-go-seek. The game involved the use of a catchphrase that went, as best as I can recall, either “Alle alle in free” or “Alle alle all free,” which was yelled by a player who was successful in reaching the home base ahead of the “it” player, thus setting any captured participants (or those still hiding) free again. It didn’t occur to me at the time, (nor to any of the other players, I suspect) that the phrase had any connection to the German language. It was just a game term (and one that I felt, until recently, was likely destined for obscurity, if not extinction.)

         I checked on the CD case insert for the spelling of the song title, and it read “Ally Ally Oxen Free,” the same words as in the refrain. With a little research, I found out that the song first appeared in 1963 in the Trio album “Time To Think.”  The song was written by Rod McKuen and Sammy Yates as a protest against air pollution (specifically by aluminum oxide). But -- protesting against air pollution is a far cry from a catchphrase in a children’s game. What’s the connection?

         A Wikipedia article under the heading “Olly Olly Oxen Free,” provided a little more background. The article started with an explanation of the use of the catchphrase and its variants in children’s games. Then it went on to state, “the phrase was reinvented [by the Kingston Trio] for the song ‘Ally Ally Oxen Free’.” With a bit of creative imagination, I suppose, its appropriateness to the new context can be established.

         In the next section, entitled “In Popular Culture,” the author goes on to detail numerous uses of the phrase or its variants in other songs (28 titles mentioned), in movies, on television, in computer games and in other areas. For the sake of brevity, only one specific example out of a long list will have to suffice: “Seinfeld,” Season 7, Episode 8, “The Pool Guy,” when Newman runs toward the pool to jump in, he yells “Ollie, ollie oxen free” -- and lands immediately afterwards on the pool boy.

         As to the origin of the phrase and its anglicized variations, I can only say, based on admittedly somewhat haphazard research, that it appears to be German, with the author George David Winius stating the case for the majority. In his book “The Brats of Briarcliff -- A World of Boys before TV and Video Games,” he states in a footnote on page 100, “This [Ollie, ollie oxen free] sounds Germanic to me and must hearken back to something much older which we did not comprehend. It must originally have been “Alle, alle Ochsen frei” or something like that.” One source, however, supports the notion, and rather vigorously, that the the phrase originates in old England, while another claims it goes back to Scandinavia . . .

. . . . .  

          . . . The words, accompanied by guitar, flow melodically from the speakers:

Time to let the rain fall -- without the help of man
Time to let the trees grow tall -- now if they only can . . .
. . . Ally ally ally ally ally oxen free . . .
         But I take little notice, my mind preoccupied again with the process of sorting.                          

P.S. -- In response to my query, Ruth Reichmann, editor of the “Indiana German Heritage Society Newsletter, replied with some additional information about the use of the catchphrase discussed above. One of the variants of the German version of the game includes the phrase “Alle alle sind auch frei,” (All all are also free) which, she states, was corrupted over time by children of non-ethnic German-Americans, becoming eventually “Ollie, ollie oxen free.” Thus the word “oxen” replaced the word “auch” in anglicized versions.    

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Read All About It!

by Carmen Doyle

It’s only 23 days until Christmas! Time to get shopping! There are few better presents than a book, and the History Center has several options for the readers on your list.

The ACPL recently had an author fair, with several local authors. One author was Carol Butler, who wrote Genois Wilson, firefighter: she dared to be first about the career of Fort Wayne’s first female firefighter.  The book tells of what inspired Wilson to become a firefighter- her three year old sister had been badly burned when the firefighters were not able to make it to her house on time. The illustrations by Teresa Yarbrough are wonderful, detailed and colorful. As a bonus, the books available at the History Center are signed by both author and illustrator! If you have a budding firefighter on your Christmas list, this book is great, (and you could also pair it with some of the firefighting toys available at the History Center) 

You can also check out our blog for more information on firefighters in Fort Wayne: http://historycenterfw.blogspot.com/2013/04/as-good-fire-laddie-as-many-of-boys.html

Another author at the fair was Margaret Hobson, who wrote The Iron Men of Indiana’s 44th Regiment, Part I: Biographies and Regimental Statistics, and Part 2: Formation and photos. These books are chock-full of details about the regiment and the soldiers in it. There are so many details it can be overwhelming, but if you have Civil War buffs on your Christmas list, these books have the most in-depth information on a regiment there is.

If you are going to buy someone a book, there’s no better holiday book than Wolf & Dessauer: Where Fort Wayne Shopped. As every Fort Wayne resident is aware, W&D was the most magical Christmas place EVER. The Santa and Wreath that are the biggest part of Lighting Night were originally from W&D. The book has interviews with many of the people involved in setting up the window displays and the Christmas displays. A great interview is the one with Phil Steirgwald, known as the Santa of Fort Wayne. (You can see his Santa suit on display during the Festival of Gingerbread.) 

Also on display are the elves and animatronic dolls from the W&D windows. You can also go online to the History Center and see the virtual exhibit on Wolf & Dessauer, which includes photos of Wee Willie WanD.

It’s not too early to start thinking about the Mather lectures coming up in 2015. In January, Marsha Wright will be here to talk about her mother, Margaret Ringenberg. Marsha wrote a book on her mother’s experiences as one of the WASP (Women Air Service Pilots) during WWII, called Maggie Ray: World War II Air Force Pilot. There is also a DVD based on the book, Wings for Maggie Ray. You can find more information about Maggie Ray and the WASPs on our blog: http://historycenterfw.blogspot.com/2013/10/maggie-ray-wasp.html

And don’t forget the previous Mather lectures- in October Robert Matzen spoke about his book Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3. This book is full of wonderful details and quotes from Carole, a lot of which seem like they would be endlessly copied in People and other celebrity magazines. The History Center has a few copies left- and all are signed! You can also see a few photos on Facebook of items that belonged to Carole: https://www.facebook.com/medi/set/?set=a.10152670381740935.1073741931.281783120934&type=1.   

Watching Carole’s movies might seem like more fun, but when your TV is being dominated by football, this book is better. Because who doesn’t love celebrities?

And if you’re a sports fan, but not necessarily wanting to watch them on TV, check out Fort Wayne Sports History by Blake Sebring. It’s set up like a calendar- every day has a different memorable local sports event. For example, on November 28,"1890 an indoor baseball doubleheader is held at the Princess Rink.” Sebring then tells what the Princess Rink was and how an indoor baseball game was different than an outdoor one. (Less than 90 feet between the bases, for one.)

 “Also, in 2003, Harding loses a wild shootout for the Class 2A state title to Tri-West 41-36.”- football.   
In November, the Mather lecture was on Clarence Cornish, one of the earliest Fort Wayne pilots. “Cap” Cornish, Indiana Pilot: Navigating the Century of Flight” details not only the early history of commercial aviation, it tells how a local pilot from Fort Wayne – “Cap” Cornish affected aviation policy across the nation. For more information, check out our blog: http://historycenterfw.blogspot.com/2014/10/cap-cornish.html 

And if you have an aviation fan on your Christmas list, you could also get them Art Smith: Pioneer Aviator or Fort Wayne Aviation: Baer Field and Beyond. Fort Wayne Aviation is from the Images of America series, so it’s full of wonderful pictures related to early flight. 
 For something really unique, get them Spinning through Clouds: Tales from an early Hoosier Aviator. Of course, you can always visit the History Center and look at the aviation display on the second floor- and see Art Smith’s goggles and medals for yourself.

If you have a quilter on your list, get them A Communion of the Spirits, which has interviews from quilters, telling about what quilting means to them. There are not a lot of detailed photos of the quilts in the book, so check out our online exhibit on quilts: http://www.fwhistorycenter.com/vex8/index.htm

Of course the best book in the gift shop is the History of Fort Wayne and Allen County, Indiana 1700-2005. This two volume set has answers (or at least a good start) on everything in Fort Wayne. If the answer to your Fort Wayne question is not in the set, then either it didn’t happen or it’s happened since 2005.

And the BEST gift to give (or get) for Christmas? Membership at the History Center! (Or the Museum Dream Membership, which is membership not only in the History Center, but the Botanical Conservatory and Science Central.) As a bonus, when you buy a new membership to the History Center, you can get a FREE copy of Frontier Faith: The Story of the Pioneer Congregations of Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1820-1860.  This book covers every religion and church, and explains why Fort Wayne really is “The City of Churches”

The Festival of Gingerbread runs through December 14. When you visit, why not by a few gifts....for others PLUS yourself!