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St. George and the Arrearage Monster: A Mumming in Process

The 2016 American Folklife Center Mummers perform at the Library of Congress Holiday Party in the Great Hall of the Jefferson Building. The cast at program's end: Captain Acquisition (David Brunton), Fiddler (Cathy Kerst), Guitarist (Maya Lerman), Curly Toes (Jennifer Cutting), Bishop (Stephanie Hall), Father Christmas (Stephen Winick), Linear Feet (Valda Morris), Metro Manager (Alicia Bartlett), Arrearage Squid (George Thuronyi), Doctor Dover (Thea Austen), Processing Saint George (Sarah Lerner), and Processing Pro (Hope O’Keefe).

The 2016 American Folklife Center Mummers perform at the Library of Congress Holiday Party in the Great Hall of the Jefferson Building. The cast at program’s end: Captain Acquisition (David Brunton), Fiddler (Cathy Kerst), Guitarist (Maya Lerman), Curly Toes (Jennifer Cutting), Bishop (Stephanie Hall), Father Christmas (Stephen Winick), Linear Feet (Valda Morris), Metro Manager (Alicia Bartlett), Arrearage Squid (George Thuronyi), Doctor Dover (Thea Austen), Processing Saint George (Sarah Lerner), and Processing Pro (Hope O’Keeffe).

Note: Every year, in the week of the Library’s holiday party, staff members of the American Folklife Center put our research and performance skills into play, bringing collections to life in a dramatic performance that tours the halls of the Library of Congress.  Dressed in costumes that range from striking to silly, we sing, act, rhyme, and dance for other Library staff members and for members of the public. Our performances are based on the ancient tradition of mumming, which has come down to our archive in the form of play scripts, songs, photos, and other items collected in the early twentieth century. For a more thorough introduction to this tradition, please visit our introductory post on mumming, as well as pevious plays: “Hipster Saint George and the Unicorn: A Web Archiving Mumming,” (2015) St. George, the Dragon, and the Squid: A Preservation Mumming,” (2014) and “St. George and the Data Dragon: A Digital Assets Mumming” (2013).  For now, we thought you’d like to read this year’s play! Numbers in square brackets refer to the explanatory notes at the bottom of the page.

St. George and the Arrearage Monster: A Mumming in Process

Performed by American Folklife Center Staff
Script drawn from multiple plays in the James Madison Carpenter Collection, “mock weddings” collected by Michael Taft in Nebraska, and other folk play sources.
Compiled and written by Stephen Winick, with additional material by Jennifer Cutting, Theadocia Austen, and the company. [1]

Dramatis Personae

After the performance of the 2016 American Folklife Center Mummers at the Library of Congress Holiday Party in the Great Hall of the Jefferson Building: Stephen Winick as Father Christmas.

Stephen Winick as Father Christmas. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

Father Christmas (Stephen Winick)
Linear Feet (Valda Morris)
Curly Toes (Jennifer Cutting)
Captain Acquisition (David Brunton)
Arrearage Squid (George Thuronyi)
Processing Pro (Hope O’Keeffe)
Processing Saint George (Sarah Lerner)
Doctor Dover (Thea Austen)
Bishop (Stephanie Hall)
Metro Manager (Alicia Bartlett)

Enter Singing the Kintbury Mummers Song [2]

Good people all, both great and small
Both rich and poor, draw near!
We beg you pay attention,
To these few lines you hear.

To me high-dum-dum, to me low-dum-dum,
To me high-dum-dum to me derry,
We don’t come here but once a year
On purpose to be merry!

To me high-dum-dum, to me low-dum-dum,
To me high-dum-dum to me derry,
We don’t come here but once a year
On purpose to be merry!

Cast member of the 2016 American Folklife Center Mummers play. Valda Morris as Linear Feet.

Valda Morris as Linear Feet. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

FATHER CHRISTMAS
Room….ROOM!  Gentles all, pray give us room to rhyme
We’ve come to show activity this merry Christmas time
Activity of youth, activity of age
Such activity has never been before upon a stage
In comes I, old Father Christmas
And be I welcome or welcome not,
I hope old Father Christmas will never be forgot
My beard is long, my back is bent
My knees are weak, my strength is spent
I look back over the many many years I’ve seen
And it occurs to me…it’s now my “sweet sixteen.”
Yes, two thousand years and sixteen is a very great age for me
And if I’d been working all these years, just imagine my “High Three!”
But after me comes a Library elf, believe in what I say,
Step in on little Linear Feet, and boldly clear the way

LINEAR FEET [3]
In comes I, Linear Feet
The best Librarian you’ll ever meet
And though I may be just an elf
I’m always counting every shelf
With my footman, Curly Toes [Curly Toes plays a chord]
I watch how the collection grows.
Now, Christmas comes but once a Year
When it comes it brings us here
With Manuscripts, books, and Sound Recordings too
Nobody likes them better than you [points to someone in audience]
Prints and Photographs, movies and maps
Websites, memes, ebooks and apps!

Cast member of the 2016 American Folklife Center Mummers play. David Brunton as Captain Acquisition.

David Brunton as Captain Acquisition. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer

FATHER CHRISTMAS
Linear Feet, and curly toes
See how technology comes and goes?
We must choose the formats with staying power
And make space for them in our ivory tower
To demonstrate our rare and delicate mission
Welcome my old friend, Captain Acquisition!

CAPTAIN ACQUISITION [4]
In comes I, Captain Acquisition
I’m a tough old pirate full of ambition
On every subject, in formats galore
I want to acquire more and more
I’ve built a massive hoard of books and data
Acquire it now, process it…later!

LINEAR FEET
No, no, this horde looks like a heap
The likes of which makes librarians weep
Wouldn’t you rather keep it organized
So it can be accessed and utilized?

CAPTAIN ACQUISITION
By whom?  Researchers? Readers? Users?
Honestly, all those people are losers!

[Entire cast gaps and acts horrified.]

FATHER CHRISTMAS
That’s not the Captain I love and admire
Something is wrong here, something quite dire!
I think the captain has lost his mind
And if we seek the cause, I think we’ll find
Beneath his ship, and affecting its steerage
The terrifying monster known as…arrearage! [5]

The 2016 American Folklife Center Mummers perform at the Library of Congress Holiday Party in the Great Hall of the Jefferson Building. George Thuronyi as Arrearage Squid.

George Thuronyi as Arrearage Squid. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

ARREARAGE SQUID
Yes, here I am, arrearage is my name
Piling up collection items is my game
Under his ship for a long time I hid
Assuming the form of this monstrous old squid
I controlled his mind with my big brain-pan
And made him forget his strategic plan!
But I don’t need to hide down there anymore
I’m too wicked and terrifying to ignore.

CAPTAIN ACQUISITION
By the saints and bishops and all the peerage
I never knew I was controlled by…arrearage!
But write this down in your good ship’s log:
I’ll drink your blood like so much grog
Avast ye, vile arrearage Kraken [6]
I’ll take my sword and send you packin’!

ARREARAGE SQUID
You scurvy old salt, don’t talk so hot,
For you don’t know who you have got;
So mind your eyes and guard your blows,
Or I’ll squirt my ink right up your nose!

CAPTAIN ACQUISITION
Pull out your purse, and pay, sir!

ARREARAGE SQUID
Pull out your sword and play, sir!

[They fight, and Captain Acquisition is slain.]

ARREARAGE SQUID
Ha! I sent that old Buccaneer off his rocker
Then I sent him down to Davy Jones’ Locker! [7]
Is there any Librarian in all the land
Who thinks they can take my tentacles in hand?

Library staff perform the annual Mummers play during holiday celebrations, December 14, 2016. Photo by Shawn Miller.

David Brunton as Captain Acquisition prepares to fight George Thuronyi as the Arrearage Monster, while the cast and audience look on. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Cast member of the 2016 American Folklife Center Mummers play. Hope O’Keefe as Processing Pro.

Hope O’Keeffe as Processing Pro. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

PROCESSING PRO
In comes I, the processing pro
If arrearage comes in, I’ll make it go.
I won’t let up, I’ll work like a dog
Until every last item’s in that big catalog!
To my only son I will entrust this mission:
St. George, the mighty processing technician!

SAINT GEORGE
In comes I, Processing Saint George, from Metadata city
And I shall subdue arrearage and reduce it without pity!
With my smart barcode and my white cotton glove [8]
Honestly, librarians, what’s not to love?

ARREARAGE
I’m not afraid of processing, you silly old Saint
There’s always more and more of me, although you think there ain’t

SAINT GEORGE
Not after physical processing, minor preservation,
Subject analysis, and classification
Preservation binding for anything torn
Metadata enhancement for the digital-born
Archival description, collocation
Catalog records and data curation.
With my sharp sword of arrearage reduction
I’ll fight your tentacles with all their suction
And soon I’ll have you feeling sorry
When I slice them into calamari! [9]

ARREARAGE
All right, then, you cataloging freak
I’ll choke you with my tentacles and slice you with my beak!

The 2016 American Folklife Center Mummers perform at the Library of Congress Holiday Party in the Great Hall of the Jefferson Building. Center: Sarah Lerner as Processing Saint George.

Sarah Lerner as Processing Saint George. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

[They fight, and the squid wins again]

PRO
Oh, look, look what you have done!
You’ve gone and killed my only son!

ARREARAGE SQUID
And with the champion of processing laid away,
My lovely arrearage is here to stay!

FATHER CHRISTMAS
Not so fast, you tentacled beast
Perhaps he can be…un-deceased.
Let’s see…for at least another month or so, we have the ACA!
Surely there is coverage for these dead folks today!
Death is one of those pre-existing conditions,
which can’t be excluded under the law’s provisions [10]
So…is there a Doctor to be found,
To cure his deep and deadly…wound? [to rhyme with “sound.”]

ALL (including dead Dragon and St. George, who sit up briefly):
Wound! (pronounced correctly)

DOCTOR
Here I am, bold Doctor Dover [11]
My fame is known the whole world over
I was a Pirate as a second career—
Though I always preferred to be called Privateer.
Now I bring medicines down from Baltimore
Will raise the dead up off the floor!

LINEAR FEET
A new doctor?  Quick everyone, re-align! [12]
[Everyone runs around and switches places]

Library staff perform the annual Mummers play during holiday celebrations, December 14, 2016. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Sarah Lerner as Processing St. George squares off against George Thuronyi as the Arrearage Monster, while the cast and audience look on. Photo by Shawn Miller.

CURLY TOES
Think Outside the Box!

A drawing of a knight in armor standing over the body of a slain dragon.

This drawing by stonemason George Baker, whose father was a mummer in the English Cotswolds around the turn of the twentieth century, depicts St. George and the Dragon, typical antagonists of English-language mummers plays. From AFC’s James Madison Carpenter Collection (AFC1972/001).

BISHOP
Push the Envelope!

PROCESSING PRO
Work smarter, not harder!

METRO MANAGER
Do less with more!  More with less!

FATHER CHRISTMAS
Seriously, though, how came you to be a doctor?

DOCTOR
By my travels

PROCESSING PRO
Where have you traveled?

DOCTOR (holds up map)

BISHOP
I saw that map on this great new blog, Worlds Revealed. [13]

DOCTOR
I started up here in Baltimore,
Then…Jeffersonville, Madisontown, Adamsburg, and more
From the Cabin of Branch to the Fortress of Meade
I traveled at quite impressive speed
From an old Post Office to a new Trump Hotel
And on the White House, if all goes well.
From The Magic Kingdom of Landover to the distant Navsee Sea,
Everybody knows the great Doctor Dover—me! [14]

Cast member of the 2016 American Folklife Center Mummers play. Thea Austen as Doctor Dover.

Theadocia Austen as Doctor Dover. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

FATHER CHRISTMAS
What can you cure?

DOCTOR
[Throws candy on each downbeat]
Stack rot, book blot, and all-night gacking
Electile dysfunction caused by widespread Russian hacking,
I’ll cure Fake News Social Media Dispersion
Resulting from cranio-rectal inversion [15]
Joint Committee sneezes, momentum wheezes
Continuing Resolution freezes
And all other librarious diseases [16]

FATHER CHRISTMAS
Yes, yes, but you can’t cure a man who’s been DEAD for five minutes!

DOCTOR
If he’s been dead five YEARS I can cure him!
Will you join me on my rounds?

[Doctor and Father Christmas walk around and around the body, examining it. Doctor eventually turns around and collides with Father Christmas.  When they disentangle themselves, she returns to her bag, gets stethoscope, listens to SG’s foot]

DOCTOR
Hmmm, definitely dead.

FATHER CHRISTMAS
So what can you do?

A drawing of a comical doctor in a top hat riding a hobby horse.

Another of George Baker’s drawings depicts The Doctor from his local mumming tradition. (James Madison Carpenter Collection AFC1972/001).

DOCTOR
I have lotions and potions, poisons, and pills
Some that cures, and some that kills.
I have all kinds of stuff in my bag that’s hidden.
I have Girl Scout cookies, but those are forbidden! [17]
So, first I’ll sprinkle my “Dover’s Powder” [18]
Of which I couldn’t be any prouder.
Then this cashew butter and jelly sandwich: we call it a CBJ [19]
If anything can bring back American processing jobs, it’s a crumb of this, I say.
(gives crumb to St. George)
Now, if’n you are not quite slain
Rise Up, St. George, to Make Processing Great Again! [20]

[SG springs up, looking surprised,
The mummers start the audience clapping]

SAINT GEORGE
The loud and brassy trump did sound
And summoned me from off the ground! [21]

BISHOP
Reviving the dead, with all of us complicit?
That’s not in the ethics course…or did I just miss it? [22]

Cast member of the 2016 American Folklife Center Mummers play. Cathy Kerst as Fiddler.

Cathy Kerst, fiddler in the band. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

PROCESSING PRO
Thank goodness for the doctor, who saved our best technician
But, I’ll still have nothing to process without Acquisition.

DOCTOR
Of course, of course, the Captain, how could I forget!
I’m not out of my old tricks yet.
I’ve got such medicines, old and new
I don’t even know what some of them do!
[Holds up a bottle with a skull-and-crossbones symbol on it]
Here’s a bottle of such unknowns
But it must be for pirates; just look at the bones! [23]

FATHER CHRISTMAS
Do you really think that’s a good idea?

DOCTOR
What could possibly go wrong?
[gives a drop to Captain, who springs up.]

[Mummers get audience clapping.]

CAPTAIN ACQUISITION
I really must thank you, processing pro
You stuck up for me when I was laid low
And on another subject, may I just say…
You’re looking particularly well-processed today!

ARREARAGE
Hey, this is no fair, those two attacked ME
I was just defending myself, you see?
Now that you made them survive our fight
How do I know they won’t kill me outright?

Cast member of the 2016 American Folklife Center Mummers play. Maya Lerman as Guitarist.

Maya Lerman, guitarist in the band. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

PROCESSING PRO
Why, poor old arrearage, we thought you were deplorable
But now we see that you’re kind of adorable
You thought we’d completely eliminate you?
We’re never rid of arrearage: we thought you knew!
We just want to keep you minimized
And keep you from growing oversized.

ARREARAGE
Well, that doesn’t sound so bad….

CAPTAIN ACQUISITION
And now we have a little announcement to make
We’re formalizing our partnership…for the collections’ sake
When acquisitions and processing work in tandem
The job of a library gets much less random
And so unless anyone can say why not,
Ms. Processing and I are tying the knot!

FATHER CHRISTMAS
Call the Bishop!

BISHOP
Ahem!  Clearly Befuddled, we have blathered here this day [24]
To help the Library on its way
To join this lovely woman and this handsome man
As two Key Components in one Strategic Plan
Do you take Captain A as your awful, wedded mate
Despite the fact that he is such a reprobate?
And do you further vow to black his eyes and punch his nose
To box his ears and thump his head and stamp his pirate toes . . .
To drink his beer and spend his dough
And make his life a tale of woe?

Cast member of the 2016 American Folklife Center Mummers play. Stephanie Hall as Bishop.

Stephanie Hall as The Bishop. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

PROCESSING PRO
 I do

BISHOP
Captain, do you take this lady to be your awful, wedded wife
To process your acquisitions all the days of your life?
And further, do you vow to wash the clothes and scrub the floor
Forego all fun forevermore
To wash the dishes and make the bed
And wish to heck that you were dead?

Captain Acquisition
I do!

BISHOP
Great!  I now pronounce you Partners in Crime!
You may smooch, or high five to save time!

[Captain Acquisition leans in for a smooch, but Processing Pro “high fives” him in the face.]

FATHER CHRISTMAS
She’s used to microspatulas, so his large accession cleared the way
And the shelving in her ample stacks sealed the deal for him today [25]
So now these two are happy together
Through thick and thin, and all rough weather.
Never again will those two fight,
For they’re off on the Metro to enjoy their wedding night
(They try to leave, but Metro Manager stops them.)

Rehearsal in the Whittall Pavilion for the the 2016 American Folklife Center Mummers play: Alicia Bartlett as Metro Manager.

Alicia Bartlett as Metro Manager. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

METRO MANAGER
Sorry, folks, SafeTrack!  You can’t go that way [26]
Until at least three weeks from Saturday.
Take the blue line to the green line to the orange to the red
Back down on the Yellow until you think you might be dead.
Silver line around to Capitol South
And you’re back where you started before you set out!

FATHER CHRISTMAS
That’s not really a metro manager, you know,
She’s one of our mummers, and part of the show

METRO MANAGER
But the best mummer for music, as everybody knows
Is our old friend, the footman, Little Curly Toes

CURLY TOES
My name is Curly Toes, as I have said before
I’m an elf of great request, and I’ll leave you wanting more
I’ve green sleeves, and yellow leaves,
And an accordion I stole from a den of thieves
Me head’s so big, and me brain’s so small
I’ll play you a tune to please you all!
Muddy boots and dirty faces
Now all you dancers, take your places!

Jennifer Cutting as Curly Toes. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

Jennifer Cutting as Curly Toes. Photo by Carl Fleischhauer.

[Curly Toes plays intro to “Lilliburlero” on the melodeon, dancers put everything down. Dancers dance two figures, while the rest clap along, then applaud to prompt audience]

FATHER CHRISTMAS
We hope you all have been impressed
And think our calling is the best
We won’t delay, lest tedium befall,
We wish you a merry Christmas
And God bless you all!

All Sing: “Gloucestershire Wassail.” [27]
(Cast invites audience to sing along)

Wassail, wassail all over the town
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

And here’s to the bullock and to his right eye
Pray God send our master a good Christmas pie
A good Christmas pie that may we all see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

So here is to the milk cow and to her broad horn
May God send our master a good crop of corn
A good crop of corn that we may all see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

And here’s to the calf and to her left ear
Pray God send our master a happy New Year
A happy New Year as e’er he did see
With the wassailing bowl, we’ll drink to thee

Then here’s to the maid in the lily white smock
Who tripped to the door and slipped back the lock
Who tripped to the door and pulled back the pin
For to let these jolly wassailers in.

Rehearsal in the Whittall Pavilion for the the 2016 American Folklife Center Mummers play: Cathy Kerst as Fiddler, Maya Lerman as Guitarist, Jennifer Cutting as Curly Toes, and Stephen Winick as Father Christmas.

Mummers band: Cathy Kerst (fiddle), Maya Lerman (guitar), Jennifer Cutting as Curly Toes (button accordion), and Stephen Winick as Father Christmas (voice and percussion).

Notes

1. The general idea of this year’s play is a library’s need to balance acquisitions and processing; acquisitions to make sure collections remain current, relevant, and strong, and processing to make sure they become accessible and useful.  It was inspired by the arrival of our new Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, a true librarian who thinks about these issues!

2. Jennifer Cutting found The Kintbury Mummers Song through The Full English, a web presentation of Traditional English folk culture at the Ralph Vaughan Williams Memorial Library in London.  It was collected by Henrietta Batson in Kintbury, Berkshire, England.

3. “Linear Feet” is a measure used by archivists, both for shelf space occupied by manuscripts, and for film footage.

4. We envisioned “Captain Acquisition” as a pirate, partly for the costume possibilities. Although traditional mummers plays do not feature a character definitively identified as a pirate, there are characters with such names as “Captain Thunderbolt,” “Captain Slasher,” and “Captain Bluster,” which certainly could be interpreted as pirates.

5. Arrearage is a word for collections received but not processed, essentially archival backlog. (See more at this glossary.) We envisioned Arrearage as a giant squid. We first introduced a giant squid in a mummers play we created for the retirement of Michael Taft. In a story famous among folklorists, Michael himself went mumming in Newfoundland dressed as a giant squid, only to slip and skid halfway to the harbor with his tentacles flapping wildly! We used the squid in our holiday mumming for the first time in 2014.

6. A kraken is a sea monster from Nordic saga and folklore. Although described differently in different accounts, it is often depicted as a giant squid, on the theory that giant squid sightings were among the sources of the legend. (Read more at The UnMuseum.)

Drawing: Davy jones confronts a horned monster with a sword, protecting a boy who has fallen to the ground.

Davy Jones pictured by George Cruikshank in 1832, as described by Tobias Smollett in The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle.

7. Davy Jones is a traditional demon among sailors, described by Tobias Smollett in The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle:

I’ll be d–d if it was not Davy Jones himself. I know him by his saucer eyes, his three rows of teeth, his horns and tail, and the blue smoke that came out of his nostrils. What does the blackguard hell’s baby want with me? […]

This same Davy Jones, according to the mythology of sailors, is the fiend that presides over all the evil spirits of the deep, and is often seen in various shapes, perching among the rigging on the eve of hurricanes, shipwrecks, and other disasters, to which a seafaring life is exposed; warning the devoted wretch of death and woe.

Davy Jones’s Locker is a euphemism for death, first recorded in the writings of Daniel Defoe.

8. A smart barcode is a cataloging tool, which you can read about here. White cotton gloves are typically worn by archivists to protect archival materials from fingerprints. These attributes identify St. George as a processing professional like his mother Processing Pro.

9. All these activities of St. George are terms from Library and Information Science. You can find out about them from such glossaries as the Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science and the American Library Association’s Glossary of Technical Services Terms.

10. The first reference to the 2016 election in our play, this line suggests that the Affordable Care Act is in danger of being repealed.

11. Thomas Dover (1660–1742) was a real-life English physician.  He invented a patent medicine called Dover’s Powder, which remained popular for hundreds of years, and was only outlawed in India in 1994.  In 1708, Dover was part of a sailing adventure that began as a pirate cruise but was legalized to a privateering voyage. During that voyage, Dover led the landing party that rescued Alexander Selkirk, a castaway who became the real-life inspiration for Robinson Crusoe. Dover later returned to Bristol and resumed his medical career.

12. A reference to the arrival of our new Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden. Naturally, the arrival of a new boss entails a certain degree of realignment.

13. Worlds Revealed is our sister blog, from the Geography and Map Division.  It’s not THAT new, having debuted just prior to the 2015 mumming.

14. These are references to campuses and facilities of the Library of Congress. The main three buildings on Capitol Hill are named for Presidents Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. Landover, Cabin Branch, and Fort Meade are the locations of some of our offsite storage facilities, and NAVCC (pronounced Navsee Sea) is the National AudioVisual Conservation Center, also known as “The Packard Campus,” in Culpeper, Virginia.  (The text also makes reference to Terry Brooks’s “Magic Kingdom of Landover” novels.) The Old Post Office in Washington D.C. is being converted to a new Trump hotel, making this our second reference to the 2016 election.

15. This was one of the speeches that changed to keep up with current events, even during the few weeks during which we worked on the play.  The “electile dysfunction” refers to the failure of most people to predict the outcome of the 2016 election. Originally, the lines referenced low turnout in the election, but we thought other factors had been more important in thwarting most predictions. In addition, the fake news story and subsequent arrival of a gunman at Comet Ping-Pong Pizza became big news during this period. So we came up with:

Stack rot, book blot, and all-night terrors
Electile dysfunction caused by widespread polling errors
I’ll cure Comet Ping-Pong Pizza Aversion
Resulting from cranio-rectal inversion

Cranio-rectal inversion (also cranial-rectal inversion) is a term from medical folklore, whose meaning I hope you can guess!

Several cast members thought the Comet Ping Pong Pizza line might be judged to be in poor taste (even though the play suggests an aversion to their pizza would be, as it were, wrongheaded), so we changed it to the version in the final text, referencing only fake news on social media.

Then the CIA’s announcement about Russian hacking during the election broke, so we altered the play again to reference that instead of polling errors!  Thanks to Theadocia Austen and Hope O’Keeffe for lines that are (or at one time were) in the play at this point!

16. These three lines refer to facts of like at the Library: we depend on the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress for oversight and funding; “momentum” is software that forms part of our budgeting process; and the funding of the government by Continuing Resolutions in lieu of budgets holds spending at last year’s levels and therefore requires freezes in pay, hiring, and spending. Some traditional Mummers Play texts give the doctor a highfalutin way of speaking that includes made-up words.  In some of these, he refers to “all other vandorious diseases.”  It was a short step from that to “librarious diseases.”

17. An online ethics course that all Library of Congress employees must take informs us that allowing your kids to sell Girl Scout cookies to your colleagues is against the rules.

An old bottle of medicine and the box it was sold in.

A 19th Century bottle of Dover’s Powder from Detroit.

18. Dover’s Powder is a real patent medicine invented by Dr. Thomas Dover, which was popular for over 200 years.

19. The CBJ is a reference to the Congressional Budget Justification, an annual report each division of the Library must help to complete in order to justify its budget requests. The hiring of an employee for a processing job would have to be mentioned in the CBJ.

20. “Make Processing Great Again,” of course, resembles a well known political slogan.

21. Versions of this line appear in several folk plays, although it is usually a “silver trumpet.” We used the more archaic word trump…for obvious reasons.

22. Another reference to our mandatory online ethics course.

23. Obviously, the doctor is seeing the skull and crossbones, which would normally indicate poison, and interpreting it to mean “pirate medicine.”

24. To reconcile our library principles of acquisition and processing, we used another traditional dramatic genre usually not connected to British mummers’ plays: the mock wedding.  Mock weddings are performances that make fun of traditional weddings by subverting elements of the ceremony, especially the wedding vows, and using them to highlight common or stereotypical conflicts between the sexes. In typical examples, the “woman” (often played by a man) vows to take charge and make the man miserable, and the “man” (often played by a woman) vows to give up all fun and submit to his wife. Some of the mock wedding lines we used in this play were collected in North Dakota by Michael Taft, retired head of the AFC’s archive.

25. The microspatula is a useful processing tool for removing photos from albums, separating papers that are lightly stuck together, etc. Shelving is a very attractive attribute for a library!

A photocopy of lyrics to the “The Gloucestershire Wassail” as found in the James Madison Carpenter Collection.26. The Washington metropolitan area is currently experiencing SafeTrack, a set of repairs to the Metro that shuts service off on various lines, sometimes for weeks at a time. In the words of the WMATA, which runs the Washington metro:

SafeTrack is an accelerated track work plan to address safety recommendations and rehabilitate the Metrorail system to improve safety and reliability.

SafeTrack accelerates three years’ worth of work into approximately one year. The plan significantly expands maintenance time on weeknights, weekends and midday hours and includes 15 “Safety Surges” – long duration track outages for major projects in key parts of the system.

It’s the safety surges that cause outages of a month or longer on certain metro lines, and which thus inspired the words of our “Metro Manager.”

27. “The Gloucestershire Wassail” is a song sung by rural farm-workers in Gloucestershire, England, while visiting and toasting the inhabitants of nearby farms and houses.  The words to the song were first published in 1813.  One hundred and twenty years later, James Madison Carpenter photographed Gloucestershire wassailers and recorded their song.  His recordings, photos of the wassailers, and manuscripts of the song, are preserved in the AFC archive.  See one at right.  The version we sing is derived from various published versions, but such names as “Whitefoot” and “Old Broad,” which were names for farm animals, have been replaced with more generic descriptors such as “the milk cow” and “the ox,” which makes the song more comprehensible to non-farming folk.

Arthur McBride, Carrie Grover, Paul Brady, and Rosanne Cash: More About a Classic Song

In a previous post, I discussed one of AFC’s most influential field recordings, Carrie Grover’s “Arthur McBride,” and the popular tracks it inspired: versions by Paul Brady and by Bob Dylan. I was inspired to write about the song again by Rosanne Cash, a fan of both Dylan and Brady, who enthused about “Arthur McBride” […]