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St. George, the Dragon, and the Squid: A Preservation Mumming

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The Well-Preserved AFC Mummers pose by the Christmas tree in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.
The Well-Preserved AFC Mummers pose by the Christmas tree in the Great Hall of the Library of Congress.

Note: Every year, in the week before Christmas, 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 previous post on mumming.  For now, we thought you’d like to see this year’s play! For explanatory notes, visit the bottom of the page.

St. George, the Dragon, and the Squid: A Preservation Mumming

Performed by American Folklife Center Staff with Guests
(Aka The Well-Preserved AFC Mummers)

Script drawn from multiple plays in the James Madison Carpenter Collection.
Compiled by Stephen Winick, with additional material by Stephen Winick, Jennifer Cutting, Theadocia Austen, Hope O’Keeffe, and the company. Photos were taken by Library of Congress staff members. [1]

Father Christmas: Stephen Winick
Polar Vortex: Jennifer Cutting
Arctic Squid: Hope O’Keeffe
Architect of the Capitol: George Thuronyi
Heat Dragon: Valda Morris
St. George: Eric Wolfson
Doctor Russkie: Thea Austen
The Bishop: Stephanie Hall
Big Head: Alicia Bartlett

Father Christmas Portrayed by Stephen Winick. Photo by Guha Shankar

All Enter Singing: The Wren (The King) [2]

Joy, health, love and peace
Be all here in this place
By your leave we will sing
Concerning our king

Our king is well dressed
In silks of the best
In ribbons so rare
No king can compare

We have traveled many miles
Over hedges and stiles
In search of our king
Unto you we bring

When Christmas is past
Twelve tide is the last
We will bid you adieu
Great joy to the new.

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.

Polar Vortex portrayed by Jennifer Cutting. Photo by Guha Shankar.

My beard is long, my back is bent
My knees are weak, my strength is spent
At two thousand and fourteen years old
I’m not getting any stronger
But if I went down to Culpeper,
They’d preserve me even longer! [3]
But after me comes a preservation expert
Believe in what I say,
Step in, Polar Vortex, and boldly clear the way!

Polar Vortex:
In comes I, the Polar Vortex
Don’t go outside, except in Gore-Tex!
I’ll freeze your assets, stuff your nose
Chill your fingers and nip your toes!
My eyes are mean, my lips are cruel
I’ll turn tasty snacks to stone cold gruel
Though some folks find me rather charming
Such as, deniers of global warming
Mostly, I spread doom and gloom
And suck the warmth out of the room.
But never mind my sad narration,
Cold is good for preservation
So come good people, have no fears,
I’ll preserve you all for years and years!

(Everyone begins acting as if it’s cold: blowing on their hands, shivering, teeth chattering, etc.)

The Architect of the Capitol, Portrayed by George Thuronyi. Photo by Guha Shankar.

Father Christmas:
Polar vortex is freezing us head to feet!
Someone, please, adjust our heat!

Architect of the Capitol:
I’m the Architect of the Capitol, the AOC [4]
Everyone has heard of me!
From the high precarious scaffold
That surrounds the Capitol Dome
To the subterranean tunnels,
Where the Dunkin Donuts roam [5]
Every time the boiler fails,
The people call on me
And I send my crew to fix it
Before the count of three!
Yesterday it was too hot,
I heard you moan and cry
And I got a crew right on it
And they fixed it by and by
And now you are complaining
That the building is too cold?
Well, I’ve gotta tell you, people,
This is getting kind of old
So I’ll tell you what I’ll do:
I’ll turn up the heat once more
With a Fire-Breathing Dragon
That I keep beneath the floor!

The Giant Arctic Squid, portrayed by Hope O’Keeffe. Photo by Guha Shankar.

Stand on Head! Stand on Feet!
With my breath, I make Heat!
I am the heat dragon, look at my claws!
I am the heat dragon, look at my jaws!
Look at everything I’ve got…
And I’m sure you’ll agree…I’m pretty hot!

Everyone starts acting as if it’s hot: panting, wiping sweat from brows, etc.

Polar Vortex:
This pesky Dragon is undoing all my chill!
I must send in a minion to accomplish all my will!
And so I call upon my creature, from the chilly arctic seas:
Swim in, swim in, bold Arctic Squid, and fight this anti-freeze!

(Squid is wearing a complex squid costume, including arms hanging from the actor’s waist, tentacle pads on her hands, and a fin on her head. The squid’s large eyes are on the actor’s buttocks.)

Giant Arctic Squid: [6]
I am a cephalopod, or “head on feet”
I want a dragon for to eat!
“Abyssal gigantism” explains my mighty size
And of all the animal kingdom, I have the largest…eyes.
[Indicates eyes.]
I live in murky ocean depths, to which I’ll drag your flesh
For there beneath the arctic ice, you’ll stay forever fresh.
Science used to say that we enormous squids were mythical
So fighting with a dragon might be seen as fairly typical
So come on Dragon, let’s have at, fire-breathing freak
I’ll suck you with my tentacles and slice you with my beak!

Come on then squid, how you’ll be sorry
When I slice you into calamari!

[They Fight. Dragon defeats squid.]

The Dragon, portrayed by Valda Morris, defeats the Giant Arctic Squid. Photo by Guha Shankar.

Father Christmas:
Well, now it’s getting hot again, which makes collections suffer
We really needed Arctic Squid to be a dragon buffer!
So who can save us now, and keep this dragon’s heat at bay?
Step in, step in, oh good St. George, and boldly clear the way!

George straight
St. George, Portrayed by Eric Wolfson. Photo by Judith Gray.

St. George:
In comes I, St. George, from preservation city
I know all the best practices to keep collections pretty
Mass deacidification I practically invented. [7]
With my sweet collections care, great disasters I’ve prevented.
I regulate the climate, set humidity and so on
But mostly, temperature control is the first thing that I go on
And what this means is, if my books and maps are getting toasted
I’ve got to slay the Dragon before this Library is roasted!

Ha! I’ll crumple your manuscripts and stain your charters
I’ll blow my nose in your Magna Carta! [8]
Your Gutenberg Bible won’t look so neat
When it’s smoking from my fiery heat!

[St. George and Dragon fight. Finally, the dragon is slain.]

Architect of the Capitol:
Oh, FINE! You’ve killed my living boiler, my only source of heat
All those jokers in the Jefferson will appreciate THAT feat! [9]
Tomorrow when they’re shivering and freezing in the corridor
I’ll tell ’em if they want some heat they’d better visit Florida!

Polar Vortex:
And likewise, when it’s summertime, and everything gets hot
I think you’ll miss the cooling of my giant squid a lot
Your books will crack, your prints turn black,
Your reels of tape go out of whack!


george and dragon
St. George and the Dragon fight. Photo by Judith Gray.

Father Christmas:
I hate to say it, but it’s true
It may be that we need these two!
Luckily, Congress recently passed the ACA! [10]
Surely there is coverage for these dead monsters today!
Death is one of those pre-existing conditions,
which can’t be excluded under the new provisions
So…is there a Doctor to be found,
To cure his deep and deadly…wound? [to rhyme with “sound.”]

ALL [including dead creatures, who sit up briefly]:
Wound! [pronounced correctly]

[The Doctor arrives, mushing her dogsled.]

The Doctor, portrayed by Theadocia Austen, arrives by dogsled. Looking on are Dr. James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, and his wife.

Here I am, Bold Doctor Russkie
With my dogsled and many a strong, strong husky.

Polar Vortex:
How came you to be a doctor?

By my travels.

angry russian
The Doctor explains her background as a physician to the Russian Army, while Father Christmas looks on. Photo by Maureen Cohen Harrington.

Polar Vortex:
Where have you traveled?

Mmmmm…Crimea, South Ossetia, wherever there’s been shootin’
I’ve brought good Russian medicine our soldiers for to…PUT IN.
The news may say there were some tanks,
But you should not believe them
It was just the people saying “thanks”
Whenever I relieved them.

Polar Vortex:
What can you cure?

I can cure Ebola Panic, Depressed OR Manic
Itch, or pitch, or palsy, or gout
I can cure electile dysfunction caused by low T (turnout)
I can cure the looming shutdown wheezes
Continuing resolution freezes
And all other librarious diseases [11]

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



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 squid, examining it. Doctor eventually turns around and collides with Father Christmas. When they disentangle themselves, Doctor listens to Squid’s tentacle with her stethoscope.]

The Giant Arctic Squid lies where she was slain by the Dragon. Photo by Judith Gray.

Hmmm, slimy!  But definitely dead.

[She returns to her bag and produces a number of items while saying her next lines, ultimately producing a sandwich.]

I have Moose…and Squirrel…poisons…and pills
Some that cures, and some that kills.
This is a cashew butter and jelly sandwich: we call it CBJ
If anything can revive a squid, it’s a crumb of this, I say. [12]

[Doctor steps over dead Squid]
Now, now, a crumb from my CBJ…

Moose squirrel 2jpg
The Doctor and her assistant, Big Head, who is protrayed by Alicia Bartlett. Big Head holds the moose and squirrel while the Doctor discusses the CBJ. Photo by Guha Shankar.


Now, if’n you are not quite slain
Rise Up, Giant Arctic Squid, to fight again!

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

The Squid revived! Photo by Guha Shankar.

Architect of the Capitol:
Now that’s a fine thing, I say to you
My dragon managed to run her through
She killed that squid, and what do they do?
Rejigger her up, to freeze us anew! [13]

Father Christmas:
Well, he does have a point, I have to admit
Squid without dragon might freeze us a bit.
Doctor Russkie, what can you do?
Can you cure the Dragon and preserve her too?

Let me see what else I PUT IN my bag this morning….
Maybe I PUT IN some other things…
It’s lucky I PUT IN all this good stuff….

Father Christmas:
Why does she keep saying “Put in” like that?

Ah, here is something I PUT IN there that really helps.
When my boss is riding around without his shirt
It sometimes happens that he gets sick, or hurt
I PUT IN his mouth this alicum-payne
He always feels much better again!

[Doctor steps over dead dragon]
Now, now, a sip from my bottle, applied to your throttle
[gives her a sip]

Dragon[very quietly]:

[Doctor gives another sip]

This better work, or I’ve been PUTTIN’ my foot in my mouth!
Now, if’n you are not quite slain
Rise Up, Dragon, to fight again!

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

Here I am, alive you see….
Come on, dragon, fight with me!

Come on squid, you awful beast
Let’s have a calamari feast!

St. George:
Another Fight? This is beginning to drag on!

Polar Vortex approaches Squid and Dragon as if to break up the fight, begins earnestly singing them a parody of “Let it Go” from the Disney movie Frozen:

Let it go MH
Let it go! Let it go! Photo by Maureen Cohen Harrington.

Polar Vortex:
“Let it go… let it go…
Put your differences on Ice
Let it go… let it go…
There’s still time to learn to play nice.”

[Polar Vortex curtsies]

The Bishop, portrayed by Stephanie Hall. Photo by Judith Gray.

Father Christmas:
I think I know what to do…
Doctor, please, a word with you

[Father Christmas and Doctor talk and gesticulate, then Doctor brings in Polar Vortex and Father Christmas brings in AoC, and the four huddle; then AoC brings in Dragon and Polar Vortex brings in the Squid, and the six huddle.]

Father Christmas:
Is it settled? Very well, very well
Someone call The Bishop!

Everyone in unison:
“The Bishop!”

The Bishop:
In comes I, the Bishop, a little plot device
To get these creatures married off, which I think is rather nice!
They’re the same sex, but different species, and I think that should suffice! [14]

[People gather around the Bishop for the wedding. The Squid and Dragon are given veils, and the other characters fuss over them briefly.]



The Dragon, wearing her veil, gets the jitters as the Bishop approaches.

The Bishop:
Ahem! Clearly Befuddled, we have blathered here this day
To join Dragon and squid in unholy matrimony.
Arctic Squid, will you take Dragon to be your awful, wedded spouse
Despite the dragon-breath, and the risk of burning down the house?
Do you further vow to drink the beer and spend the dough
Until it makes your spouse’s life a rotten tale of woe?

I do

The Bishop:
Dragon, do you vow to take Arctic Giant Squid
To be your awful, wedded wife
To be your only cuttlefish
All the days of your life?
And further, will 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?

I do!

Fine, I now pronounce you Squid and Dragon! You may kiss the brides, if you dare!

Father Christmas:
And now, I think we can relax
There won’t be roasting in the stacks
And when these two monsters work together
Staff won’t freeze, no matter the weather
Never again will these two fight,
For they’re off to enjoy their wedding night!

Father Christmas: “Never again will these two fight, for they’re off to enjoy their wedding night!” Photo by Guha Shankar.

[They try to leave, but Big Head, who is dressed in a police uniform, stops them.]

Big Head blocks the way. Photo by Guha Shankar.

Big Head:
Sorry, folks, that door’s closed, and rarely open at all:
First Monday of the month, third Thursday, and Fridays in the fall.
Go around the back, or underground, or find another way
For we Capitol Police have got our rules, as you have heard us say. [15]

Father Christmas:
That’s not really a policeman, you know,
She’s one of our mummers, and part of the show

Big Head [Changes to a Viking helmet with horns]:
In Comes I, whom you haven’t all met
With my big big head and my small small wit!
With my head so big, and my brain so small,
I’ll call for a tune to please you all!
Muddy Boots and dirty faces,
Dancers all, take up your places!

[Polar Vortex plays intro to Lilliburlero on the melodeon, and the village band joins in. The married couple and their two parents put everything down and dance. The dancers dance two figures, while the Doctor calls the dance. The rest clap along, then applaud to prompt the 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. [16]

Polar Vortex leads the musicians for the dance and the Gloucestershire Wassail. Photo by Abbie Grotke.

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.



mummerswith drb
Dr. James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, and some of the Well-Preserved AFC Mummers after one of our performances of the play. Photo by Maureen Cohen Harrington.


[1]  The general idea for this year’s play was that of preservation and its attendant concern with climate.  In the Library, keeping the stacks at the right temperature for collections is more important than keeping the staff comfortable, but ideally we accomplish both.

[2] This song was adapted by the company from a traditional song from South Wales.  In 1977, the English folklorist A. L. Lloyd described the original, as performed by the Yorkshire group The Watersons: “A wren-boys carol, sung by groups of boys and young men, masked and disguised, who on St. Stephen’s Day (December 26) went from door to door carrying a holly bush on which was a dead wren, “the king of the birds”, or something to represent it. This rare song came to the Watersons from Andy Nisbet, who got it from ‘two old ladies in Pembrokeshire.'” Performances by Martin Carthy and Steeleye Span made this song one of the most popular carols on the English folk scene.

[3] Culpeper is the location of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center, or NAVCC, also known as the Library of Congress Packard Campus.

[4] Although the Architect of the Capitol is a person, it’s also the name given to the department that person runs.  This department is responsible for the physical plant of the Capitol complex. When we have trouble with the heat or air conditioning, we call the AOC.

[5] The Capitol building’s iconic dome is currently under repair and encased in scaffolding. One of the momentous events of the last year for Library of Congress employees was the opening of a Dunkin’ Donuts in the basement.

[6] 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! The squid’s opening lines about “head-on-feet” are an adaptation of the traditional entry lines of the Dragon.

[7] The Library of Congress, with strong support from the U.S. Congress, has provided leadership in the development and evaluation of mass deacidification processes and their application to valuable book collections and other paper-based items. Read more on the preservation website!

[8] The Library is currently featuring an exhibition about the Magna Carta, including the Lincoln Magna Carta, one of the four surviving original copies signed by King John.  During World War II, this manuscript was deposited at the Library of Congress for safekeeping.  Read more on the exhibition website!

[9] The “Jefferson” is the Thomas Jefferson building, one of the Library’s three buildings on Capitol Hill.

[10] Mummers plays are traditionally used to comment on current affairs.  Our invocation of the ACA is repeated from last year’s play.

[11] The speeches by the Doctor contain a lot about current events around the world and at the Library, including references to Russia’s latest aggressive actions in areas of the former Soviet Union, the recent midterm election, the fears of ebola, and other events of the past year, as well as the possibility of government shutdowns and the funding of the government by Continuing Resolutions in lieu of budgets, which holds spending at last year’s levels and therefore requiring 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.”

[12] In this speech we combine pop culture references with pure Library of Congress inside jokes.  “Moose and Squirrel” is a reference to the old TV Cartoon Rocky & Bullwinkle, which featured characters with outrageous Russian accents like our Doctor, trying to thwart the “Moose and Squirrel.”  The CBJ, on the other hand, is a reference to the Congressional Budget Justification, an annual report each division of the Library must help to complete.

[13] Needless to say, this is a squid pun.

[14] To reconcile our monsters, 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.

[15] Budget cuts have made the Library reduce the hours during which certain doors are open, to cut down on personnel costs for the police staffing those doors.  This puts the police officers in the position of enforcing door closures that are inconvenient for everyone.  In this note, we acknowledge our friends on the Capitol Police force: we know it’s not your fault!

[16] 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.  One of his manuscripts appeared in the blog post presenting last year’s play.  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.


Comments (3)

  1. It was delightful to follow this year’s Mummers down through the tunnel and into the Great Hall! The play was hilarious, the players wonderful, and a good time was had by all!

    Can’t wait for next year’s show!

  2. But where are the Morris dancers and sword dancers?
    I know you have a set of Northwest Clogs (don’t think there are as many morris dancers in the Smithsonian as in LC).


  3. Excellent! Our group Historical Harmonies also does mummers plays, but you’ve got us beat for cleverness. Welcome Yule, y’all.

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