Iconic photos of a changing city, and commentary on our Collections & Exhibitions from the crew at MCNY.org
While cataloging ephemera under the National Endowment for Humanities grant, I couldn’t help but notice how many companies, clubs, societies, and associations had songs written and printed for special occasions. Some songs were clearly intended to foster pride in the organization, or salute a person, or influence opinion. A few appear to have had no ulterior motive. Here are some of the most memorable so far:
Chauncey Mitchell Depew was born in 1834 in Peekskill, New York and gained fame as an orator in 1860 while campaigning for Abraham Lincoln. He later represented the interests of New York Central Railroad, first as an attorney, then as vice-president and finally as president of the company. He also served as United States Senator from 1898-1911. His oration skills made him one of the most popular after-dinner speakers from the late nineteenth century until his death in 1928.
Every April, from 1892 to 1926, the Montauk Club of Brooklyn celebrated the birthday of Depew, shown below.
The program for Depew’s tenth anniversary dinner on April 20, 1901 introduces him so:
On the same old spot
With the same old Chief,
The same old Montauks
Extend the same old welcome
To the same YOUNG DEPEW.
The accompanying song notes the youthful energy Depew was known for:
You’re growing old: of course we know it;
But, Senator, you never show it.
Don’t think this is one of our old lies;
Just possible – it’s our old eyes.
Oh, well! what of it, if you did,
The age is there, e’en though it’s hid.
Some keep their color, some hold their hair;
But you can’t cheat time – the years are there.
Depew has long since passed away, but the Montauk Club continues to commemorate Depew on its website.
The private Dyker Meadow Golf Club opened in 1897. The organization’s annual dinner on January 16, 1904 was held at the Hamilton Club of Brooklyn. Song lyrics contained within the dinner program poke fun at imaginary characters named Buster Beebe and Algy. In “Algy”, a naive young man at first appears to be blessed with financial fortune:
The set of boys I chum with are the best known set down town,
And in that set a noted chap, is young Algernon Brown.
He’s just come in to heaps of coin, he don’t know what he’s worth;
And all the ladies say he is the nicest boy on Earth!
But later on the song reveals his curse:
He goes to all the theatres, where he knows the coryphées.
He takes them out to supper, also buys them large bouquets;
They call him “Algy Darling” to his face – the usual way –
But when they chat, behind the scenes, poor Algy’s called a “jay”.
“Oh, Didn’t He Ramble” makes fun of a blundering lout named Buster Beebe:
He rambled in a swell hotel,
His appetite was “stout,”
When he refused to pay his bill
The landlord kicked him out.
He reached to strike him with a brick,
But when he went to stoop
The landlord kicked him in the pants
And made him loop the loop.
The last verse mocks the Irish with ethnic stereotypes common at the time:
He rambled to an Irish wake
On one St. Patrick’s night,
They asked him what he’d like to drink,
They meant to treat him right.
But like the old Kilkenny cats,
Their backs began to arch,
When he called for orange phosphate,
On the seventeenth of March.
Paul West wrote lyrics for early twentieth century Broadway musicals, but he apparently moonlighted as a creator of corporate sing-alongs as well. The Railway Business Association published The R. B. A. Songster for its annual dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria on November 22, 1910.
“Every Little Movement” attempts to cultivate support for the Railway Business Association, founded in 1908 to represent railroad concerns:
The men who make the roads’ supplies
Once had a sorry lot.
Also the railroad magnates wise
Serene were always not!
But now a movement’s in the air,
And growing day by day,
To mend conditions everywhere –
‘Tis called the R. B. A. Ah-h-h!
The lyrics then become more assertive in stating the goals of the organization:
Every little movement has a meaning all its own!
Ours to make folks friendly in the regulative zone!
In the late nineteenth century Republican politicians and party bosses met on Sundays in a corridor of the Fifth Avenue Hotel for discussion and debate. Participants would yell “Amen!” and soon the political gathering became known as the Amen Corner. The Amen Corner outlasted the Fifth Avenue Hotel, and held its annual dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria on February 28, 1914.
“The Horrible Details” bemoans the superficiality and backstabbing nature of politics. Although the song was written over 100 years ago, the lyrics still ring true today:
You made me what I am to-day, said Wilson to McCombs;
And all your friends in politics have got that through their
You promised jobs to all of them, but now please go away,
And please don’t be mad, for I’ll need you bad, just before
next election day.
Do you know of other quaint company songs? If so, please let us know in the comments.