Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Pretty maids all in a row — literally

This vintage postcard features an illustration of the nursery rhyme "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary." The rhyme dates to the 18th century and there is little agreement over the meaning of its lines. Some think it refers to the 16th century's Mary, Queen of Scots, but there is dispute on that point.

There are also multiple versions of the rhyme, and it's the last line that seems to vary the most. Some of the different final lines include:

  • And pretty maids all in a row
  • And so my garden grows
  • Sing cuckolds all in a row
  • Cowslips all in a row
  • With lady bells all in a row

This postcard goes with the most traditional final line, but the illustration takes it a little too literally, giving us the somewhat disturbing image of maidens sprouting out of the dirt...

The card was postmarked on July 28, 1910, in Brooklyn, New York.1 It was mailed to a woman named Gladys in Hoboken, New Jersey.

The note is a bit hard to decipher, but I think it reads:
"Dear Gladys
Mama's letter received & beg [?] to say little Marnie and I are going up to see Auntie May on Sunday. Boat leaves Battery at 9 a.m. Red Bank Boat. Regards to Papa and love to Maura [?] and yourself. Auntie Em."
(Probably not that Auntie Em.)

1. On July 28, 1910, President William Taft arrived in Biddeford Pool, Maine, aboard the presidential yacht Mayflower. See this photo from the Maine Historical Society. (The Mayflower, by the way, had a fascinating history, eventually ending its career as INS Maoz in the Israeli Navy.)

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