Saturday, February 23, 2008

from dam collapse to child murder

At the LA Times, Cecelia Rasmussen takes a fascinating look at the history of disaster ballads in Southern California. There's even audio...

Newspapers have always written about the nation's disasters -- but so have balladeers, enshrining death and heroism and crime in songs about virtually every newsworthy event: the 1889 Johnstown flood, the last train ride of engineer Casey Jones, the sinking of the Titanic.

These songs were popularized in sheet music and phonograph records, and some of the mournful tunes later wound up on the radio. Southern California has had banner-headline disasters and crimes aplenty -- and its own share of songs inspired by events here. Among them were the Santa Barbara earthquake of 1925, the murder of 12-year-old Marion Parker in 1927, the collapse of the St. Francis Dam in 1928, and the frantic efforts to free little Kathy Fiscus from an underground water pipe in 1949, a vain attempt broadcast live on local television, then a rarity.