A State of Embarrassment

(Eric Shansby)
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By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, March 22, 2009

Perhaps you have heard that the state legislature in Maryland is considering changing the state's official song. Or perhaps you haven't. The issue has been handled without huge fanfare because there's a certain embarrassment behind it.

The state song, titled "Maryland, My Maryland," was written in 1861 by a fulminating secessionist named James Ryder Randall. It is played occasionally but seldom with all the lyrics attached. That is because the lyrics are a bit ... awkward.

Maryland prefers its historical image as a Northern state, loyal to the Union, but the truth is a little less tidy, as the song attests. It begins: "Thy despot's heel is on thy shore," which alludes to that villainous tyrant Abraham Lincoln.

Next, the song summons its citizens to "avenge the patriotic gore/that flecked the streets of Baltimore," which is referencing the day Union soldiers put down a secessionist riot in Maryland's largest city.

Stanza six declares that as far as Marylanders go, "sic semper! 'tis the proud refrain." Indeed, these words later were proudly spat by Lincoln's assassin in the moments after the murder. And finally, lest anyone have any doubts, the last stanza of Maryland's official song includes this line: "Huzza! She spurns the Northern scum!"

Oddly enough, "Maryland, My Maryland" became the state's song not during the heat of the Civil War, but in 1939, a fact no one can quite explain. Nor can anyone quite explain why it has remained in place this long. Still, as Marylanders like to say, the past is past. Apparently, the time for change has come. Huzza!

As a guy who lived in Maryland for more than 10 years, I thought I might help out. Like the old state song, mine is bellicose and blunt. Like the original, it is sung to the tune of "O Tannenbaum." ("O Christmas Tree.")

We sing to thee, our fav'rite state

Maryland, my Maryland

You joined the North, tho' pretty late,

Maryland, my Maryland

Your morals were a bit unkempt


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