Music Monday: Francis Skiddy Polka
The steamboat Francis Skiddy was launched in June, 1852 to great acclaim. Running from New York City to Albany, the Francis Skiddy was top of the line when she first launched. Just a year later, in 1853, composer Henry Tucker published "Francis Skiddy Polka."
Tucker composed a number of songs throughout the 1850s, '60s, and '70s, specializing in patriotic and sentimental songs popular during the Victorian Era. Most notably, he published several songs related to the Civil War, including the very popular "When This Cruel War is Over" (which later appeared in the film "Gone with the Wind") and "Dear Mother I've Come Home to Die" as well as a song for the Temperance movement, "Oh! Touch Not the Wine Cup, Brother!" among other sentimental, patriotic, and humorous songs. You can view sheet music for many of his songs in the Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection at Johns Hopkins University.
Author Kihm Winship has written a nice biography of Henry Tucker, who lived much of his childhood in Auburn, NY. You can read Tucker's biography here.
Henry Tucker passed away on February 20, 1882 in Brooklyn, NY. He left a legacy of 121 published songs, but the "Francis Skiddy Polka" remained one of his earliest publications.
The Francis Skiddy herself did not fare so well as the composer who immortalized her. After a series of upgrades that slowed her considerably, a collision with an unlit schooner in the night punctured her boiler, causing an explosion and fire in 1861. In 1862, she narrowly escaped serious damage when a kerosene lamp in the barber's saloon exploded. A nearby police officer noticed fire coming from a window and ran to help. Thankfully, he and the crew were able to extinguish the fire before it spread. Then, in 1864 she hit a rock off Van Wies Point and partially sank, never to be recovered. Her engines were salvaged and found a new home in the Dean Richmond, which was launched in 1865.
If you'd like to read an account from the New York Times of the first trip of Francis Skiddy, you can download the article "The New Steamer Francis Skiddy," published June 21, 1852.
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