Some Jump Rope Songs from Camingerly, ca. 1959

Roger Abrahams, 1933-2017  (University of Pennsylvania)

Not far from his small rented house on Iseminger Street, Roger Abrahams could hear echoes young girls chanting to the distinctive slap of jump rope on pavement.

Folklorist antenna up, Abrahams recognized the chance to collect what he guessed wouldn’t be around much longer in his gradually gentrifying neighborhood—a community White newcomers called Camingerly. He took out his notebook and tape recorder and got to work documenting the rhymes of his young neighbors.

“I found out early that when I went more than two blocks away from the area in which I was known, I ran into a stone wall. To many Negroes in this section of Philadelphia,” Abrahams wrote in the early 1960s, “a white man is either a policeman, a landlord, or a bill collector.” Most of what he collected was found within the two city blocks around Iseminger and Lombard Streets. “I never went farther east than Twelfth Street, farther north than Pine, farther south than South Street, and farther west than Juniper,” he later wrote.

The games documented in 1958 and 1959 seemed “considerably more complex than those observable in most places elsewhere.” In early 1963, Abrahams published much of what he found in the journal of the Pennsylvania Folklore Society.

“In common with the singing games collected in this neighborhood, there is great emphasis on individuals doing dance steps and other difficult feats: Wiggling, doing the ‘rumba,’ touching your toes, going ‘up and down the ladder’ (jumping toward one end and then toward the other, the return often being backward jumping), ‘pepper’ (jumping while the rope is turned faster), and hopping.” Abrahams noted that as many as three or four girls would jump at the same time until one missed a step. She then would be become the object of “amused abuse.”

Here are a few from Abrahams’ collection, starting with a vestige of popular culture from the 1890s, including references to local features (the Delaware River and the Daily News,) and concluding with a parody of Dream Lover, Bobby Darin’s Rock and Roll hit recorded in April 1959:

1219 Waverly Street, May 1961 (PhillyHistory)

Teddy bear, teddy bear, show your shoe, shoe.
Teddy bear, teddy bear, I love you.
Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the ground, ground, ground.
Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn all around.
Teddy bear, teddy bear, one and two, two.
Teddy bear, teddy bear, I love you.

~

Acka-backa, soda cracker.
Does your father chew tobacco?
Yes. No. Maybe so.
Yes. No. Maybe so.

(Girls who missed on “yes” and “maybe so” were laughed at.)

~

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Children, too.
There’s a little white girl
Going looking for you.
Hands up, torch-a-torch.
Two years old, going on three.
Wear my dresses upon my knee.
Sister has a boyfriend,
Comes every night,
-Walks in the parlor
And turns out the lights.

Peep through the keyhole,
What did I see?
Johnny, Johnny, Johnny,
Put your arms around me.
Girls, girls, ready for a fight.
Here comes the girl with the skirt all tight.
She can wiggle, she can friggle,
She can do that stuff.
But I bet she can’t do this.

(Jumping while the rope is turned faster.)

~

Postman, postman, do your duty
Here comes Susie just like a beauty.
She can rumba, she can tango,
She can do the strip.
She can wear her dress above her hips.

Policeman, policeman, do your duty.
Here comes Adelaide the American beauty.
She can wiggle, she can waggle,
But she sure can do the split, split, split.

(The jumper then straddles the rope.)

~

Blondie and Dagwood went downtown.
Blondie bought an evening gown.
Cookie bought a Daily News,
And this is what I say to you
Close your eyes and count to ten.
If you miss, you take the end.
1, 2, 3, etc.
Ice cream soda, Delaware punch,
Tell me the name of your honeybunch.
A, B, C, etc.

~

Dream lover, where are you?
Upstairs on the toilet stool.
Whatcha doing way up there?
Washing out my underwear.
How’d you get them so clean?
With a bottle of Listerine.
Where’d you get the Listerine?
From a can of pork and beans.
Where’d you get the pork and beans?
In the City of New Orleans.
How’ d you get way down there?
‘Cause I killed a polar bear.
Why’d you kill the polar bear?
Cause he dirtied my underwear.
I want a dream lover,
Never have to dream alone.

[Sources: Roger D. Abrahams, “Some Jump-Rope Rimes from South Philadelphia,Keystone Folklore Quarterly, Spring, 1963 and Roger D. Abrahams, Deep Down in the Jungle: Negro Narrative Folklore from the Streets of Philadelphia (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company, 1970,) 2nd edition.]

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