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The Slumber Boat

Slumber Boat by Alice Riley

Baby's boat the silver moon,
Sailing in the sky,
Sailing over the sea of sleep
While the clouds float by.

Sail, baby, sail
Out across the sea,
Only don’t forget to sail
Back again to me.

Baby's fishing for a dream,
Fishing near and far,
His line a silver moonbeam is,
His bait is silver star.
His bait is shining star.

I recorded this lullaby in Seattle, for the first time, from Jere Hudson (1945) in 2007 at the Northwest Folk Fest. He said that he only heard this lullaby from his mother and grandmother. He described his homeland as “crickets – lots crickets.” It is in Shreveport, Louisiana. When I asked him what sounds make him feel sleepy he said “crickets”, again. Being unfamiliar with American lullabies I started to search through Google for information about “Slumber Boat.” I translated the word “slumber”, it appeared to me as a “silence”, “twilight.” Together this meant “the boat of silence” for me. It sounded a little bit spooky. I remembered world myths of when the boat of silence crossed the line of life and death. Immediately, the image “Isle of the Dead” by Arnold Boklin (1827-1901) with the symphonic poem of Serhgei Rachmaninov, who was inspired by the painting of Boklin popped up in my head. When we studied music theory we had to learn about influences and inspirations of compositions by different composers. I continued my journey into the lullaby and found that lyrics were written by Alice Riley. The first page of Google about Alice Riley gave me an astonishing story from American history. Below is the story I found:

“The Hanging of Alice Riley

It seems that in the very early days of Savannah there came a young girl from Ireland named Alice Riley. She boarded a ship as a bond servant to escape the famine in her own country. She was probably about 15 years old at the time and she knew that once she arrived in Savannah she would be sold into slavery for several years to pay for her passage. Alice never expected to be bought by a man so cruel and sadistic. He was a local plantation owner and even the people of the town despised him.
Alice had thought she would serve as a housemaid or field hand. Her evil new master had other ideas. Alice was a very pretty girl and he decided to use her for his pleasure. She had no right to refuse him, no more right that one of the African slaves. He mistreated her badly and beat her almost daily.
Alice found a friend in the butler on the plantation and they fell in love. One night when the abuse was too much to bear, Alice’s screams were heard by her lover. He ran to her rescue and together they killed the man.
They were arrested and sentenced to hang in Wright Square. Alice, however, was found to be with child. The good people of Savannah would never dream of hanging a pregnant woman. They hanged the butler immediately. The grief stricken Alice stayed in jail until her baby was born. Shortly after giving birth, she too was hanged.
Alice has been seen many, many times in Wright Square. She is as always looking for her baby. She asks everyone to help her find her baby. Very often tourists have called the Savannah police and reported a woman looking for her child in Wright Square. The officers that have been around for a while know it is Alice. Rookies get sent out to look for her as a joke. They never find anything of course. Even though she is often spotted in old fashioned clothing from her day, no one thinks anything of it because of the guided tours in the downtown Savannah area that often have their guides dress in historically accurate clothing.
According to reports Alice Riley has appeared to more people than any other ghost in the United States. Perhaps if you go to Wright Square in the early evening hours you just might catch a glimpse of her. She may even ask you to help her find her baby. Also, I would be careful not to take my newborn to Wright Square. Alice just might think it is hers.'”
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Later, I found that Alice Riley who wrote the “The Slumber Boat” and Alice Riley who was hung in the Wright Square, Savannah are not the same woman. Regardless, my brain continues to combine the two together. I can see the ghost of Alice singing in “The Slumber Boat,” still looking for her baby, when I listen to Rachmaniov's poem.