I’ve chosen a couple of Murder Ballads to feature on today’s #100toHalloween because even though they’re not Halloween songs, they’re haunting and they do explain where the ghosts we celebrate on October 31st come from.
A woman gives birth to one or two illegitimate children (usually sons) in the woods, kills them, and buries them. On her return trip home, she sees a child, or children, playing, and says that if they were hers, she would dress them in various fine garments and otherwise take care of them. The children tell her that when they were hers, she would not dress them so but murdered them. Frequently they say she will be damned for it.
Two sisters go down by a body of water, sometimes a river and sometimes the sea. The older one pushes the younger in and refuses to pull her out again; generally the lyrics explicitly state her intent to drown her younger sister. Her motive, when included in the lyrics, is sexual jealousy – in some variants, the sisters are being two-timed by a suitor; in others, the elder sister’s affections are not encouraged by the young man. In a few versions, a third sister is mentioned, but plays no significant role in events. In most versions, the older sister is described as dark, while the younger sister is fair.