Sunday, November 12, 2017

"Matilda Toots" for the 2017 Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge


Our little family of four first encountered "Matilda Toots" when The Ohio Village Singers introduced the song after a Grand Illumination in early December, 1987.  Our older daughter was six, our younger daughter a six-month-old babe in arms.  It was a staple of the Singers' Christmas and holiday music for many years after and attending their concerts at the Ohio Village Town Hall became part and parcel of our Christmas activities for the next twelve years. 

The gentleman in the center of the photo above was the lead singer.  He chose someone from the audience to portray Matilda Toots, usually a girl young enough not to be embarrassed by the attention, and, while on one knee, sang to her.  Occasionally it was one of our daughters, much to their delight, though once he chose a 20-something young lady who attended with us.  Everyone joined in on the choruses.  It was rollicking good fun.

In the video above Diane Taraz sings a beautiful but calmer and somewhat slower version of "Matilda Toots" than we heard at Ohio Village where the Singers sang with energy and enthusiasm and the audience sang along.  Truly, it should be sung by a male but you'll be able to hear the tune and sing along by following the lyrics (toward the end of this post) if you choose. 

"Matilda Toots" was published by Frederick Blume but I was unable to determine who wrote the lyrics or composed the music.  I found the lyrics and image above at the Library of Congress website and learned through WorldCat that another publisher of the song, H. De Marsan, was in business in New York City from 1861 to 1864.  You can see images of the original sheet music online at the Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection at Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries and University Museums.  "Matilda Toots" would have been sung during the time when several of my known American ancestors were alive:  Dixon and Rebecca (Smith) Bartley in Butler County, Pennsylvania, and the Bickerstaffs, Thompsons, Fithens, and Bells in Jefferson County, Ohio.  I like to imagine that because they lived in a time when music was a major entertainment they heard and enjoyed "Matilda Toots."

And the lyrics.
    Or "You Should Have Seen Her Boots."

    One frosty day, on pleasure bent, I stroll'd in to the park—
    With skates in hand upon the ice to have a skating lark—
    Some were whirling round like tops, some darting like a flash—
    Others cut their names out, too, and others cut a dash—
    But not alone was I, that day, for, there in fur-topp'd boots—
    And four rows of pearl buttons, was my own Matilda Toots.
    Oh! My own Matilda Toots, you should have seen her boots!
    Upon the ice they looked so nice, did the boots of Tilda Toots.

    Oh! my own Matilda Toots, you should have seen her boots!
    Upon the ice they look'd so nice, did the boots of 'Tilda Toots.

    She had the prettiest pair of skates of highly polish'd steel,
    And gracefully in a chair she sat while I prepar'd to kneel
    Down at her feet, to put them on, by boring in the soles
    Of those fur-topp'd pearl button'd boots the smallest gimlet-holes;
    But just as I upon my knee had got one of her boots,
    A skater from behind upset me, chair, and 'Tilda Toots.


    As I, the chair, and 'Tilda Toots, were struggling in a heap,
    A dozen skaters, more or less, came o'er us with a sweep.
    Some went tumbling head o'er heels, others on the back,
    When suddenly, where 'Tilda lay, the ice began to crack!
    The water next came bubbling up! crash!  I saw the boots,
    Alone above the waters, where had gone down 'Tilda Toots.


    "'Scape ladders, grappling-hooks, help! help!" I roar'd with all my might
    A squad of gallant "Park Guides" then quickly hove in sight.
    They ran a ladder 'cross the hole,  the men aside I cast,
    I scarcely think I touch'd a rail, I rush'd along so fast;
    But I was there in time to save the soul of my pursuits,
    For by those boots, those fur-topp'd boots, I dragg'd out 'Tilda Toots.


    With 'Tilda in my arms, to the Refreshment House I flew—
    They us'd the proper remedies, and quickly brought her to.
    I call'd a cab and saw her home— and saving thus her life,
    Matilda Toots agreed next day to be my darling wife;
    And, as the water did not spoil those fur-topp'd button'd boots,
    Why, in those boots— identical boots— I married Matilda Toots!


Our family has fond memories of "Matilda Toots," of the Ohio Village Singers, and of visits to the Ohio Village at Christmas time and throughout the year.  In the late 1980s and 1990s when we spent time there, the setting was 1880s Ohio, the Town Hall was lit by gas light, and there was a comfortable, friendly atmosphere.  I hope my daughters recall to my grandchildren the sweet memories of time spent there. 

I'm submitting this post to Bill West's 2017 Ninth Annual Great Genealogy Poetry Challenge. Just now you can click the link for his information post.  When he creates the final post with all the contributors I'll edit this paragraph to link to that post.


Copyright ©2017 Nancy Messier.  All Rights Reserved.


  1. What a fun poem! I don't know anyone who ever fell through the ice, but the hustle bustle of the skaters reminded me of my ice skating days on the town pond.

    1. And it was even more fun as a song sung by an enthusiastic chorus, Linda. I didn't have the experience of skating on a town pond so my only "memory" comes from movies but it always looks fun.

  2. There's a pond here in town where townspeople have skated since the 19th century. Your post and the song gave me a mental image of what it must have been like skating at Island Grove back then.

    Thanks for taking part in the Challenge, Nancy!

    1. Hi, Bill. It's always fun to be able to add images to events we knew took place in the times of our ancestors (even if we don't know whether our ancestors skated or not). Thanks for hosting the challenge.

  3. Memories and gun remembered. Thank you.

    1. That's good, June! I don't have memories of skating but this song sure brings to life the experience of skating in the mid-1800s.

  4. I've never lived in a place where I could skate outside in the winter, unless it was artificially created. Loved reading the lyrics and memories of a song where skating did happen. Makes me want to experience it myself one day.

    1. Thank you, Michael. I hope you can one day skate outside in a naturally created pond or lake.

  5. I enjoyed this post immensely--what rollicking good fun! The fact that the song is part of your family's experience made it even better.

    1. Thanks, Liz. When we first heard "Matilda Toots" the internet was in its infancy. These days it's fun to find a youtube video recording, see the cover of early sheet music, and find the lyrics -- and all so easily.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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