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Where did “Jingle Bells” Come From?

A Medford Historical Society photo of sleigh races from 1883, supposedly a source of inspiration for Pierpont

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Laura Cafasso
January 2, 2012
Filed under School News

Christmas is fast approaching, and everyone cannot escape the continuous holiday tunes blasting on radio station after radio station. Sometimes it may become tiresome, but these songs always put listeners in festive moods.

Speaking of which, one of America’s all time favorites is the classic song “Jingle Bells”. But it may not be so fun to ride in this one horse open sleigh, since Savannah, Georgia and Medford, Massachusetts are bickering over where the song was written, according to 90.0 WBUR (Boston’s NPR Radio Station).

The writer of this infamous song, however, is not under dispute. “Jingle Bells” was written by a man named James Pierpont, who lived right next door to us in Medford. He wrote it in the late l880’s, right before his death in 1893.

Some local Medford historians claimed in a 1994 edition of the Medford Citizen that Pierpont was a “complete loser” since he was known to be rowdy and a daydreamer of music. Despite his confusing social status back in the day, Pierpont has notable dedication in the town of Medford.

The town even dedicated a plaque to him. It  reads as:

“Jingle Bells composed here. On this site stood the Simpson Tavern where in 1850 James Pierpont wrote the song “Jingle Bells” in the presence of Mrs. Otis Waterman, who later verified the song written here.”

But, this is not the only town which houses a plaque. In Savannah, Georgia, Pierpont published “Jingle Bells” as “One Horse Open Sleigh”, which of course was later altered. So Savannah wants the rights to the “Jingle Bells” origin, but Medford won’t budge.

Kyna Hamill, co-president of the Medford Historical Society, spoke to 90.0 WBUR:

” . .Our claim is of course the landscape is, the authenticity is that it’s the landscape of Medford.”

But Savannah historian, Hugh Golson, had this argument:

“At the end of the day, we’ve got his mortal remains in our cemetery here. So we’ve got the claim of his DNA in the soil. And he might have had some ditty going in his head, but he never cleaned it up, got it in suitable form to mail in to the publishers until 1857.”

Currently, the debate lives on just as the song does. Both cities may be arguing over where the song deserves to considered made in, but no one can argue that “Jingle Bells” is song that rings true no matter what state you are in.

So maybe these two towns can see eye to eye eventually, and both decide that each of them deserve recognition for the song’s origin?

Maybe after it is finally settled then can go “over the hills, laughing all the way”!

What is your opinion Franklin High?


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