“Sheet Mill Man”


"Go away, go away, you sheet mill man, There's a better job in a distant land." The singer plans to head for Knoxville, but arrives home "condemned to die." People cheat him of his pay. He asks to be buried with with "an old flat sheet"


Nowhere in Henry's (seemingly unique) text does it explain why the sheet mill worker is condemned to die; he goes away to marry a wife in Knoxville, but he comes home sounding like a condemned prisoner. Is it that he cannot find a job elsewhere and so simply has to return to the old grind? Or is it perhaps an industrial accident? The informant learned it at an aluminum plant in Alcoa, Tennessee -- but, at the time this song was composed, there does not seem to have been any reason to think aluminum dangerous. John Emsley, _Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements_, Oxford, 2001, 2003, p. 22. reports that high blood levels of aluminum can cause "dialysis dementia," but this was not known until the 1970s. - RBW


  1. MHenry-Appalachians, pp. 12-13, "Sheet Mill Man" (1 text)
  2. BI, MH012


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1934 (Henry)
Found in: US(Ap)