“The Crying Family (Imaginary Trouble)”


Tom is courting Nancy; her parents worry. Old Kate fears that the lovers will have a child who will drown. She tells the young ones, and "They all went crying home, Tom, old man, wife and daughter. Each night the ghost doth come and cries upon the water"

Supplemental text

Crying Family, The (Imaginary Trouble)
  Complete text(s)

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Imaginary Trouble

From Anne Warner, Traditional American Folk Songs from the Anne &
Frank Warner Collection, #62, pp, 162-163. From the singing of
Lena Bourne Fish of New Hampshire. Collected 1940.

There lived, as I've heard say,
Down by a running water,
An old man and his wife
Who had a charming daughter.

One night said Kate to John,
"I've had a troubled fancy,
I heard the waters roar
And thought upon our Nancy."

"If Tom and Nance should wed,
And such a thing there may be,
Their marriage might bring about
A prattling little baby."

"When that dear babe could walk,
And just begin to waddle,
Perchance he might come here
And in the water paddle."

"I know he will be drowned,
I hear those waters calling,
'O pretty sweet baby.'"
And both began a-bawling.

No doubt but it was fate
That brought those lovers walking
To where old John and Kate
Were a-sighing and a-talking.

They all sat on the green,
While Katie told her fancy,
How they did weep and wail,
Tom, old man, Kate, and Nancy.

They all went crying home,
Tom, old man, wife, and daughter
Each night the ghost doth come
And cries upon the water.


This is believed to be the only ballad in which the ghost of someone who never existed appears. One wonders whose achievement is greater -- the ghost's or the songwriter's.

Flanders compares this with item #34 in the Grimm collection, "Die kluge Else" ("Clever Else"). This is sort of semi-true: In the folktale, Else and her family are paralyzed by fear of a future disaster to a child. But while the gimmick is the same (monomaniacal fears of an improbable and preventable death), the plot is quite different. - RBW


  1. Warner 62, "Imaginary Trouble" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. ST Wa062 (Full)
  4. Roud #4653
  5. BI, Wa062


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1940 (Warner)
Keywords: ghost courting
Found in: US(NE)