Vermont Flag Site Logo

7th Vermont Infantry

Biography

Marion Ballou Fisk
Lecturer, Illustrator

I recently completed inventorying and transcribing the notes, letters and lectures of my grandmother, Marion Ballou (Aug. 25, 1875-Sept. 15, 1961). She was the only child of Luman Adolphus Ballou, who served with Co. G, 7th Vt. Regt. She married Charles Fisk, and became the family breadwinner. In 1906, she began working as a lecturer and illustrator on the Chautauqua Circuit. She was billed as "America's Foremost Cartoonist Lecturer" until she left Chautauqua in 1926.

I think you'll be interested in one of her anecdotes, which focused on the man who wrote "Tenting Tonight on the Old Camp Ground," Walter Kittredge, whom she met as a little girl. That portion her lecture appears below. Attached also to this e-mail is a photo of Marion Ballou Fisk with her finished landscape.

....About the same time there was born, across the state line in New Hampshire another lad. He, too, was gifted musically, and I do not doubt, but that time him too often came the thought that he "would rather die than hoe beans," but his father and mother were of wiser sort, and they taught him that it was "work first and play afterwards."

But music will out, so one day when the work was done he took the hollow stock of a seed onion, and from it he fashioned himself a flute, and so cunningly had he devised it, that he could really play upon it. When his father saw what the boy had done he felt that perhaps such genius should be encouraged, so he bought him a seraphine, or ancient instrument familiar to few of you here tonight. On this the boy and his sister learned to play. They played everything they knew, and when these were exhausted they made up songs of their own.

So the years passed on until the young man was twenty-one years of age, then he went down to Boston, purchased a horse and wagon, and a little melodion and started out through the countryside giving concerts in schools and churches, and wherever they would give him a hearing.

Then came the time when Uncle Sam touched him upon the shoulder and said, "Come, follow me." I do not doubt but to him, as to every strong young man, came the horror and the dread of war, but it never occurred to him to seek an excuse why he should not enter his country's service. He was away, the night the summons came, and all the way home a little song, both words and music, kept persistently running through his mind. He tried to put it from him, but in vain, so when he had reached home he took down an old violin from the wall, an instrument he had never used before and never did again in the composition of a song, and wrote the simple little piece.

A few days later he went down to Concord, New Hampshire, to take his examination for service, was found to be physically unfit, and was dismissed, so he never did bear arms for his country, but who shall say that he did not render her just as effectual service, for about that time, there was a demand for a song, by which the soldiers might march, and sing in camp. The Oliver Ditson Company had advertised for such a song, and half trembling at his own temerity, the young man sent down the simple little song he had written the night of his draft, offering to sell it to them for the modest price of fifteen dollars.

They tried it over, were disgusted with it, because of its simplicity, and refused to have it at any price. They hired a musician of considerable note to write such a song for them, purchased and published it, but it fell still-born from the press. The soldiers simply wouldn't sing it, that was all. Then, because the call was insistent, and the need was great, they bethought themselves of the little song which they had once refused, purchased and published it, and in less than six weeks it was being sung by every Southern campfire, and in every Northern home.

I very well remember one day when I was a little girl, seeing an eccentric looking man, come driving into our yard [in Windham, Vt.]. He was driving a brown horse, hitched to a pink express wagon, and in the back was strapped a little melodion. My father and mother received him with the greatest joy, and the little melodion was set up in the kitchen, for he would have nothing whatever to do with the parlor. I have always liked to remember that that night I was allowed to sit up, far beyond my usual bedtime, while I listened to my father and mother, and their friend talk, often to be sure about things which I could not understand, but I liked to listen to his kindly voice, and watch his gentle, genial smile.

And at last they sang songs, sometimes songs in which my father and mother joined him, sometimes songs which he sang alone, and at last he told us this little story of his boyhood and youth, practically as I have told it to you tonight, and sang us the little song he had written the night of his draft, the song that has made the name of Walter Kittredge known, and loved, all over our country.

"We are tenting tonight on the old camp ground,
Give us a song to cheer,
Our weary hearts, a song of home,
And the friends we love so dear.

Many are the hearts that are weary tonight,
Wishing for the war to cease,
Many are the hearts, looking for the right,
To see the dawn of Peace.
Tenting tonight, tenting tonight,
Tenting on the old camp ground.

We've been fighting today on the old camp ground.
Many are lying near,
Some are dead, - and some are dying,
Many are in tears.

Many are the hearts that are weary tonight,
Wishing for the war to cease,
Many are the hearts, looking for the right,
To see the dawn of Peace.
Dying tonight, dying tonight,
Dying on the old camp ground.

Marion Ballou Fisk

[This photo of Mrs. Fisk shows her standing in front of her easel with her drawing of the camp ground. (Click on photo for a larger view). She also penned this alternative - additional? - verse:]

We've been tenting tonight on the old Camp ground,
Thinking of days gone by;
Of the loved ones at home that gave us the hand
And the tear that said "Goodbye".
Photograph

[A cut-down postcard of O.L. Farnham, first of Co. A, 1st Vt. Artillery, and then Co. E. 3rd Art. He is posed against Marion Fisk's pastel drawing of a campground she used to illustrate the song, "Tenting Tonight." Farnham at the time, probably 1916, seems to have been a resident at the National Home
in Hot Springs, Arkansas.]

Biographical Note: Marion Ada Ballou Fisk (1875-1961) was raised in the small-town atmosphere of Windham, Vt. She went to school locally, and then to Northfield Seminary for Girls, in Northfield, Mass. Charles Leon Fisk (1868-1933) was coincidentally a student at Mt. Hermon Academy founded, founded by Dwight L. Moody for poor boys, where he worked his way. In summers for a time, he worked at a Wallingford factory.

Finishing at Mt. Hermon, Charles was accepted at Princeton, and graduated in1895. During college, Charles spent summers as cook at the big Northfield Hotel. It was there that he met Marion Ballou. She was a waitress, the most desired waitress in the dining room because she could carry all the orders in her head and remember who ordered what.

From Princeton, Charles went to Chicago Theological Seminary. After his seminary days were over, he accepted a call to an inner-city church, Berea, on Chicago'at Northfield, and she enrolled at the Moody Bible Institute, which was also founded by Dwight Moody, the founder of Mt. Hermon and Northfield.

Charles and Marion were married Apr. 26, 1899, and went to minister together to the people in the Berea Church. At the Sunday School, they had a large number of children whose English was limited, so Marion got out the pastels and paper and, as she told them Bible stories, she drew pictures to help the children understand when she was saying. This was probably the forerunner of her later professional career as a lecturer-cartoonist.

Fisk's promotional material, lecture notes and letters home (1908-26) were transcribed and then donated to the University of Iowa this year. UI, in conjunction with the Library of Congress, has the largest collection of Chautauqua material extent, garnering up to 20,000 hits a month.

Contributed by: Walt Giersbach, great-grandson of Lyman Ballou, 7th Vermont Infantry, who was Marion Ballou Fisk's father.


Ballou homepage 1864 Journal 1865 Journal 1866 Journal Poetry Obituary

Copyright ©2019 Walter Giersbach & VermontCivilWar.Org

Previous Page