The Baggage Coach Ahead

In the year 2000, I attended our family reunion in Rochester, New York, and received a copy of the Kent/Merrill Family Tree. In the introduction of the document, reference was made to a song that had been written about one of our ancestors, so I decided to continue the research - and this is what I found. 1

1896 Publication
Original publication 1896
Howley, Haviland & Co.,
New York, New York
The Song

"In The Baggage Coach Ahead" is a song written by Gussie Davis and was first published in 1896. It tells the story of a man traveling by train with a small baby. It was late at night and the baby was crying inconsolably. The other passenger became irate when the man could not quiet the baby and demanded to know why the mother wasn't seeing to the needs of the infant. The man explained that the mother had died and that her coffin was "in the baggage coach ahead". At hearing this, the other passengers, touched by his grief, rallied around him and helped care for the baby.

View Lyrics

According to the biography of Gussie Davis,4 "When Mr. Davis was a railroad porter, he found a young child crying. The child's mother was "in the car ahead", in a coffin. A fellow porter, moved by the tale, wrote a poem about it." The article went on to say that it was "years later" that Mr. Davis set the poem to music, and sold it to publisher Howley, Haviland and Dresser. This song became his biggest hit.

Our Story

According to the introduction in the Kent/Merrill Family Tree, the song, "In The Baggage Coach Ahead", was written about our ancestors Ralph Kent and his first wife, Edith Merrill. However, as the song was first published in 1896 and, according to the author's biography, was inspired by an event that occurred "years" earlier; I have come to the conclusion that this song could not have been written about Ralph and Edith (Merrill) Kent, who died in 1923. Instead, I believe it was inspired by an event that may have involved Ralph's parents, Judson and Dora (Begore) Kent in 1890.

The Kent/Merrill Family Tree documents that Judson Kent's first wife, Dora, gave birth to a daughter (Anna) in 1890, and died that same year. Furthermore, the Gravel Family Tree confirms this information and adds that Dora died February 17th in Leadville, Colorado, and that her cause of death was childbirth.6

This raises the questions--Is it possible Judson transported his wife's body from Colorado to New York (by train) for burial? And, if so, was this the event that inspired the song "In The Baggage Coach Ahead"?

1924 Publication
1924 Publication
Edw. B. Marks Music Co.,
New York

I'll let you decide.



     On October 5, 2006 I received an email from Mrs. Phyllis (Stewart) Lester with additional information regarding "The Baggage Coach Ahead". Here is what she wrote:

"About the "Baggage Coach Ahead," I remember Mom telling us that Grandpa Merril, or Kent wrote it on the train, while bringing Grandma's body back to Chatagua Lake for burial."

"I remembered that when I was around 11, or 12, and was first taking piano lessons that Mom asked me to ask my teacher about the song/poem. She went on to explain, that it was written about Grandma Dora who had died, and the trip Grandpa made to bring her back for burial. I didn't think much about it until years later when I was about 20, or so. I remember wanting to write the story down because I thought it would be something to tell my kids about. Whoever worte about the story for the Family reunion must have misunderstood, or confused the players, and how it went. Mystery solved, and the players are now known."


The Music

In The Baggage Coach Ahead
a song by Gussie Davis


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You have been listening to "In The Baggage Coach Ahead" by Gussie Davis.

1. Note: My internet search returned 11,163 references using this song's title.
2. Historical American Sheet Music, "In The Baggage Coach Ahead", Music #572 no. 9, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library.
3. Ozark Mountain Folk Songs, The Max Hunter Folk Song Collection, Southwest Missouri State University
Department of Music,   Vocal renditions and variations.
4. Excerpt from Big Bands Database Plus, A Composer's and Lyricists Database,
'D' Biographies, Gussie Davis.

5. UCLA, Archive of Popular American Music. In The Baggage Coach Ahead, 1924.
6. The Gravel Family Tree Published at World Family Tree, Vol 4, Tree 420.

Created on ... June 11, 2004