The Ambiguous Origins of the Hokey Pokey

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

"You put your right foot in,
You put your right foot out,
You put your right foot in,
And you shake it all about.
You do the Hokey Pokey,
And you turn it all around,
That's what it's all about..."

No other song seems to symbolize a good time for people and bring smiles to their faces to quite the same extent as "The Hokey Pokey." But where did this quirky song come from? It's complicated.

LONDON ORIGINS

In 1942, Irish songwriter and publisher Jimmy Kennedy, best known for "The Teddy Bear's Picnic," created a dance, and an instructional song to go with it, called "The Hokey Cokey."

Written to entertain Canadian troops stationed in London, the song was similar to the "Hokey Pokey" we all know today.

Composer Al Tabor was also entertaining Canadian troops in wartime London, and in 1942 he wrote a participation dance song called "The Hokey Pokey." He claims the name came from the London ice cream vendors of his youth, called "Hokey Pokey Men." The accompanying dance was very similar to Kennedy's.

MEANWHILE, ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE POND ...

In 1946, totally unaware of the British "Hokey Cokey" and "Hokey Pokey," two Scranton, Pennsylvania musicians—Robert Degan and Joe Brier—recorded "The Hokey-Pokey Dance" to entertain summer vacationers at Poconos Mountains resorts. The song was a regional favorite at dances and resorts for the rest of the 1940s, but that still isn't the song we know today.

To confuse matters even more, British bandleader Gerry Hoey also claimed to have authored a similar tune, "The Hoey Oka," in 1940.

BUT THE ONE WE KNOW TODAY ...

The general belief is that Charles Mack, Taft Baker, and Larry Laprise wrote the American version of the song "The Hokey Pokey" in 1949 to entertain skiers at the Sun Valley Resort in Idaho. The song was a hit at the resorts, so Laprise recorded it.

The recording flopped, but Degan and Brier found out about it and sued Laprise for ripping off their "Hokey-Pokey Dance." Despite the fact that his version came out after theirs, Laprise won the rights to anything having to do with "The Hokey Pokey."

In 1953, Ray Anthony's orchestra recorded it—a double A-side single with "The Bunny Hop"—and it made it to #13 on the charts. That's the version we know today.

A MAGICAL HISTORY

The origins of the song, though, go back even further. Some argue that "The Hokey Pokey" (or "Cokey") is a corruption of "hocus pocus," the familiar term used by magicians.

"Hocus pocus" derives, in turn, from a Latin line in the Catholic Mass, "Hoc corpus meum" ("This is my body"), indicating the transformation of the communion "bread" into the body of Jesus Christ.

The dance that goes along with the song—in which the participants all dance in a ring, putting the relevant arm or foot in or out, and then shaking it around—goes back a fair way, too.

Similar dances and songs were recorded in Robert Chambers's Popular Rhymes of Scotland (1826); other versions have been traced to 17th-century minstrels.

THE REAL ORIGIN?

But the earliest accurate record, so far, of the song we all know and love is from an account, dated 1857, of two sisters from Canterbury, England, on a trip to Bridgewater, New Hampshire. During their visit, they taught the locals a song that went something like this:

"I put my right hand in,
I put my right hand out,
I give my hand a shake, shake, shake,
And I turn myself about."

Apparently, the performance of the song—called "Right Elbow In" and several verses long—was accompanied by "appropriate gestures" and was danced with a slow, rhythmic motion.

Whether or not an earlier reference will ever be found, it seems the origins of "The Hokey Pokey" do not lie in America, as currently claimed. The song was merely imported there. The song's great popularity definitely makes it a part of Americana, however.

Eddie Deezen has appeared in over 30 motion pictures, including Grease, WarGames, 1941, and The Polar Express. He's also been featured in several TV shows, including Magnum PI, The Facts of Life, and The Gong Show. And he's done thousands of voice-overs for radio and cartoons, such as Dexter's Laboratory and Family Guy.

The Time the U.S. Government Planned to Nuke Alaska

iStock.com/mesut zengin
iStock.com/mesut zengin

In the 1950s, the idea of harnessing nuclear power was a bit of a public relations disaster. The world at large knew nuclear bombs only as tools of mass death and destruction. But if the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC)—later the Department of Energy—had its way, nuclear explosions would have been reinvented as peacetime assets to humanity.

As proof of concept, the AEC planned to nuke Alaska.

Atlas Obscura details the plot, which reads almost as farce. In the late 1950s, the AEC was developing Project Plowshare, a plan to repurpose thermonuclear weapons to change the literal face of the Earth. Imagine blasting through mountains to create railways or widening the Panama Canal. The instantaneous landscape shifts caused by such weapons were economically attractive—saving on labor costs—and might also provide access to natural resources like oil. The excavation and fracking potential seemed limitless.

In 1958, the AEC and physicist Edward Teller proposed the first step in this bold new direction: Project Chariot. The plan was to detonate a 1-megaton H-bomb near Cape Thompson in Alaska along with several other, smaller explosions to create a crater 1000 feet in diameter and 110 feet deep. The resulting deepwater harbor would facilitate mineral mining and fishing access. The U.S. government rhapsodized about the idea in the media, claiming the then-contemporary weapons had low fallout and would create a port that would be nothing but a net gain for Alaskans.

Residents, however, met these plans with a degree of skepticism. The Inuit population who lived nearby and would have to cope with the radioactive consequences of such a scheme voiced their opposition to the idea. They pointed to earlier test blasts that showed radioactivity showering the vicinity. In 1954, a blast in the Bikini Atoll had a nuclear fallout of 7000 square miles in the Pacific Ocean. Owing to such tests, the Inuit were already demonstrating heightened radioactivity levels. So were the caribou they ingested. The notion of a “clean” nuclear bomb was something no one wanted to test with their own life.

Project Chariot never materialized, and the idea of wielding nuclear power to replace manual labor was laid to rest by 1977.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

Vermont and Maine Are Replacing Columbus Day With Indigenous Peoples' Day

David Ryder/Getty Images
David Ryder/Getty Images

The narrative surrounding Christopher Columbus has shifted in recent years, leading some U.S. states and cities to reconsider glorifying the figure with his own holiday. If the governors of Vermont and Maine sign their new bills into law, the two states will become the latest places to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day, CNN reports.

In 1971, the Uniform Holiday Bill went into effect, officially designating Columbus Day as a federal holiday to be celebrated on the second Monday of October. The holiday was originally meant to recognize the "discovery" of America—a version of history that erases the people already living on the continent when Columbus arrived and ignores the harm he inflicted.

As Columbus's popularity decreases in the U.S., some places have embraced Indigenous Peoples' Day: A day dedicated to Native American culture in history. The holiday is already observed in Seattle, Washington; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Alaska. Earlier this year, Sandusky, Ohio announced they would swap Columbus Day for Voting Day and give municipal workers the election Tuesday of November off instead.

Indigenous Peoples' Day has been celebrated in place of Columbus Day in Vermont for the past few years, but a new bill would make the change permanent. The Vermont state legislature has voted yes on the bill, and now it just needs approval from Governor Phil Scott, which he says he plans to give. If he passes the law, it will go into effect on October 14, 2019 (the date Columbus Day falls on this year).

Maine voted on a similar bill in March, and it gained approval from both the state's Senate and House of Representatives. Like Governor Scott, Maine governor Janet Mills plans on signing her state's bill and making the holiday official.

Regardless of the legal status of Columbus Day, Indigenous Peoples' Day celebrations take place across the country every October. South Dakota hosts Native American Day festivities at the Crazy Horse Memorial each year, and in Seattle, Indigenous Peoples celebrations last a whole week.

[h/t The Washington Post]

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