BlackJack Extra Liner Notes

9. Mist Covered Mountains of Home

Our first recording of this song appeared on our debut CD Hello, Sailor in 1997. That version reflects our typical performance of "Mist" as a rousing piece with a strong, driving beat. Near the end of the song, we change the mood by slowing down and singing the chorus in gaelic. In 1999, I released my first solo CD I feel my heart fly, which included "Mist" sung entirely in Gaelic at a much slower pace. It has a wistful and tender quality, almost like a lullaby.

Nearly 20 years after Hello, Sailor, we were discussing what we wanted to sing at the Maryland Renaissance Festival's Pub Sing. Our friend and fellow castmember Jim Greene said that he was a big fan of my Gaelic version of "Mist." We all talked about it and decided to try something different with the song. We decided to sing the verses twice -- first in Gaelic followed by the English translation. But we ran out of time to rehearse before Pub Sing began. Thankfully, we were all so familiar and comfortable with the music that we just went for it.

I love the creative process of developing arrangements for songs. It's a great feeling to get to that moment when we're saying, "This sounds really good." Usually that happens during rehearsal in someone's living room, but this arrangement was literally born onstage at the Maryland Renaissance Festival in 2006. The fact that we all shared that sense of discovery with hundreds of fans made it even more special.
-- Darcy Nair

13. Lord Franklin -- liner notes written by Craig Williams

Unlike most true stories that we tell this one is true. John Franklin was a British Arctic explorer who was famous for leading three expeditions to map the North of Canada. The first two expeditions were successful. The third was not.

Franklin set out in May of 1845 to search for the fabled Northwest Passage. This channel had been reported in the 1600s by Martin Frobisher as extending from the Hudson Bay to the north of California. If it actually existed, it would have given England a huge advantage as a trade route to the riches of the Orient.

The only problem was that Frobisher lied. But he didn't much care, as he died highly regarded and with his fraud unexposed. Explorers who couldn't find his passage during his lifetime were simply told that they had missed it.

Franklin came along some 200 years later as one of many who vainly tried to reproduce Frobisher's "discovery."

When Franklin embarked on his expedition, more than a decade had passed since he was last in the Arctic. Franklin was 60 years old and out of shape. But when the mission was being planned, one of his friends in the Admiralty was said to remark, "If we don't give this mission to John it will just kill him."

Franklin and his crew left port on an apparently well-stocked expedition. Their ships, the Erebus and the Terror, were the most advanced research vessels at England's command, the era's equivalent to today's Space Shuttles. The two sailing ships were equipped with steam engines to drive them through polar seas if the winds failed.

The Erebus had just completed a mapping expedition to Antarctica; a large active volcano there bears her name.

Franklin's ships were last seen by Europeans when they met with a whaling ship in Greenland's Davis Strait late in 1845. Five crewmembers left the expedition at that time and returned to England via the whaler and another ship. The men had no way of knowing it at the time, but they would be the only survivors of the expedition.

The first year went well, with the mapping and circumnavigation of Cornwallis Island. The crew spent their first and second winters at their camp on little Beechy Island, living on the ships, in tenting and in rude stone huts.

Three men died during this period. This was not an unexpected number of deaths, as it was a dangerous job. When the pack ice began breaking up the crew turned south.

Franklin and his crew had been scheduled to return some time after three years. As time stretched on suspicions began to grow that something unfortunate had happened. The British Admiralty, The navies of many nations, and Franklin's wife responded by sending out missions to learn their fate.

The Admiralty gradually lost interest after several attempts to try to find the missing men; but Franklin's young wife Jane refused to give up. In May of 1859, 14 years after she last saw her husband, the search party that Mrs. Franklin sponsored found proof that all were dead.

Just two and a half years after leaving port, both ships and 129 crewmembers including Franklin, 14 officers, and three royal marines had been lost.

The only written record of the fate of the crew was on an official Admiralty form left in a marker structure built near the ships' final resting place (Stan Rogers' famed "lonely cairn of long forgotten stone" in his song "Northwest Passage"). The information in the center of the form dated 1846 described the successful Cornwallis venture and the crew's return to Beechey.

A very different description, written in June of 1847, meandered outward toward the edges in a rough spiral of despair. It told of the deaths of Franklin, 9 officers, and 15 men to that point. The two ships had been crushed by ice and partially sunk off King William Island. The remaining members of the crew would later attempt to trek to safety across broken ice.

They dragged a one half ton long boat on a heavy wooden sledge. The boat carried a writing desk, powdered chocolate, (a flavoring, not food) formal clothing, and an amazing array of other useless items. The boat was abandoned after the crew had dragged it more than 50 miles across ice, snow, and rocky tundra. It also held two skeletons.

The ever-weakening band headed for the mouth of the Back River, hundreds of miles away to the southeast. It was a curious choice of direction, as they knew that whaling ships could be found in the bays to the north-northeast. There were dark rumors of cannibalism from Inuit witnesses. It's still possible to find bone fragments of the few crew who lasted the whole gruesome trek but perished at the frozen mouth of the river, an area now known as Starvation Cove. Some of the bones show cuts from European cutting tools.

Decades later an Inuit woman recalled that as a girl she had seen "a line of white men marching across the ice and falling dead as they marched."

Many Franklin Expedition artifacts were eventually recovered from foraging Inuits -- in their harsh homeland they knew better than to waste any resources that chance had brought to them.

Various contemporary investigating panels were established to look into the disasterous expedition. The company that supplied tinned soups and meats to the expedition had been previously cited for the low quality of their products. Large lumps of lead solder from the can seams were in contact with the food. One warehoused can from Franklin's stock that was labeled as horsemeat was found to contain the fetid skull of a dog -- investigators were said to have been driven from the warehouse by the stench. It's also likely that the supplies had lost nutrient value because of the primitive state of food preservation techniques.

In the 1980s Canadian forensic pathologist Owen Beatty and his team exhumed the bodies of the three crewmembers who died on Beechey Island. The bodies revealed clues to the tragic mistakes that doomed the crew.

Beatty's team took an amazing photograph of the body of collier John Torrington. The state of preservation of his corpse was astounding; one could easily tell that he had blue eyes and ginger hair.

Tests showed highly elevated levels of lead in remains of the three buried at Beechy. Torrington had over 20 times the lead common to Europeans of the period. His remains also showed signs of malnutrition and tuberculosis. Similar results were found in the bodies of his crewmates.

Beatty also found the same lead solder on the remains of cans in the trash dump that Franklin's men left on Beechey Island. It's likely that lead from their food supply slowly poisoned them, confused them, and made them susceptible to illnesses. Lead also could have prevented proper absorption of nutrients from the food, resulting in their malnutrition. The three members who died on Beechey perished early in the voyage. Forensic tests on bone fragments from the path to Starvation Cove showed that the process had continued.

In the final analysis the poor food, inadequate planning, and unusually harsh weather probably combined to doom Franklin and his companions.

The failure of the expedition staggered Great Britain and was a topic of common conversation for many years.

Ironically, the rescue attempts that followed Franklin were responsible to the discovery of the actual passage, such as it was. Centuries after Frobisher's lie sent waves of explorers to sea, a dismal and ice-choked Northwest Passage was found and discarded as useless.