The Deadly Mystery of Gloomy Sunday
March 24, 2014
Sara Marie Hogg
“The curse of the Ninth Symphony, now that is chilling!” Stuart exclaimed to Garrett, after his best friend had told him this tale.
“Isn’t that unbelievable?” Garrett asked. “I thought you would like that. It seems that there were many composers that died while in the process of writing a Ninth Symphony.”
“I know I will not write a Ninth Symphony, now,” Stuart said in jest.
“When I told this story to my father, God rest his soul, he just laughed. He often did laugh and shake his head when I told him strange stories that I kind of believed in. I imagine he wondered how he, with such a logical and scientific mind, could produce a child so interested in the mysteries of the unknown. I would imagine that he would call me The King of Gullible behind my back, or Alternate Universe Garrett.”
“Let’s see. I will be thinking up a good nickname for you!” Stuart had a smirk on his face.
“But even with his scientific mind, he did sometimes cross over into the gray areas, and that is when I could sometimes get a tidbit or two from him. He loved the works of Edgar Allan Poe and read them frequently. He loved pulp fiction mysteries of Micky Spillane. “The Most Dangerous Game” was his favorite short story.
“A tidbit? So tell me a tidbit your father gave you about something.” Stuart was now very curious.
“Okay. The mystery is not so much the mystery of the topic, but why my father believed in it. Why did he believe it would even be possible to happen? It defies rational thinking.”
“What? Spit it out! I’m waiting on tenterhooks.”
“I had been explaining this Curse of the Ninth to him, with his regular head-shaking and laughing, and then his expression changed and he got all serious. Let me point out, that he was in high school during The Great Depression and saw those sorrowful times first hand. Many resorted to desperate measures just to survive. Then, in the midst of The Depression there was a song, he said, a song that created great despair in the hearts of many who even listened to it.”
“What was the song?” Stuart asked. “Surely it was not Take a Cold, Cold Tater and Wait.”
“In English-speaking countries it was known as ‘Gloomy Sunday.’” It is also known as the Hungarian Suicide Song.” When my father explained the basic facts, it was then my turn to shake my head and laugh.”
“You didn’t believe it?”
“I didn’t know what to believe until I learned more. I was acting a part. I wanted to see what my father would do if I pretended not to believe him. Many people do not believe in all of the strange coincidences connected to the song, but clearly, my father, who lived during those desperate times, believed that some of the people had actually committed suicide after hearing it. People in Europe who heard the Hungarian version had done so, as had some who had later heard the English version. Father did not waver. He had heard or read the radio and newspaper reports of the deaths in real time. He was convinced that some of the cases were genuine. Billie Holiday recorded a version of it as did many, many artists. Her version was banned by the BBC. An instrumental version was allowed, however.”
“No. Really? This is so creepy. Let’s see what all we can dig up on it.”
Garrett left the room and returned with his laptop.
The laptop provided all of the details Stuart and Garrett were seeking. It seems that the song was composed in 1932 by Rezso Seress and published in 1933. The lyrics were written in 1932 by Laszlo Javor, after his love had left him. It is also known as Sad Sunday. His own lyrics were inspired by the split with his fiancé and in the lyrics, he promised to meet her in the afterlife. They are translated as:
On a sad Sunday with one hundred white flowers, I was
waiting for your, my dear, with a church prayer, that dream-
chasing Sunday morning. The chariot of my sadness returned
without you. Ever since then, Sundays are always sad, tears
are my drink, and sorrow is my bread. Sad Sunday. Last
Sunday, my dear, please come along. There will even be
priest, coffin, catafalque, hearse cloth. Even then flowers will
be awaiting you, flowers and coffin. Under blossoming trees
my journey shall be the last. My eyes will be open so that I
can see you one more time. Do not be afraid of my eyes, as
I am blessing you even in death.
When released as a recording in Hungarian by Paul Kalmar in1935, it became popular and was associated with a spike in the number of suicides. Some people actually threw themselves into the Danube holding the sheet music in their hands. Javor’s ex-fiancé is reported to have been one of them.
Gloomy Sunday has been recorded and performed by many including Paul Whiteman, Etta Jones and Lou Rawls. The lyrics have often been shuffled around and in one version it is explained to be a dream sequence in the actual lyrics of the song (I’m Sitting on Top of the World).
After they had boned up for the whole afternoon on the subject of Gloomy Sunday, Stuart turned to Garrett, finally, and said, “I don’t know about you, but I believe it actually happened, logical or not.”
“Yeah, I have always believed it to be true, myself,” Garrett replied. “Even though it is on You Tube, I do not care to listen to it at this time—too gloomy. I think “Monday, Monday” is more to my taste, today.” Garrett popped a Mamas and Papas album into the cassette and hit “play. “You know what they say. ‘It’s not over ‘til the somthin’ or other lady sings.’”
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