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Friday, December 5, 2008

'Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves' or . . . 'Travellers'?

You know how it is when you get a song stuck in your head? Lately for me, it’s been “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” Cher’s classic hit from 1971.

Love. Cher. Love the song. But every time I hear it, which has been for days in my head, I remember an incident from my elementary school days.

For most of my growing-up years in Memphis, my mother worked for a doctor in the downtown medical center. It was not unusual for me to end up at their office after school and follow them through the Baptist Hospital as they made rounds. One afternoon, mother and I walked in the main door on Madison and through the lobby to the elevators. I paid no attention to the crowd in the lobby and restaurant. As the elevator doors closed behind us, Mother remarked that the gypsy king must be in the hospital. To my fascination, she went on to say that any time the king was hospitalized, most of his clan came to the hospital and stayed until he was discharged. She said they would be everywhere. A limited number would be allowed in his room, so the remainder filled other waiting rooms and restaurants throughout the large hospital. It sounded very romantic and mystical to me.

Because Cher’s song has been stuck in my head for so long, I mentioned it earlier this week to my hairdresser and relayed my “gypsy king” story. She wasn’t surprised at all. “Sure,” she said. “We had gypsies coming in here all day on Saturday.”

Sally said that she and the other stylists presumed that there must have been a gypsy wedding or other major function that night. Groups of dark-haired women pulled up to the salon all day driving a Cadillac or Lexus. She said they are pale-skinned and all look much alike. They also wear very expensive clothes and globs of jewelry.

“Once you’ve done their hair, you know what they want,” Sally said. “They like really big hair – mostly in the same style. And they want tons of hair spray. Heaven forbid that any strand would move.” At the end of the day, a can of her expensive hair spray had unfortunately disappeared. Must have been a coincidence.

Sally said that she sees them occasionally in shopping centers in the area. So I sat down to do some research today. The first reference I found for gypsies related the various European origins of the clans or tribes and led me to discovering the group known as the Irish Travellers (the double “L” spelling preferred by them). The Travellers . . .

emigrated to America in the 19th century, settled mostly in South Carolina, but there are other clan groups with almost no intermingling and even barriers of mutual suspicion between regions. The South Carolina group, numbering perhaps 3,000, lives in the gated community of Murphy Village. All closely related, they share only a dozen surnames: Carroll, Costello, Gorman, O'Hara, Sherlock and a few others. Other, smaller Traveler groups can be found in White Settlement, Texas, near Fort Worth. These Travelers are known as the Greenhorns. Another group settled outside Memphis and is known as the Mississippi Travelers, named after the river.

Other readings indicated that the large, local tribe lives in a well-maintained mobile home park south of the Memphis airport. Most residences have expansive, brick porches and patios. Many have statues of saints in their small yards.

Many references detail the alleged scams that are said to be the lifeblood of Traveller economic viability. They are said to be secretive and use multiple IDs to make it difficult for “the system” to track them. If you’re interested in reading more about the Travellers, here are two good articles:

If you’d just like to enjoy Cher, here are links to “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” and an excellent rendition of “Walking in Memphis.”


Order of St. Joseph - Franciscan said...

I know you probably meant no harm but please don't say "you've researched something" when you don't have the facts. The Irish Travelers (single l) in USA are not gypsies. In Ireland they are a "recognized" ethnic group.

The Travelers in the USA are decent people who maintain their culture and traditions. As with any group or family for that matter, some individuals do not follow the "right path". But as a "community" they are some of the nicest, devoted to family people you would ever meet.

Let's not be prejudiced by smear commentary.


Scarlett said...

Thank you for your input. We welcome a variety of opinions and comments.

Anonymous said...

i am a irsh traveler not a gypse we beleive in god and are devote catholics and dont think that you should be so quick to juge!!! people just by looking at them but i bet your a very rascist person to bad it must be hard to carry that around!!!!

Scarlett said...

I'm sorry if what I wrote was offensive. It was not intended as such.

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brad blackwell said...

Tracker gypsys SUCK