“Margaret Snyder’s “Witchcraft” became a favorite song my first week at Camp Yenis Hante. Even now, more than half a century later, the words “. . . a winding road that beckons me to roam . . .” take me back to an evening gathering of girls singing the haunting melody, their faces lit by firelight.
In the last decade I became curious about the song. Friends who had attended Camp Fire Girls’ camps in other places knew “Witchcraft.” Those who had been Girl Scouts didn’t. Who was Margaret Snyder? When and why did she compose “Witchcraft”? With some Internet hints I was able to trace her to the University of Wisconsin. Cathy Jacobs at the UW-Madison Archives, kindly sent me copies of newspaper articles from the Wisconsin State Journal and the Wisconsin Alumnus.
An October 1945 article says that Margaret Snyder lived on a 4 ½ acre farm with two other women and they raised chickens, fruit and vegetables, selling “More than $100 worth of produce at their roadside stand this year.” Besides being an accomplished musician and organist at St. John’s Lutheran church Margaret Snyder was assistant buyer at the Wisco Hardware Co. She had also served for two years as Business and Industrial secretary for the YWCA. The article continues:
An active member of the B and PW [Business and Professional Women] club, she has served as editor of the Wisconsin Business Woman and also has achieved fame as the composer of the national B and PW song, “Witchcraft.” Miss Snyder, a member of Sigma Alpha Iota, studied music at the University of Wisconsin and has always been a prominent member of musical circles here.
“Witchcraft” seems rather dreamy for a business-woman’s song, but perhaps the women went to camp.
Patricia Averill, in her very comprehensive Camp Songs, Folk Songs says “Margaret Snyder composed the song in 1935 for a girls’ camp, probably the Y’s Maria Olbrich . . . on Lake Mendota near Madison, Wisconsin.” Averill adds that the song became part of the sorority tradition and that Kappa Kappa Gamma published a version in 1945. According to Averill, Snyder helped to organize an alumnae chapter of the music honorary Sigma Alpha Iota in Madison and after she died in 1961 her estate when to the music honorary’s loan fund to help music students. (pp. 348-349)
“Witchcraft” is listed in the Catalog of Copyright Entries: Musical Compositions, Part 3 for the first half of 1937. The copyright entry lists it as piano music with words and is dated March 17, 1937. Camp Fire Girls discovered the song the same year it was copyrighted. The words appear on page 60 of the 1937 Sing with the Detroit Camp Fire Girls without acknowledging the song’s composer creator. The song is also in the 1939 Camp Songs ‘N’ Things, which is not a Camp Fire publication, where it is used by permission.
“Witchcraft” is found in other camp song books published by the Cooperative Recreation Service, (now World Around Songs), and in the Camp Fire publication Music Makers. The Camp Wyandot Song Book’s version replaces “me” with “us” in the second and fourth lines and the last two lines are “Memories that linger, tender and true, Bring back sweet visions, dear Camp Wyandot of you” instead of “Mem-‘ries that linger, constant and true, Mem-‘ries we cherish, _ _ _ of you,” which are found in other versions and are probably the original works. At Yenis Hante we always filled in the blank spaces with “Yenis Hante,” although “Yenis Hante of you” doesn’t really make very much sense.
Wisconsin Alumnus Volume 59 Number 10 for February 1958 noted “Margaret SNYDER ’33, WHO WORKS AT Demco Library Supplies in Madison, composes music in her spare time and recently had one of her songs, “Witchcraft” recorded by Prudence and Patience, best-selling young vocalists.” There are several YouTube videos of Prudence and Patience singing “Witchcraft”; while the music is the same, the lyrics have been changed.
In 2005 Dough Bright, discussing Prudence & Patience McIntyre wrote:
The hauntingly wistful “(if there were) Witchcraft” was an Audrey McIntyre rewrite of a song written in 1937 for a YWCA camp. While the horn section riffed gently under a luxuriant string section, the girls convincingly delivered the number in three-part harmony, with Patience overdubbing the third part. It was an artistic masterpiece that should have succeeded in the mainstream pop market, but nothing came of it.
Margaret Snyder died in 1961 and we may never know the circumstances which inspired her song. However, “Witchcraft” will continue to haunt my daydreams of Camp Yenis Hante.