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Was ‘Jingle Bells’ born in Medford?

Perennial controversy

Jack Berry/Flickr

Editor’s note: This post was updated from one originally published in December 2016.

There is a plaque on the building at 19 High Street in Medford that touts the city as the birthplace of the iconic Christmas carol “Jingle Bells.”

Thing is, though, it’s most definitely inaccurate. Composer James Pierpont is said to have composed it in 1850 in Medford’s old Simpson Tavern, drawing inspiration from the sleigh races held then on Salem Street (the tune was originally called “One Horse Open Sleigh”).

Fresh research, though, shows that Pierpont wasn’t living in the Boston area at the time—he was a continent away in San Francisco. What’s more, it appears that Pierpont probably wrote “Jingle Bells” in Boston in 1857, near where it was first performed.

Kyna Hamill, a theater historian at Boston University and a research volunteer at the Medford Historical Society, dug up the details (and Billy Baker laid them out in detail in the Globe).

Suffice to say, Medford’s powers that be are having none of it: The plaque is staying at 19 High Street.