Harrisburg – Josh Ritter
In Josh Ritter’s song “Harrisburg” off of his 2001 album The Golden Age of Radio, he tells the story of a man named Romero who has fallen out of faith and abandons his family to look for a life in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
When Romero leaves, he abandons both his belief in God as well as his family. Romero never makes it to Harrisburg; rather, he “dies in a hole in between.” This story follows the folkloric tradition of those who betray being punished to wander and to never reach their destination. The most famous Biblical example of this sort of punishment is the story of Cain and Abel where Cain betrays his family ties and kills his brother. God then punishes him in Genesis 4:16 by forcing him to wander the Land of Nod, which is located East of Eden. This is saying that the depth of separation that Romero feels is something beyond physical detachment, but spiritual as well.
Ritter also makes a connection to Cain and Abel’s parents, Adam and Eve, in the last lines of the song where Ritter sings “Me, I believe that the Garden of Eden/ Was burned to make way for a train”. Ritter is saying here that just as Adam and Eve wanted to more than God would allow them, so to did Romero. Both were looking for a Paradise greater than the one that they inhabited, and because of that want for more, neither got it.
The use of the name Romero is significant in this song. The word “Romero” is steeped in religious significance. During the Crusades, Romero was a name that was used to refer to the Western European (Roman) pilgrims that were making the pilgrimage through the East to the Holy Land. The word “romero” is also Spanish for rosemary, the bush that the Spanish believed helped give shelter to the Virgin Mary to flee to Egypt to escape King Herrod’s wrath. Both of these interpretations set up Romero as a character bound for movement from the very beginning, as a character that is attempting to flee his old life to find a new one in the paradise of Harrisburg.