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The Footprints mystery

About Janet

Brisbane-based SEO copywriter Janet Camilleri loves writing for the web. In addition to working in content marketing, she also blogs as the Middle Aged Mama, about learning to fashion a new life now that her kids are all grown up. No matter what she writes, or who she is writing for, Janet aims to amuse, inspire or inform - and sometimes, all three!

Most of us are familiar with the inspirational poem, Footprints in the Sand. But who is the author?

"One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord ... "

Who is the real author of the inspirational Footprints in the Sand?.

Who is the real author of the inspirational Footprints in the Sand?

Do you remember this poem? It goes on to say that there were two sets of footprints throughout his life, as he and God had walked together. However, during the hardest times, there was only one set of footprints.

He accused God of abandoning him, right when He was needed most.

Read more from Janet Camilleri: Busting the library myths!

God's answer? "There was only one set of footprints, because those were the times when I carried you."

It has brought hope and encouragement to millions - but it has also been the subject of a bitter battle.

Although many have stepped forward to claim authorship of the Footprints poem, there are three main contenders:

  • Carolyn Carty
  • Margaret Fishback Powers, and
  • Mary Stevenson.
  • Carolyn Carty

    Carolyn Carty says she wrote the Footprints poem in 1963, while grieving the death of her grandfather. She was just six years old. 

    Although this seems an amazing feat, Carolyn was able to read and write fluently from four years old.

    She was inspired by a poem written by her grandmother, as well as Longfellow’s poem A Psalm of Life and John F Kennedy’s immortal words: Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

    Originally content to stay out of the limelight, Carolyn was outraged when others began to claim ownership, and tried to cash in.

    “It is hard to be noble in this situation,” she told me some years ago. "It only came to my attention in 2003 that others were not only claiming authorship, but were collecting money that does not belong to them."

    "None of the proceeds from my poem are out there generating good … it was intended for the Christian communities and other well deserving organizations."

    Margaret Fishback Powers

    Margaret was a young woman considering a marriage proposal, full of hopes - and doubts - for the future, when she is believed to have written Footprints in the Sand in 1964.

    Several years later, the family shifted house and a box of important paperwork (which contained the original Footprints manuscript) was lost forever.

    In the 1980’s, the legendary verse began appearing on everything from greeting cards to tea towels, but it was credited to “author unknown”, much to Margaret’s shock. 

    Her quest to prove her claim was strengthened, when she realised that the poem was recorded in her 1965 wedding album. Margaret thought long and hard about pursuing the matter through legal channels, but felt that this was not what God would have wanted.

    Mary Stevenson

    The story goes that Mary Stevenson wrote Footprints as a 14 year old in 1939. A victim of childhood abuse and neglect, Mary is said to have written the poem one freezing night while locked out of the house.

    Mary went on to become a dancer at a nightclub in Philadelphia, and wrote many copies of Footprints for the other performers.

    As a young woman, she had no idea about copyright laws or making a profit from her work. Footprints was just one of hundreds of poems that she wrote during her lifetime. One, about child abuse, was set to music by a woman called Kathy B Hampton and won Song of the Year from the California Country Music Association in 1986. Proceeds went to child abuse agencies.

    Mary first met Kathy B Hampton in 1979 at a nightclub in Hollywood. As their friendship grew, Mary loaned Hampton a dated copy of the poem. Despite its age and frailty, the document is clearly signed “Mary Stevenson, 1939”.

    After Mary's death in 1999, Kathy’s handwritten copy was confirmed by experts to be the "real thing" - whether this indicates that the paper is old, or the writing itself dates back to the 1930s, is unclear.

    According to Hampton, Mary was heartbroken to see her poem in the public domain as the work of an unknown author

    Interestingly, Mary's son, Basil Zangare, has issued a statement claiming that Kathy posed as both friend and manager to Mary, in order to misappropriate funds from the success of the Footprints poem.

    Solving the Footprints mystery

    So who is telling the truth? Who is the real author?

    Is it possible that they ALL could be?

    As a writer myself, I know that it is not unusual to have an idea for an article, blog post or story - only to see that somebody else has already written it! 

    However, there are usually differences in the way it is actually written. Carolyn Carty’s and Margaret Fishback Powers’ versions differ by only 20 words!

    The Footprints poem talks about God's love and care. If God is indeed, God, I'm sure He would be perfectly capable of giving the same - or very similar – poem to three separate people.

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