Did William McKinley’s assassination start the “White House Blues?”


Charlie Poole with the North Carolina Ramblers - Monkey on a String / White House Blues

Record label of the 1926 recording of “White House Blues,” by Charlie Poole with the North Carolina Ramblers

We noted the birthday of William McKinley on Monday, January 29.

Long-time reader Ellie commented with the lyrics to a song called “White House Blues,” starting out with a lament about McKinley’s being shot. The song was new to me, so I asked about it. Ellie gave us a good encyclopedia entry.

Ellie’s first comment:

The pistol fires, McKinley falls
Doc says, “McKinley, I can’t find that ball”
In Buffalo, in Buffalo

Zolgotz, Zolgotz you done him wrong
You shot poor McKinley while he was walking along
In Buffalo, Buffalo

Well, Doc had a horse and he threw down the rein
He said to that horse, “You better outrun this train”
From Buffalo to Washington

Yeah, Doc come a-running and he tore off his specs
He said, “Mr. McKinley, done cashed in your checks
You’re bound to die, you’re bound to die”

McKinley he hollered, McKinley he squalled
The doc say, “McKinley, I can’t find that ball”
In Buffalo to Washington

Look here, little rascal, just look what you’ve done
You shot my husband with that Ivor Johnstone gun
He’ll be gone a long, long time.

Well hush up, little children, don’t you fret
You’ll draw a pension off your poor papa’s death
He’s gonna be gone a long, long time.

Roosevelt in the White House, he’s doing his best
McKinley’s in the graveyard, he’s taking his rest
He’s gonna be gone a long, long time

Roosevelt in the White House he’s drinking out of a silver cup
McKinley’s in the graveyard, he never will wake up
He’ll be gone a long, long time.

White House Blues – one of many versions

After I asked, Ellie elaborated:

I believe this is the oldest recorded version of the song:

But, there are many others. I first came across it back in the late ’60s – early 70’s, but I can’t remember where. I thought it was in Sandburg’s American Song Bag, but I just checked, and it isn’t. There have been many recordings, including Doc Watson, Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, all with slight differences in the words. The first one I learned had a reference to Ida’s children having another Papa on another railroad line, but that was a later addition stolen from other songs. Ida and William appeared to have loved each other. Note the misspelling of Czolgosz. That was from the version I learned, and not my mistake. :-)

Here’s a slightly more contemporary version, but quite different.

This is the latest version I’ve found (hope I haven’t overloaded with links)

Nice “talking” to you.

Dear reader: Do you have a different version you recommend? Tell us in comments.

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