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

January 31, 2018

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.




Dallas history, tonight! Bob Reitz at Half Price Books

December 28, 2017

History teachers, and parents of students — and students (why shouldn’t you direct your own learning?) — note this event TONIGHT.

Dallas historian Bob Reitz presents “Collectible Conversations: The History of Dallas in the 50s and 60s,” at Half Price Books’ mothership at 5803 E Northwest Hwy (just off the Dallas Parkway).

Reitz is an old friend, curator of Circle 10 Council, BSA’s Harbin Scout Museum, housed at Camp Wisdom on Redbird Lane — a greater resource since the National Scout Museum decamped from Irving in September. He’s a homegrown Dallas boy, loaded with history of the tumultuous two decades from 1950 to 1970

Half Price Books’s blog featured an interview with Bob, which I crib here for your convenience (and to preserve it!):

For the December presentation in our monthly Collectible Conversations series at the HPB Flagship in Dallas, we welcome Dallas historian Bob Reitz. Reitz will discuss his growing up in Dallas in the 50s and 60s using books as his reference points. Bob gave an earlier Collectible Conversations talk specifically about his life in bookstores and his 37 books about bookstores from his collection.

Coll Conv 8 31 3

We asked Bob to give us a little preview of his upcoming talk.

When did you first feel that Dallas in the 50s and 60s was a special place and time?
In January of 1954, my father’s insurance company transferred him to Dallas from upstate New York. We had a new house built in the Casa View section of northeast Dallas. Cotton fields were being plowed under to create homes for newly returned servicemen beginning to start families after World War II. I started first grade and finished high school living in the same house. I still have a small group of friends from these times. Growing up, it seemed normal to have new movie houses, drive-ins, libraries, swimming pools and a thriving downtown. I never realized as a kid what we had in these unique and special times.

I’ve always thought that besides your family, your neighborhood makes the biggest difference in your life. I didn’t grow up smelling salt water from the ocean or seeing snow-covered mountains on the horizon. I grew up on the rolling blackland prairies in a large urban city straddling the Trinity River.

I know you own many books on the subject. Is there one that may best encapsulate the era for, say, a 20-year-old reader from Milwaukee?
Probably the most thoughtful book about this era in Dallas is by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright (who graduated from Dallas’s Woodrow Wilson High School). The cover of his book In the New World:  Growing Up with America from the Sixties to the Eighties (1989) reads: “It’s both a story of one man’s coming of age in 1960s Dallas and a provocative account of the end of American innocence, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights era.”

Were there any particular events of the 50s or 60s that made the biggest impression on you?
One significant event took place in August of 1960 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. Five thousand Scouts camped on a hill overlooking White Rock Lake. I had never seen so many Scouts in one place at one time—lines of tents covered the sloping hill in the middle of the city. Today, there is a sign on the slope designating the location as Scout Hill.

The rest of the world probably thinks of President Kennedy’s assassination as the most important event that occurred in Dallas in the 60s. Are many of your books primarily or partially about that event?
I was a junior in high school on that fateful November 22, 1963. I was finishing lunch when a student ran in and said, “The president has been shot, the president has been shot!” They moved us into the auditorium and by 2 p.m. they dismissed classes for the day.

We stayed glued to the television for the next week, witnessing the supposed ineptness of the Dallas Police play out on national TV, including the on-air killing of Lee Harvey Oswald by night club operator Jack Ruby. In the end, the police did pretty well. They caught Oswald within two hours, but Dallas became the laughing stock of the whole nation.

The Kennedy assassination spawned a couple of excellent novels of the era: Libra by Don DeLillo (1998) and November 22 by Bryan Woolley (2013). Author Norman Mailer wrote a telling non-fiction book, Oswald’s Tale: An American Mystery (1995), covering the early life of Lee Harvey Oswald.

Also in my collection is the book Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy by Vincent Bugliosi (2007). He concludes that Oswald was the lone gunman and destroys every one of the conspiracy theories.

Another book that agrees Oswald was the lone gunman also asserts that the darkest days of Dallas were caused by local ultraconservatives, such as oilman H.L. Hunt, former Army general Edwin Walker and national congressman, Bruce Alger. That book is Nut Country: Right Wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy, by Edward H. Miller (2015).

In your previous Collectibles Conversation presentation, you referred to many Dallas bookstores in whose aisles you lost yourself. How big a role did its bookstores play in your understanding of Dallas history?
Dallas bookstores and libraries have been important throughout all my life. When I was small my dad drove my sister and me to the Lakewood Theater on Saturdays to watch a double feature movie and the cartoons. Afterwards we walked across the street to the Lakewood Library, which allowed us to call home (in the pre-cell phone era). While waiting for dad to come, we checked out lots of books.

Closer to home, I was part of the opening of the Casa View Library, which in 1964 set a national record of checking out over 9,000 books in a single day! In appreciation of the library’s influence in my life, I have put together twenty exhibits at the downtown Dallas Library on a wide variety of subjects, all from my personal book collection.

As a young teenager, I could visit Harper’s Used Books in the Deep Ellum section of downtown Dallas. My primary goal was to collect old Boy Scout Handbooks. What I found was so much more. A college student visited the same bookstore a couple of years before me. He became a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Larry McMurtry, of Lonesome Dove fame. McMurtry wrote about the changes that occurred as Texas changed from a rural to a mostly urban economy.

My experiences in bookstores have enriched my life and broadened my perspective on how I grew up in Dallas and what I can give back to the cultural life of the city.

Want to hear more from Bob about life in Dallas in the 50s and 60s?  Join us at the HPB Flagship in Dallas for Collectible Conversations: 1950s and 60s Dallas Through Books on Thursday December 28 at 6 p.m.!

Steve is the”Buy Guy” at Half Price Books Corporate.

via Collectible Conversations: The History of Dallas in the 50s & 60s Through Books

September 14, 1901: McKinley died, Teddy Roosevelt ascended to presidency

September 14, 2017

September 14, 1901, front page of the Boston Morning Journal, announcing the death of President William McKinley. Image from Timothy Hughes Rare & Early Newspapers.

September 14, 1901, front page of the Boston Morning Journal, announcing the death of President William McKinley. Image from Timothy Hughes Rare & Early Newspapers.

Lincoln, Garfield, then McKinley.

September 14, 1901, President William McKinley died in Buffalo, New York, eight days after having been shot at Buffalo’s Pan American Exposition a sort of World Fair.

Within hours, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt took the oath as president.

Ken Burns explained the events of the day well in his long series of films on the Roosevelts:

Interesting to read the newspapers from an era before television, radio or especially internet.

Front page of the

Front page of the “3:00 p.m. edition” of the Buffalo Enquirer, September 14, 1901. Image from Nate D. Sanders Auctions






115 years ago: September 14, 1901, President McKinley died

September 14, 2016

On the Threshold, illustration from Harpers Weekly, September 14, 1901

“On the Threshold,” illustration from Harper’s Weekly, September 14, 1901

On September 14, 1901, President William McKinley died in Buffalo, New York, from gangrene from gunshot wounds he suffered eight days earlier.

Teachers should be mining the “On This Day” feature at the New York Times, which usually features an historic cartoon or illustration from an antique Harper’s Weekly. It is a favorite feature, to me.

Some time ago “On This Day” featured the illustration from Harper’s upon the death of President William McKinley, on September 14, 1901.

At the Threshold

Artist: William Allen Rogers

his post-dated cartoon was published as President William McKinley lay dying from an assassin’s bullet. He had been shot on September 6, 1901, by anarchist Leon Czolgosz (pronounced chol-gosh) at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The president died on September 14. Here, McKinley is led to the Hall of Martyrs by grief-stricken personifications of the North and South. Between pillars topped by busts of the two previously slain presidents, Abraham Lincoln and James Garfield, the angel of death prepares to place a laurel wreath of honor upon McKinley’s head. (Images related to Garfield’s assassination also showed a reconciled North and South.)

There is much more at the Times site.

Robert Lincoln, the son of Abraham Lincoln, was present when McKinley was shot. Accounts I have read but not confirmed say that Robert Lincoln had been invited to attend Ford’s Theatre with his father and mother, the night his father was shot. As a member of President James Garfield’s cabinet, Robert Lincoln had been awaiting Garfield’s arrival at Union Station in Washington, D.C., when Garfield was shot.

And as a visitor in Buffalo, Robert Lincoln had as a matter of respect lined up to shake President William McKinley’s hand.

Astounding if true. Four U.S. presidents have been assassinated. Robert Lincoln was close to the first, the assassination of his father, and present for the next two. Where can we confirm that story? U.S. National Archives publishes a magazine, Prologue, which detailed the unusual, and sad, case of Robert Lincoln and his brushes with presidential assassins and assassinations.

McKinley’s death catapulted the do-gooder, Theodore Roosevelt, into the presidency, probably to the great chagrin of corrupt Republican politicians who had hoped that by getting him nominated to the vice presidency they could get him out of New York politics, banishing him to the eternal ignominy of Vice Presidents of the U.S. who never went on to achieve much more in their lives.

The rest is history.



September 6, 1901: President McKinley shot, in Buffalo

September 6, 2016

From the University of Buffalo site on McKinley and his visit to the Buffalo Exposition:

From the University of Buffalo site on McKinley and his visit to the Buffalo Exposition: “President McKinley Greeting Well-Wishers at a Reception in the Temple of Music. September 6, 1901 (minutes before he was shot). Photographer: Undetermined. Source: The Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress.”

Buffalo, New York, hosted the deaths of two presidents. Long-time Buffalo resident and ex-President Millard Fillmore died there of natural causes on March 8, 1874. And on September 6, 1901, President William McKinley was shot at the Buffalo Pan American Exposition, what passed for a world fair at the time. McKinley died in Buffalo 8 days later.

President Andrew Jackson survived a knife attack. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Charles Garfield were both assassinated within the previous 36 years of the attack on McKinley. This was the third fatal attack on a president, and the fifth time a president had died in office.

Fortunately for McKinley, there was a new X-ray machine on display at the Exposition, which could be used to find bullets for extraction. Unfortunately for McKinley, attending physicians did not use the machine. Operations to remove bullet fragments were not wholly successful. Worse, the surgeries exposed McKinley to bacteria that infected him. He died of gangrene on September 14.

Had antibiotics, modern surgical instrument sterilization, and modern surgical methods been used, McKinley might have survived to serve out his term. Would Vice President Theodore Roosevelt then have had a chance to succeed him? A great history what-if.

Here’s another. McKinley’s first Vice President, Garrett Hobart, died during the first term, of heart disease in 1899. Six months earlier, there was no Vice President to succeed McKinley.

In an election year, we may want to revisit presidential succession in tough times. Our votes may count more than we know.


From the University of Buffalo's Pan Am Exposition site:

From the University of Buffalo’s Pan Am Exposition site: “President McKinley’s Speech at the Pan-American Exposition. September 5, 1901. Photographer: Frances Johnston. Source: Photograph from the Johnston Collection in the Prints and Photographs. Division of the Library of Congress. Also in Pete Daniel and Raymond Smock. A Talent For Detail : The Photographs of Miss Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1889-1910. New York : Harmony Books, [1974], p. 73.” The day before McKinley was shot.


Strange crossings: Booth asked the president for an umbrella

November 17, 2015

This is just so odd that it merits our attention, something I found a while ago researching about presidents and umbrellas.

On November 17, 1864, John Wilkes Booth wrote to President Abraham Lincoln asking for money to purchase an umbrella.

Yes, Booth, the man who would eventually assassinate that same Abraham Lincoln.

Page 1 of John Wilkes Booth's 1864 letter to President Abraham Lincoln

Page 1 of John Wilkes Booth’s 1864 letter to President Abraham Lincoln

Booth to Lincoln, page 2

Booth to Lincoln, page 2

Booth to Lincoln, page 3

Booth to Lincoln, page 3

Booth to Lincoln, page 4

Booth to Lincoln, page 4

Booth to Lincoln, page 5

Booth to Lincoln, page 5

Booth to Lincoln, page 6

Booth to Lincoln, page 6

The letter is in the collection of Lincoln papers at the Library of Congress, described as “John Wilkes to Abraham Lincoln, Thursday, November 17, 1864 (Congratulations; request that Lincoln send him money to buy an umbrella).”

I have found no official transcript of the letter.

Of all the richochets of umbrellas in the history of the American presidency, this must be the strangest.

Tinfoil hatters, conspiracy nuts, historical psychanalyzers, and the rest of us, might wonder if this played any role in the sad crossing of these two people almost exactly six months later, in Ford’s Theatre.


Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Fly your flag at half-staff today, honoring President John F. Kennedy

November 22, 2013

U.S. flags at the Washington Monument fly at half-staff, with the dome of the U.S. Capitol in the background.  Image captured from U.S. Flags.com

U.S. flags at the Washington Monument fly at half-staff, with the dome of the U.S. Capitol in the background. Image captured from U.S. Flags.com

November 22, 2013:  A proclamation from President Barack Obama:

Obama Proclamation on Day of Remembrance for President Kennedy

21 November 2013

Office of the Press Secretary
November 21, 2013




A half century ago, America mourned the loss of an extraordinary public servant. With broad vision and soaring but sober idealism, President John F. Kennedy had called a generation to service and summoned a Nation to greatness. Today, we honor his memory and celebrate his enduring imprint on American history.

In his 3 years as President of the United States, John F. Kennedy weathered some of the most perilous tests of the Cold War and led America to the cusp of a bright new age. His leadership through the Cuban Missile Crisis remains the standard for American diplomacy at its finest. In a divided Berlin, he delivered a stirring defense of freedom that would echo through the ages, yet he also knew that we must advance human rights here at home. During his final year in office, he proposed a civil rights bill that called for an end to segregation in America. And recognizing women’s basic right to earn a living equal to their efforts, he signed the Equal Pay Act into law.

While President Kennedy’s life was tragically cut short, his vision lives on in the generations he inspired — volunteers who serve as ambassadors for peace in distant corners of the globe, scientists and engineers who reach for new heights in the face of impossible odds, innovators who set their sights on the new frontiers of our time. Today and in the decades to come, let us carry his legacy forward. Let us face today’s tests by beckoning the spirit he embodied — that fearless, resilient, uniquely American character that has always driven our Nation to defy the odds, write our own destiny, and make the world anew.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 22, 2013, as a Day of Remembrance for President John F. Kennedy. I call upon all Americans to honor his life and legacy with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities. I also call upon Governors of the United States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, officials of the other territories subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, and appropriate officials of all units of government, to direct that the flag be flown at half-staff on the Day of Remembrance for President John F. Kennedy. I further encourage all Americans to display the flag at half-staff from their homes and businesses on that day.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-first day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.



White House photo:  Presidents and First Ladies, Barack and Michelle Obama, and Bill and Hillary Clinton, post a wreath and salute President John F. Kennedy at Kennedy's gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery, November 20, 2013

White House photo: Presidents and First Ladies, Barack and Michelle Obama, and Bill and Hillary Clinton, post a wreath and salute President John F. Kennedy at Kennedy’s gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery, November 20, 2013

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