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.

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January 28 – Happy birthday, William McKinley

January 29, 2018

William McKinley photographed between 1873 and 1890, by Washington, D.C. photographer C. M. Bell. McKinley served in the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio, 1876 to 1891; this was probably taken close to the start of his time in Congress. Library of Congress image.

William McKinley photographed between 1873 and 1890, by Washington, D.C. photographer C. M. Bell. McKinley served in the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio, 1876 to 1891; this was probably taken close to the start of his time in Congress. Library of Congress image.

President William McKinley, 25th President of the United States, served from March 4, 1897 until his assassination in September 1901, six months into his second term. McKinley was born on January 29, 1843, in Niles, Ohio. McKinley would have been 175 years old today, and probably very cranky. 

President during the Spanish-American War of 1898, in which the U.S. took Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam from Spain, and presiding over the annexation of Hawaii in 1898, McKinley is best known for being the third president to die from assassination, in 1901. He was succeeded by his vice president, Theodore Roosevelt.

This photo, published in 1902 after McKinley's death, was probably taken during the campaign of 1900. Library of Congress caption:

This photo, published in 1902 after McKinley’s death, was probably taken during the campaign of 1900. Library of Congress caption: “Photograph shows William McKinley, standing on platform, between Gov. Jos. E. Johnston and Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee, Alabama.”

Frequently overlooked as a non-entity as president, historians in the past 20 years tend to upgrade their judgments of McKinley’s political acumen and achievements as president.

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