Friday, November 30, 2001

Folklore Parody song to tune of Auld Lang Syne


Genre: Folk Song (parody?)
Mike Tuggle, male, 60s
poet and painter
American, born in Oklahoma
Nov 30, 2001
Cazadero CA (residence)


JOSEPHUS & BOHUNKUS
(Sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne)

There was a father had two sons
and these two sons were brothers.
Josephus was the name of one,
Bohunkus was the other.

Now these two boys to college went
for reasons quite specific.
Josephus was religious bent
Bohunkus, scientific.

Now these two boys are dead and gone.
Long may their ashes rest.
Josephus of the cholera died.
Bohunkus, by request.


I first heard Mike Tuggle sing this song to the tune of Auld Lang Syne, at a poetry reading he was giving in 1980, in Sonoma County, Ca. Since then, I have heard him sing it at dozens of readings; it’s become somewhat of a trademark of his. And though I’ve sung the song to many others over the years, no one else seems to have heard of it, nor is it in any of my songbooks including my Irwin Silber Songbook, and my Alan Lomax folk song collections.

Mike said that his father taught it to him when they lived in Oklahoma, and that it was passed down through the family. Mike is Irish-American and Cherokee descent. He thinks it’s a folk history of sorts, modeled after a real event. I agree. I think there was also a middle verse with mules too.

I like to sing the song, because there’s more of it than first meets the eye. Even though it has a biting, moral tone, it offers an interesting world view. Given that the song is at least 75 to 100 years old, it refers back to an earlier era, perhaps the early 1800s, and the idea of both brothers going to college would have seemed unusual (and expensive) for midwesterners. (It turns up as a college song in at least two midwestern colleges).

It doesn’t strike me as a particularly eastern song, it seems to fit within the cowboy lament genre, even though one brother is a scientist and the other, a preacher/scholar. And the fact that they’re cremated seems a bit fantastic. Most songs—laments of the funereal genre, like The Streets of Loredo—tend to have coffins and graves in them. I like the irony of the last stanza, whether they were good or bad, they both still died in the end.

NB (7/2104): With a little sleuthing (the internet 13 years later is fantastic: this piece was collected and researched in the pre -Google era!)  I later found variants of the ditty in several collections, but Mike's version, handed down to him by his father in the early 1940s, is older, by far—which makes his verified collection date from around 1915, and if it was handed down in the family from his grandfather (25 years = a generation), that dates the song back to the 1890s, easy. 

Cholera arrived to America in the early 1900s via the port of New York City; arriving in 1849 with the Irish coffin ships. President Polk died of cholera in 1849. The thing that gets to me is that the bodies were burned. Not a normal practice—unless there was an outbreak of cholera or the plague. Cremation became popular in the late 1850s after major cholera epidemics. There was another major cholera outbreak in 1890.

Josephus and Bohunkus are definitely not Irish names. Josephus is Biblical while Boohunkus sounds like secular slang—like Hunkie. So how did these tow polar opposites meet up? Sacred and profane?

Mudcat also has early references to the Grimes version dating back to the 1920s. Last entry at bottom of page has this: Roud #764, Albert G. Greene, said to be the author of the ballad of " Old Grimes," in the 1822, a fugitive poem circulating in the oral tradition that went rogue when it met up with Bohunkus. Reference: Brown III 321, "Josephus and Bohunkus" (2 texts plus a fragment). Spaeth-ReadWeep, pp. 83-84, "Bohunkus" (1 text). Recorded by Ernest V. Stoneman, "Josephus and Bohunkus" (Victor, unissued, 1927). 

In the oldest documented version I could find online, at Missouri State Ozark Folksong Collection, both verses are there but Josephus and Bohunkus have swapped places. But Josephus is a Biblical name…he's the good guy. Cain & Abel.


Collected by Parler Dick Upton, West Memphis, Ark. Mark Williamson, Little Rock; Lem McCrary, Lonoke, Ark. Phillip Purifoy, Texarkana, Ark. 
January 14, 1960, Reel 356, Item 5 

Bohunkus

There was a farmer had two sons,
And these two sons were brothers,
Bohunkus was the name of one,  (swapped lines)
Josephus was the others.

Now these two boys had suits of clothes 
And they were made for Sunday,
Bohunkus wore his every day,
Josephus his on Monday.

Now these two boys to the theater went
Whenever they saw fit,
Bohunkus in the gallery sat,
Josephus in the pit.

Now these two boys are dead and gone,
Long may their ashes rest.
Bohunkus of the cholera died, (swapped lines)
Josephus by request.

Now these two boys their story told,
And they did tell it well,
Bohunkus he to heaven went,
Josephus he to_____.



But only the first stanza is similar.

VERSE 1
There was a man, he had two boys (sons)
An' these two boys were brothers
Josephus, was th name of one
Bohunkus was the other

Cat. #0658 (MFH #332) - As sung by Reba Dearmore, Mountain Home, Arkansas on January 7, 1969

Ironically a similar second stanza was collected in Santa Rosa.

VERSE 6 (Grimes' two sons)
Now these two boys are dead an' gone
They now are laid to rest    (Long may their ashes rest)
Bosephus died for want of bread  (Bo-Josephus of the cholera died)
Bohunkus by request
Bohunkus by request

Cat. #1474 (MFH #332) - As sung by Bill Ping, Santa Rosa, California on September 20, 1972


Apparently, a variant sendup of it is also the song of Ohio State University.
It's also printed in Dirty Work at the Crossroads p. 49 (1969) with a Yale twist that dates back to 1882.

Mudcat: From Yale Songs, compiled and edited by Frank B. Kellogg* and Thomas G. Shepard (New Haven, Conn.: Shepard & Kellogg, 1882), page 43:
BOHUNKUS

1. There was a farmer had two sons,
And these two sons were brothers.
Bohunkus was the name of one.
Josephus was the other's.

2. Now, these two boys had suits of clothes,
And they were made for Sunday.
Bohunkus wore his every day;
Josephus his on Monday.

3. Now, these two boys to the theatre went,
Whenever they saw fit.
Bohunkus in the gallery sat;
Josephus in the pit.

4. Now, these two boys are dead and gone.
Long may their ashes rest!
Bohunkus of the cholera died;
Josephus, by request.

5. Now, these two boys their story told,
And they did tell it well.
Bohunkus, he to heaven went;
Josephus he to—Sing-sing. (was opened in 1826)

More Mudcat parodies here. Roud Index lists a dozen entries  (No.6360), all from the USA or Canada, with titles like Josephus and Bohunkus, Bohunkus, Old Grimes is Dead.

So I'm sticking with my 1849 cholera epidemic theory. Who was Bohunkus, anyway? A parallel song to Old Grimes. Fodder for another day.



UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes

Thursday, November 22, 2001

Folklore: Superstition, Unexpected Guests/ Hospitality/ Luck


Genre: Custom/ Superstition Irish-American? (myself)
To set an extra place at the table during a feast
because it might attract an unexpected guest
(what is implied, an unexpected guest brings good luck).

I first remember observing the custom of setting an extra plate for the unexpected guest in the late 1950s when I was eight or nine years old—for Thanksgiving dinner. Because my grandmother who raised me, (Jennie Walsh Reilly, born in 1893, Co. Cork, Ireland), had a large family of eight children—with children of their own.

Thanksgivings were a huge affair with my cousins at the little table, and aunts and uncles & spouses galore at the big table. It was a madhouse of some 20-30 people, plates and chairs, all crowded in to the dining room & adjoining living room. How we were supposed to fit an extra guest in, I wasn’t sure. But we always set an extra plate, just in case—and invariably an unexpected guest arrived at the door just as we all sat down

My grandmother would always be the last one to sit down at the head of the table. It was almost as if she were waiting for that extra place to be filled before she sat down. She’d stall until we all got upset and demanded that she sit down. I’m not sure how I arrived at the idea that an uninvited guest arriving during the holiday was considered to be good luck. I just “knew” it, probably because when someone did arrive unannounced, my grandmother would welcome him with excitement and happiness (especially if it was a tall, dark, handsome man).

I suspect that this custom held some elements of a Celtic hospitality custom. My grandmother grew up in the oral tradition in the Southwest of Ireland, and I learned many Irish customs and tales from her. Serving tea to unexpected guests was part of that welcoming custom, though it would not be considered causal magic superstition. 

As I was collecting folklore, my aunts explained to me the custom of “George” the mythical extra guest. I’d heard about “George,” but never understood that other members of my family (3 generations) thought the extra place was for him as well—as my grandmother, Jennie, didn’t use the saying. She sometimes mentioned a McGregor. 

I remember her annotating it with a reference to Elijah—perhaps to tie it in with the Christian tradition. Though I didn’t find a specific reference in J.H. Brunvand’s “The Study of American Folklore,” (Norton, 1966), he does write that: “Superstitions associated with home and domestic pursuits (category III) usually concern cooking,...changing households....[and methods of] allowing someone to enter the house...” (p. 385).


UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes

Folklore: Extra Dinner Guests

Genre: Proverb, British-American (myself) November, 22, 2001
“Wherever McGregor sits, he’s always head of the table.” 


As two dozen of us sat down to Thanksgiving dinner this year out in the yard like pilgrims, having outgrown the house because another family had joined us, my uncle was late at arriving to the table. His wife, my aunt “Toddy” repeated the family saying, “Wherever McGregor sits, he’s always head of the table.”

I first remember hearing this saying in the late 1950s when I was around eight or nine years old—as we sat down for Thanksgiving dinner in Forest Knolls, Ca.

Because my grandmother who raised me, (Jennie Walsh Reilly., born in 1893, Co. Cork, Ireland), had a large family of eight children—who also had children of their own—Thanksgivings were a huge madhouse affair with my ten cousins (whose ranks later swelled to 18) at the little table, and aunts and uncles with spouses galore sitting at the big table—it was a sea of people, plates and chairs.

 How we were supposed to fit McGregor into all this, and who McGregor was, I wasn’t sure. But invariably some unexpected guest came to the door as we sat down and was squeezed in at the extra plate. I confused the two customs and thought the plate was for McGregor.

My grandmother would always be the last one to sit down—which was always at the head of the table. Why would she say this when she was already at the head of the table? And as she sat down, she’d say: “Wherever McGregor sits, he’s always head of the table.” 

I wasn’t too sure who McGregor was. She wasn’t a McGregor, she was a Walsh-Sullivan, but for years I figured he was an ancestor or relation of sorts. But he was Scottish and we were Irish. Even though a great-aunt married a Scotsman (Ward), I wasn’t too sure where McGregor fit into the scheme of things. I remember once worriedly looking up at the Reilly and Walsh family coats of arms on the wall, wondering what his crest would look like—maybe with a turkey or a plate in it.

I confused and conflated the saying of McGregor with another custom we had which was to set an extra plate at the table for the unexpected guest—an uninvited guest arriving during the holiday was considered to be good luck. 

As I was collecting this folklore, my aunts explained to me the custom of “George” the mythical extra guest. I’d heard about “George, but never understood that they thought the extra place was for him as well, as my grandmother didn’t tend to use the saying. She sometimes mentioned McGregor. I remember her once annotating it with a reference to Elijah as someone unexpectedly arrived at the door in time for dinner. 

Part of my confusion with McGregor/George had to do with the fact that I had to sit with the ever swelling ranks of little kids and I wasn’t allowed to join the big table until I was about ten. My birthday fell on Thanksgiving that year, I was allowed to join the adults. I remember puzzling over McGregor.

Interestingly enough, when I explained my confusion about McGregor and the extra plate, my aunt Jane, 73, went ballistic and thoroughly chewed me out with a character assassination which left us all stunned as I was explaining to my family that what made folklore unique was that there were variations in folklore and that this was my own (if flawed) variation. I don’t know why she got so angry, but that made it impossible to probe deeper into the origins of McGregor.

I had to later re-interview my other aunts and cousin in order to get their opinions as to what they thought it meant. I think Jane was threatened by the process of analysis of the folklore which they rejected the idea that McGregor had something to do with Scots thriftiness and stinginess, though they did mention freeloaders and free meals. 

My aunt “Toddy” said the association with McGregor was “so nobody would feel bad wherever you sat because you might get shifted from your place if a stranger came.” We all learned to associate McGregor with the extra plate.

I always thought my grandmother’s usage of McGregor had to do with the famous betrayal and slaughter of the Scottish Highland McGregor clan, invited to the rival Campbell clan’s stronghold for a feast at Glencoe, then killed by the treacherous Campbells—a horrific breach of Celtic hospitality. She’d often use “The Campbells are coming” as a threat. I thought she was honoring the slain McGregors, they’d always be welcome at our table. But when we looked up this story, we discovered the McDonalds were slaughtered in 1692 by the Campbells, not McGregor.

The idea of resurrecting clanship may not be far off the mark. I think my grandmother, as acting head of the Reilly clan, abdicated her personal role, and stood in place for the absent chieftain (hence the mythical McGregor), since her husband had died in the 1950s. My grandfather, as the eldest surviving male Reilly (a sept of the O’Neils), had the legal right to claim the family holdings in Co. Longford, Ireland, but he chose not to do so.

Note Bene: Looking McGregor up in Scottish and British proverb sources yielded nothing, but when I flipped through Archer Taylor & Bartlett Jere White’s “American Proverbs and Proverbial Phrases, 1820-1880,” (Harvard, 1958), while looking up “shank’s mare,” another favorite of my grandmother’s, I stumbled upon: “Wherever Macdonald sits, there is the head of the table.” The quote is listed as Emerson’s Works 1, 105, (p. 232), but I suspect it’s much older than that. Thiis makes our McGregor an interesting variation indeed.



UC Berkeley Folklore Collections
Kroeber Hall, Dr. Alan Dundes