Remembering The Old Songs:


by Bob Waltz
(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, December 2007)

This year, I'm not going to try to come up with an old-time Christmas song. Instead, I'm going to talk about a Minnesota event that took place in December.

This song is very nearly dead in tradition. There seem to be only two copies of the text: One in Olive Woolley Burt's American Murder Ballads, and one printed in the Minneapolis Journal back in 1924 and reprinted in Walter N. Trenerry's Murder in Minnesota (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1962, 1985). Burt also mentions a version in Stewart Holbrook's Murder Over Yonder, but that is said to be "abridged," presumably from one of the other two versions. Nonetheless the piece does seem to have gone into tradition, because Burt's and the Journal's texts are significantly different.

Only Burt prints a tune, but there wasn't much doubt about the melody: it's The Fatal Wedding, by Gussie L. Davis, which had been a big hit in the early Nineties, right about the time of the events in this song. I've printed just the tune, without tab or chords, partly for space reasons (the whole thing is about sixty measures long, and takes two pages to print with tablature) and partly because it has many accidentals, and bluegrassers will approach the accidentals in very different ways. So I'll let you do it your without my straightjacket. Incidentally, I've collated the words; Burt has four verses, but they are padded out by repeated lines; she has only about three and a half verses of actual text. The Journal text is shorter, with only three verses, but with fewer defects. I tried for a coherent three-verse version.

Harry Hayward, according to Trenerry, was a small-time gambler, and probably a passer of counterfeit money. Katherine "Kitty" Ging was a spinster, twenty- nine years old in 1894 (the same age as Hayward). Although she was making a reasonable living, she apparently went along with Hayward's schemes (and, in all probability, slept with him in return for a promise of marriage). But Hayward grew tired of her, and probably felt a credit pinch due to his own lack of a real job, and decided to take out an insurance policy on her and then kill her for it. Rather than murder her himself, he conned a not-too- bright employee of the hotel where he lived, Claus A. Blixt, to bludgeon her. She was found dead in a pool of blood on December 3, 1894, near Lake Calhoun. Hayward had carefully arranged an alibi, but it fell apart within a fortnight. Hayward was convicted, eventually confessed, and was executed in December 1895. Blixt, who later went insane, was sentenced to life imprisonment. For more details, I refer you to Trenerry.


Complete Lyrics:
Minneapolis was excited,
And for many miles around,
For a terrible crime committed
Just a mile or so from town.
It was a cold and winter's eve
The villain did reply
Tonight she takes that fatal ride
And she shall have to die.

The stars were shining brightly
And the moon had passed away.
The roads were dark and lonely
When found dead where she lay.
Then tell the tale of a criminal
She was his promised bride.
Just another sin to answer for,
Another fatal ride.

When for pleasure she went riding
Little did she know her fate
That took place on that lonely night
On the road near Calhoun Lake.
She was shot while in the buggy,
And beaten, 'tis true to speak,
Until all life had vanished,
Then was cast into the street.

He was at heart a criminal,
But a coward of a man,
And so he sought another
To execute his plan.
It was a cold and bloody plot,
Likewise a terrible sin
To take a life so kind and true
As she had been to him.

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