Mudcat Café message #1203848 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #45408   Message #1203848
Posted By: Nerd
09-Jun-04 - 04:44 PM
Thread Name: JOHN HENRY solved????
Subject: RE: JOHN HENRY solved????
Uh, this article is six years old...and academic research is already old by the time the news finds it, so it ain't exactly cutting edge.

By the way, as a folklorist, I get a bit annoyed when people in other disciplines say "folklorists have long wondered how he came to buried at the oval office." Er, no. Folklorists generally don't take every word of a song literally, and even if we did, we would realize that a "white house" doesn't necessarily refer to our presidential mansion, and we would also know very well that the "White House" verse occurs in just a few versions of the song among many. As people on this thread have mentioned, this version was popularized by Belafonte, Seeger and others in the 1950s, but as Dicho points out it's far from "standard" in the tradition.

Folklorists would be the LAST people to be puzzled as to why some versions of the song mention a "white house." We might try to find out if people whose families come from certain region or ethnic or occupational group sing the "white house" version, to see if it what we call a cultural Oicotype, or in other words, particularly suited to one cultural group. We might come up with theories along the lines of "wide road"--"white road"--"white house" one mentioned above, but overall it would not tend to be a big part of a folkloristic analysis until some interesting evidence arrived. So a folklorist, just like a historian, might take the 1912 postcard and say "this might be relevant!"

However, having worked with many turn of the century postcards, I can testify that there's no guarantee that a house that looks "red" or "white" on a period postcard actually was that color! A gray house would look white, and indeed a truly red house might paradoxically be too dark for the artists to tint it red!

If you could verify that

(1)the house was white
(2)it was commonly referred to as "the white house,"
(3)the "white house" verse is one of the oldest parts of the tradition
(4)there was a guy named John Henry who WAS a convict
(5)he WAS buried there

then this outlandish tissue of supposition might get taken seriously by someone in academia. Until then, it's just a publicity stunt for him to get what looks like a legitimate book about convict labor and the Klan mentioned in the newspapers. Looks to me like our assistant professor was hoping to make a publicity splash to aid in his search for tenure. Hope it didn't backfire!