16 “Charles Guiteau” by Kelly Harrell and The Virginia String Band


February 23, 2009 by gadaya

The Charles Guiteau Variations

We continue in our series of ballads about historical figures with “Charles Guiteau”, the murderer of James A. Garfield, third president of the United States after the Civil War. The song originated as a printed broadside and have been taken in folk tradition ever since. It was written in a form of a “goodnight”, a criminal’s confession before his execution.4-3-charles-guiteau

Here’s a interesting quote about “goodnights” from “The Viking book of folk ballads”: “… executions were great public spectacles in the larger British cities. The curiosity of the populace, however, was seldom satisfied with merely watching the victim on the scaffold; of intenser interest was his angish during his final hours, particularly his edifying repentance. Broadside printers catered to this morbid taste with a species of ballads usually called “goodnights” tough also known as “gibbeting songs”, “execution ballads”, or “sorrowful lamentations”. The speaker in such pieces-they are invariably first person- purpots to be the criminal himself, but they were almost always the products of hack writers…”

Guiteau’s “goodnight” is based on a New York broadside “The lamentation of James Rodgers”, from which it borrows entire verses, just remplacing the name of the criminal and the dates. It happens that Guiteau wrote some verses in prison but they were more religious than the ballad that keeps his notoriety alive. He actually recited fourteen verses of the Gospel of Matthew and a poem he wrote called “Going to the Lordy” before his hanging.

-Go to this page of Wikipedia to read the whole story of Charles Guiteau and if you want to read more, go here.

-We have also, on the “Remembering the old songs” website that i like a lot, a nice essay with the lyrics of the song.

-I have “collected” 13 performances of the song including a rather unusual Dutch version by a comtemporary band called “Meindert Talma & the Negroes”. I’ve included also a nice bluegrass instrumental by Tony Furtado called “Waiting for Guiteau” which is played as a medley with the fiddle tune “President Garfield’s Hornpipe”. And finally, there’s Bascom Lamar Lunsford epic recording for the Library of Congress of the song “Mr Garfield” which tells about the assassination of the president.


1.Charles Giteau, Kelly Harrell, from the Anthology Of American Folk Musicjames-a-garfield118

2.Charles Guiteau, O.B. Campbell, from The Max Hunter Folksong Collection

3.Charles Guiteau, A.L. Phipps and the Phipps Family, from “Phipps Family – Faith, Love and Tragedy”

4.Charles Guitau, Roscoe Holcomb, from “The High Lonesome Sound” (It’s an instrumental banjo piece)

5.Charles Giteau, The New North Carolina Ramblers, from “Cotton Mill Blues”

6.Charles Guiteau, L.O. Smith, from The Max Hunter Folksong Collection

7.Charles Guiteau, Loman Cansler, from “Missouri Folk Songs”

8.Charles Guiteau, Meindert Talma And The Negroes, from “Nu Geloof Ik Wat Er In De Bijbel Staat” (There are other “Anthology” covers on this record, but sang in dutch)

9.Charles Giteaux, Norman & Nancy Blake , from “Song Of The Hills: Appalachian Classics”

10.Charles Eutawa, Ollie Gilbert, from The Max Hunter Folksong Collection

11.Charles Guiteau, Nora Carpenter, from the Digital Library of Appalachia

12.Waiting for Guiteau/ President Garfield’s Hornpipe ,Tony Furtado, from “Within Reach”

13.Mr Garfield, Bascom Lamar Lunford, from “Songs and Ballads of American History and of the Assassination of Presidents”



As i wrote previously, Charles Guiteau wrote a poem when he was in prison and recited it in front of the audience that came to see him died on the scaffold. On this page you can read this poem.

This singer on Youtube took this poem and made a song out of it:


9 thoughts on “16 “Charles Guiteau” by Kelly Harrell and The Virginia String Band

  1. French says:

    Thanks so much for this fantastic blog! One other point of Guiteau interest, although not in the old-timey vein, is the song “Ballad of Guiteau” from Sondheim’s musical ASSASSINS. It’s a lot of fun, and actually the first place I had heard of him. Keep up the great work.

  2. […] The Old, Weird America you can download and listen to 13 variations of a folk ballad about Charles Guiteau (President Garfield’s assassin). The song is written in the form of a […]

  3. it might also be of interest to collect versions of Garfield, which is a different take on the same song.

  4. […] song here), “Charles Guiteau” (Guiteau shot President Garfield in”1881″, see my post on the song here),“Booth Shot Lincoln” (John wilkes Booth shot president Abraham Lincoln in […]

  5. Tad Richards says:

    Can’t download this any more? What a disappointment! Can it be remedied?

  6. El Changuito says:

    As many others have said, thank you so much for this incredible project! I’m working through it, entry by entry, as I make my way through the Anthology, and it brings me daily joy.

    I know this is an old entry, but I see that the download link for this set (and the 5 songs from the previous entry for Edward L. Crain) are no longer working. Is it possible to update them?

    Thanks again for all your hard work!

  7. Lutzklose says:

    The Gtieau Variations are also down could you please reup them?

  8. carl says:

    hi there, i absolutely love this project.
    could you please upload this folder again?

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