Oct. 18, 2001

John Hardy

by American folk song

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 Poem: An American folk ballad called, "John Hardy."

John Hardy

John Hardy was a desp'rate little man,
He carried two guns ev'ry day,
He shot down a man on the West Virginia line,
You oughta seen John Hardy gettin' away, poor boy,
You oughta seen John Hardy gettin' away.

John Hardy stood at the gamblin' table,
Didn't have no int'rest in the game,
Up stepped a yellow gal and threw a dollar down,
Said, "Deal John Hardy in the game, poor boy,
Deal John Hardy in the game."

John Hardy took that yellow gal's money
And then he began to play,
Said, "The man that wins my yellow gal's dollar,
I'll lay him in his lonesome grave, poor boy,
I'll lay him in his lonesome grave."

John Hardy drew to a four-card straight,
And the Chinaman drew to a pair,
John failed to catch and the Chinaman won,
And he left him sitting dead in his chair, poor boy,
And he left him sitting dead in his chair.

John started to catch that East-bound train,
So dark he could not see,
Up stepped the police and took him by the arm,
Said, "Johnny come and go with me, poor boy,
Johnny come and go with me."

They took John Hardy to his hangin' ground,
The hung him there to die,
And the very last word I heard him say—
"My forty gun never told a lie, poor boy,
My forty gun never told a lie.

"I've been to the East, I've been to the West,
I've travelled this wide world around,
I've been to the river and I've been baptised
And now I'm on my hangin' ground, poor boy,
And now I'm on my hangin' ground."

John Hardy had a loving little wife,
And children she had three,
But he cared no more for his wife and his child,
Than he did for the rocks in the sea, poor boy,
Than he did for the rocks in the sea.

It's the birthday of the engineer who invented the railroad track as we know it: the inverted-T rail, the railroad spike, the wooden tie, the gravel bed, and all: Robert Livingston Stevens, in Hoboken, 1787. He also designed boats, fast steamboats, and yachts.

The French philosopher Henri Bergson was born this day in Paris, 1859, who coined the term "Élan vital"—the vital impulse, the spirit of life, in his most famous work, Creative Evolution, 1907. The élan vital is at work everywhere in the world, in all forms of life.

It's the birthday in 1889 in Hamilton, Ohio, of novelist Fanny Hurst, who, to gather material for her writing, worked at various times as a waitress, a nurse and in a sweatshop, and once, sailed to Europe in steerage.

It's the birthday, in New York City, 1904, of Abbott Joseph Liebling, A.J. Liebling, a mainstay of The New Yorker magazine from 1935 until his death in 1963, a war correspondent and writer about boxing and gastronomy and New York lowlife and journalism. One of his best books is Normandy Revisited, 1958, his reminiscence of his life in France as a very young man in the '20s and then during and after the war. Also, he wrote The Earl of Louisiana, The Sweet Science, and The Telephone Booth Indian. Liebling said once that he wrote better than anyone who could write faster and faster than anyone who could write better.

It's the birthday in 1926, St. Louis, of Charles Edward Anderson Berry, Chuck Berry, who wrote "Roll Over, Beethoven," "Johnny B. Goode, "Memphis," and other songs. "Maybellene" was his first hit, recorded on the South Side of Chicago in 1955.

It's the birthday in 1948 in Trenton, New Jersey, of Paulette Williams, who changed her name to Ntozake Shange, the African-American playwright and poet, famous for her 1975 play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf.

It's the birthday in Brooklyn, 1950, of playwright Wendy Wasserstein, best known for The Heidi Chronicles. Her parents were Jewish immigrants from central Europe, her father a successful textile manufacturer. She went to Mount Holyoke and studied play-writing at City College and at Yale, where she wrote her first hit play, Uncommon Women and Others.

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