“Bohunkus (Old Father Grimes, Old Grimes Is Dead)”

Author: Words: Albert Gorton Greene?
Earliest date: 1822 (Providence Gazette)
Keywords: father children death clothes humorous
Found in: US(Ap,MW,SE,So)


Old Grimes, "the good old man," was always dressed in a long black coat and was widely respected. He had two sons, (Tobias) and Bohunkus. "They has a suit of clothes... Tobias wore them through the week, Bohunkus on a Sunday."

Supplemental text

Bohunkus (Old Father Grimes, Old Grimes Is Dead)
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***


From Sigmund Spaeth, Read 'Em and Weep, pp. 83-84

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

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

Now, these two boys to the theatre 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!
Bokunkus of the cholera died,
  Josephus by request.

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

* Spaeth notes various endings here, all designed to avoid the word
you know is meant.

          *** B ***

Old Grimes

From Sigmund Spaeth, Weep Some More, My Lady, pp. 150-151.

Old Grimes is dead, that good old man,
  We ne'er shall see him more,
He wore a single-breasted coat
  That buttoned down before.
His heart was open as the day,
  His feelings all were true;
His hair it was inclined to gray,
  He wore it in a queue.

Whene'er was heard the voice of pain,
  His breast with pity burned,
The large, round head upon his cane
  From ivory was turned.
Thus ever prompt at pity's call,
  He knew no base design;
His eyes were dark, and rather small,
  His nose was aquiline.

He lived at peace with all mankind
  In friendship he was true;
His coat had pocket-holes behind,
  His pantaloons were blue.
But poor old Grimes is now at rest,
  Nor fears misfortune's frown;
He had a double-breasted vest,
  The stripes ran up and down.

He modest merit sought to find,
  And pay it its desert;
He had no malice in his mind,
  No ruffle on his shirt.
His neighbours he did not abuse,
  Was sociable and gay;
He wore not rights and lefts for shoes.
  But changed them every day.*

His knowledge, hid from public gaze,
  He never brought to view;
He made a noise town-meeting days,
  As many people do.
Thus, undisturbed by anxious cares,
  His peaceful moments ran;
And everybody said he was
  A fine old gentleman.

* This may be a reference to the early days of shoe
mass-production. Up to the time of the Civil War, shoes
were manufactured without "handedness"; both halves of
a pair were identical, and the wearer was supposed to
grow into them.

          *** C ***

Old Father Grimes

From Vance Randolph, Ozark Folksongs, Volume III, #428, pp. 177-178.
Collected 1913 from W. E. Hale of Joplin, Missouri.

Old Father Grimes, that good old man,
We ne'er shall see him more,
He used to wear a long black coat
All buttoned up before.

And this old man he had two sons,
And these two boys were brothers,
Tobias was the name of one,
Biankus was the other's.

These boys they had a suit of clothes
All made by Mistress Grundy,
Tobias wore them through the week,
Biankus on a Sunday.

And these two boys they had a horse,
And this old mare was blind,
Tobias he rode on before,
Biankus on behind.

          *** D ***

From J. H. Cox, Folk-Songs of the South, #170, p. 490. Collected
some time before January 2, 1916 from a "Mrs. Boyd," probably of
Monongalia County, West Virginia.

1 Old Grimes is dead, that good old man,
    We ne'er shall see him more;
  He used to wear an old gray coat,
    All buttoned up before, my boys,
    All buttoned up before.

2 I wish I had a load of wood
    To fence my garden round;
  For the neighbors' pigs they do get in
    And root up all my ground, my boys,
    And root up all my ground.

3 Our old cat has got so fat
    She'll neither sing nor pray;
  She chased a mouse all around the house
    And broke the Sabbath day, my boys,
    And broke the Sabbath day.

4 Somebody stole my banty hen,
    I wish they'd let her be;
  For Saturday she laid two eggs,
    And Sunday she laid three, my boys,
    And Sunday she laid three.

          *** E ***

From Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods, chapter
10. Reported to have been sung 1872, though this part of the book
is fiction (the Ingalls family did not live in Wisconsin at the

Old Grimes is dead, that good old man,
We ne'er shall see him more,
He used to wear an old grey coat,
All buttoned down before.

Old Grimeses' wife made skim milk cheese,
Old Grimes, he drank the whey,
There came an east wind from the west,
And blew Old Grimes away.


This piece seems to fall into two parts, one describing Old Grimes, his clothes, and the respect with which he was treated (so, e.g., in Spaeth's _Weep Some More_ and Botkin's _New England Folklore_).

The other describes the humorous exploits of (Tobias/Josephus) and Bohunkus (so in Speath, _Read 'Em and Weep_; also the "B" text and perhaps the "C" fragment in Brown), who shared almost everything, usually with one brother having rather the better of the distribution. In Randolph's version, for instance, Tobias gets the clothes for six days out of seven.

On the other hand, in Spaeth, when they went to the theatre, Bohunkus was in the gallery and Josephus in the pit; Bohunkus died of cholera but Josephus "by request"; Bohunkus went to heaven and Josephus to Hell (or, in one book, "Sing Sing"!)

Laura Ingalls Wilder (_Little House in the Big Woods_, chapter 10) has a different sort of a plot, in which Grimes's wife is so stingy with cream that he blows away in the wind.

Based on the notes in Brown, it appears that Green wrote only the "Old Grimes" text, with the rest coming from elsewhere. But this does not solve the matter, for it appears that Greene was not responsible for the first verse of "Old Grimes"; when he confessed authorship in 1833, he denied writing the opening stanza.

Spaeth's "Old Grimes" text is so feeble that it's hard to believe such a thing could enter tradition. And, indeed, no traditional form similar to the printed versions from Spaeth and Botkin seems to have turned up; they all add some sort of comic ending (see Randolph, Cox, Wilder; Brown "A").

My feeble guess is that "Old Grimes" did not become traditional until it picked up some sort of humorous element, perhaps from "Bohunkus," and circulated only in that form. "Bohunkus" very possibly did not enter tradition at all on its own; although the Pankakes have a text which may have come from oral tradition, it is so short that it could be a fragment of a Grimes/Bohunkus conflation. But it's probably best if you examine the matter yourself.

This should not be confused with the piece called "Old Roger is Dead (Old Bumpy, Old Grimes, Pompey)" in this collection, which also goes under the title "Old Grimes." - RBW

Opie-Oxford2 6, "Old Abram Brown is dead and gone" is the usual first verse for this song: "Old Abram Brown is dead and gone, You'll never see him more; He used to wear a long brown coat That buttoned down before." - BS

Cross references



  1. Belden, pp258-259, "Old Grimes is Dead" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Randolph 428, "Old Father Grimes" (1 short text, 1 tune)
  3. BrownIII 321, "Josephus and Bohunkus" (2 texts plus a fragment)
  4. Gardner/Chickering 194, "Old Grimes" (1 fragment)
  5. Botkin-NEFolklr, pp. 576-577, "Old Grimes" (1 text)
  6. Spaeth-ReadWeep, pp. 83-84, "Bohunkus" (1 text)
  7. Spaeth-WeepMore, pp. 150-151, "Old Grimes" (1 text)
  8. JHCox 170, "Old Grimes" (1 text, with an "Old Grimes" first verse and the rest unrelated)
  9. Pankake-PHCFSB, pp. 156-157, (No title listed) (1 text, tune referenced)
  10. ST R428 (Full)
  11. Roud #764
  12. BI, R428