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There's a little poem that goes something like this:

Here lies the body of Thomas Grey,
Who died defending his right of way.
He was perfectly right as he sped along,
But he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong".

Looking up this poem reveals many versions, with any number of variations on the name of the dead man (Edward Gray, Mike O'Day, and even Captain May who sailed along) and sometimes variations on the rest, too. For instance, "He was right, dead right, the whole way along", and "John's light was green, the other red, John was right but now he's dead".

Where's the earliest version of this that can be found, what was it then, and is it known who wrote it?

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  • Here s one from1918, in the periodical Rough Notes. Google books finds this poem in a number of places labeled 1917, 1918, and 1919. But the few hits that are labeled with years before 1918 are either are in bound volumes of periodicals that extend over several years (and so actually appeared in 1918 or later) or are labeled with the incorrect year. So I suspect that it was written around 1918.
    – Peter Shor
    Apr 3 at 12:26
  • The actual wording of the rhyme from Rough Notes: "Here lies the boyd [sic] of William Jay, who died maintaining his right of way. He was right as he sped along—but he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong."
    – Peter Shor
    Apr 3 at 12:28
  • One of the early versions credits the poem to the Boston Transcript, so if someone has access to the Boston Transcript archives (if these exist online) it might be worth checking there to see if their version was earlier.
    – Peter Shor
    Apr 3 at 12:33
  • Thanks! I left this to see if anybody else answered but then forgot about it until now. If you make this an answer I'll tick it.
    – A. B.
    Apr 20 at 5:32
  • I've answered it!
    – Peter Shor
    Apr 21 at 17:24
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If you look at Google books, it finds several instances of this rhyme labeled 1917, 1918, and 1919, and a few from earlier years. Looking at these more carefully, the earlier hits are all mislabeled, and the hits labeled 1917 are in bound volumes of periodicals that extend over several years, so they actually appeared in 1918 or later. Here is the earliest one I found, from the periodical Rough Notes. The early ones all have very similar wording, which goes as follows:

Here lies the body of William Jay,
who died maintaining his right of way.
He was right as he sped along—
but he's just as dead as if he'd been wrong.

One of the early versions credits the poem to the Boston Transcript. If somebody has access to the Boston Transcript archives, it would be worth checking to see whether their version was earlier.

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  • Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936) cites it from the Boston Transcript and describes it as "once printed", which I think implies not so recently.
    – Alex
    Apr 22 at 0:05
  • 1
    Case and Comment Vol. 26 (1920) cites it from the Boston Transcript as "recently".
    – Alex
    Apr 22 at 0:29

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