When I searched iTunes for versions of this song, I could only find a bluesy version with modified lyrics. The way we sung this song was to sing a two-line rhyme and then repeat it. The first time through, the melody has a fun leap; the second is the same until the end, when it dips down and resolves.
It starts "The little man walked up and down, to see what he could find in to-how-hown; the little man walked up and down to see what he could find in town."
The odd story then unfolds of the little man going into a nice place, ordering a meatball, getting yelled at by the waiter when he asks for bread, and then going outside and killing himself.
The black humor always appealed to me, as did the dynamics of singing the little man's lines gently and the waiter's line gruffly. So why could I only find a version with a very different feel on iTunes?
Turns out in 1944 the original song was rewritten by two professional songwriters and eventually became a signature song for Josh White. The Andrews Sisters and Ry Cooder are among many others who have recorded this version.
But the true origins date back to the mid 19th century, when it was composed as a ditty by a Harvard professor, used in an opera buffa performed to raise money during the Civil War, and perhaps based upon a "Boston fact."
Two good links:
Does anyone know of a recording of this with the original melody?