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Casey Jones

From Academic Kids

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"Casey" Jones as depicted on a 3 cent postage stamp issued by the United States Postal Service.

John Luther "Casey" Jones (1864-1900) was a railroad man who worked for the Illinois Central Railroad (IC). He was an engineer between 1890 and his death in 1900, when his locomotive collided with another train. His death made him a folksong hero after a song was written by Wallace Sanders, an engine wiper for the IC.

Jones moved from Jackson, Tennessee to Water Valley in Yalobusha County, Mississippi in 1893. In 1896, four years before his death in a train wreck which brought him fame, Jones moved back to Jackson.

In 1899, Jones was given a regular passenger run on the Cannonball, which ran between Chicago and New Orleans. On April 29, 1900, when in Memphis, Tennessee with the northbound Cannonball, he agreed to take the southbound Cannonball when the scheduled engineer called in sick. He left Memphis at 12:50 am, 95 minutes behind schedule, but made up almost an hour between Memphis and Grenada, 100 miles away. At Durant, 55 miles farther down, they were almost on time.

At Durant, Jones received orders to "saw by" two freights that had taken the siding at Vaughan, Mississippi, in Yazoo County. The two freights were too large to fit into the siding, leaving one end on the main line. In the "sawing" maneuver, the freights would allow the approaching train to pass the first switch, and then the trains on the siding would move past the other switch. However, an air hose on one of the freight trains burst, leaving some freight cars immobile on the main line. Meanwhile, Jones was travelling excessively fast, possibly up to 70 miles per hour, and did not have enough time to brake. His fireman, Simm Webb, jumped, but Jones rode the engine into the cars. He was killed.

Jones' picture appeared on a 1950 United States postage stamp honoring railroad engineers.

Joe Hill used Jones as an anti-hero in his parody song "Casey Jones, the Union Scab", later sung by Harry McClintock and Utah Phillips, among others.

The Grateful Dead used Jones in the song titled "Casey Jones". Its lyrics, by Robert Hunter, suggest that Jones was on cocaine when he crashed, although this was not the case in reality.

There are several other versions of the tale of Casey Jones recorded into song, including not only the original song credited to Saunders, but also a version entitled "The Ballad of Casey Jones" written by Mississippi John Hurt, and performed by, among other the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band and the David Nelson Band.

There was a TV series of the same name in the 1960s.

Other uses of the name Casey Jones

  • The stationmaster in the American television series Shining Time Station, was named Stacy Jones in a tip of the hat to the folklore legend.
  • Casey Jones was also the name of a character from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He was typically a friend of the turtles (particularly Raphael) in addition to being a part-time vigilante whose trademark was the use of sports equipment as weapons and armour.
  • Casey Jones is the name of a comicbook artist.
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