John Henry

RockyWalley

Wilmington, United States

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John Henry is an American folk hero, notable for having raced against a steam powered hammer and won, only to die in victory with his hammer in his hand. He has been the subject of numerous songs, stories, plays, and novels.

The truth about John Henry as the strongest man alive is obscured by time and myth, but one legend has it that he was a slave born in Missouri in the 1840s and fought his notable battle with the steam hammer along the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in Talcott, West Virginia. A statue and memorial plaque have been placed along a highway south of Talcott as it crosses over the tunnel in which the competition may have taken place.

The railroad historian Roy C. Long found that there were multiple Big Bend Tunnels along the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Railway. Also, the C&O employed multiple black men who went by the name “John Henry” at the time that those tunnels were being built. Though he could not find any documentary evidence, he believes on the basis of anecdotal evidence that the contest between man and machine did indeed happen at the Talcott, West Virginia, site because of the presence of all three (a man named John Henry, a tunnel named Big Bend, and a steam-powered drill) at the same time at that place.

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