Who Is Casey Jones?
Who is Casey Jones? A 1900 train wreck that was immortalized by The Ballad of Casey Jones is a fascinating chapter in railroad history. Jackson, Tennessee, home of the real Casey Jones, offers tours of his home and railroad memorabilia, plus unique shopping and dining experiences.
Jackson, Tennessee is best known as the home of railroad legend Casey Jones. Jonathan Luther Jones was born on March 14, 1863, and his family moved to Cayce, (pronounced Casey) Kentucky when he was 13 years old. He was instantly attracted to the trains passing through his new hometown. Two years later, when he was 15, he became a telegrapher for the Mobile & Ohio Railroad. He acquired his famous nickname, Casey, when other railroaders inquired about where he lived. This shy young man set about to learn as much about trains and railroads as possible. He became a brakeman on the train runs from Columbus to Jackson, Tennessee. It was in this west Tennessee hub that he met his bride, Janie Brady. They married and raised their three children, Charles, Helen, and John Lloyd, in Jackson.
In 1888, Jones became a fireman for the Illinois Central Railroad (ICRR). Jones was promoted to position of engineer in February, l900, and had a reasonably good record, not having been disciplined for the past three years. He had been assigned to passenger service between Memphis and Canton and instructed about the importance of the trains to which he had been assigned. His supervisor told him to use good judgement, especially in stormy weather, and to keep close lookout for signals at all times, particularly in approaching and passing through stations and yards. He particularly instructed Jones not to attempt to do any reckless running with the view of establishing a record of making fast time, or better time than the other men on the runs. From February until April, 1900, Jones ran the Cannonball Express, which consisted of two fast passenger trains that traveled the dangerous 188 mile route between Chicago and New Orleans everyday. He greatly enjoyed the thrill manuevering this curving route at high speeds, but he hated being stationed in Memphis while his family was still in Jackson. He hoped to soon have enough money to move them to join him. With this thought in mind, Jones agreed to a double shift on the night of April 29, 1900.
Casey Jones and his fireman, Sim Webb, had just reached Memphis after completing a northbound run of the Cannonball. The engineer scheduled to take this train southbound was ill, and Jones agreed to take the run with his engine #382. The southbound train from Chicago was 90 minutes late, placing Jones behind schedule. Convinced he could make up the lost time, Jones maneuvered the rushing passenger train through the dark and foggy night. The engine reached speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour. He took the siding at Goodman, Mississippi, in order for the northbound train to pass on the single track. With a supposedly clear track ahead, Jones was only 2 minutes behind schedule when he approached Vaughan, Mississippi. Trains here were supposed to have been sidelined to allow him to pass, but one train had a broken airhose and 4 cars remained on the track as #382 rapidly approached. As the engine rounded the curve at Vaughan, Sim spotted the red lights of the stranded train's caboose. When Sim yelled to warn Jones, Casey through on the brakeline and yelled "Jump, Sim, jump," as he took a final look at his friend. With a certain death ahead, Jones did not abandon his engine. At 3:52 am on April 30, 1900, Engine 382 exploded into the stranded cars and left the track. Jones was the only fatality. Official accident reports state that the actual damage of this collision amounted to $3,323.75. Total blame was placed on Engineer Casey Jones.
Sim, who often made up tunes to sing while he worked, was deeply touched by the death of his friend. He created a song about Casey Jones. The railroaders who worked with Sim began to sing the tune up and down the rails Jones had ridden. After Engineer William Leighton sang the ballad for his brothers, vaudeville performers Bert and Frank Leighton, they began including this song in their routines. The ballad caught the attention of songwriters T. Lawrence Siebert and Edward Newton who copyrighted a version of this song in 1909. Even though the copyrighted version differed noticeably from Sim's original ballad and wasn't entirely factual, it became a best seller within a few years. In the words of a simple song, the story of Casey Jones was shared with the world, creating a place in history for a man who loved railroading.
Jackson, Tennessee is home to Casey Jones Village. At the Casey Jones Home and Railroad Museum visitors can see exhibits of personal items from the Jones family and railroad memorabilia, including a scale model depicting the famous accident at Vaughan, Mississippi. Tourists can also climb aboard historic Engine 382 and ring the bell. The Village also includes The Old Country Store which has thousands of unique gifts items, an old fashioned soda parlor, and a bountiful buffet specializing in southern country cooking. Several other shops specialize in Christmas collectibles, swords and knives, and railroad memorabilia. Guests can spend the night in a real red caboose or an 1890s railroad car at the Casey Jones Station Inn.