Yesterday was the 150th birthday celebration for Jonathan Luther “Casey” Jones. You know me, I had to go by and visit. I am always up for a good historical field trip, and the festivities in Jackson, Tennessee, were just down the road. I borrowed my wife’s Honda Civic (which gets awesome gas mileage), turned on a lecture from The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and headed north.
I didn’t want to study and analyze every article online before I went up to the museum, otherwise there would be nothing new for me to learn; however, I did want to briefly refresh. In doing so, I thought back to my first encounter of Casey Jones.
My earliest memory of Casey Jones came from Disney’s Casey Jones, the Brave Engineer. I remember watching this as a kid and thinking that Casey Jones was a bad-ass. (It’s no wonder that the Grateful Dead had their own Rock N’ Roll version of Casey Jones.) While this short, animated story shows Casey’s ambition to never be late, the ending is rather disappointing. It paints Casey Jones as a man who overcomes all obstacles (including scooping a girl off the tracks while riding the cow-catcher of his moving train–yes, it really happened), and still coming out a winner at the end. Disney’s version shows Casey Jones surviving the train wreck and delivering the mail (somewhat) promptly.
As we know, this just is not correct. Casey Jones did, in fact, have a horrific train wreck, but dying in this wreck is what made him a legend. Traveling at a high pace, Casey Jones had made up for the train’s late departure and lost time. (This lost time was no fault of his own.) As Casey Jones was coming into his station, there was a passenger train that had stalled on the main track. Traveling at a rate of 75 mph, Casey could not stop his train before it collided with the passenger train; however, he did manage to slow it significantly. Because Casey Jones sacrificed his life and stayed on board to slow the train, he no doubt saved the passengers from serious injury and death. Casey, the only fatality from this horrific event, was found with his hands still clutched the train’s whistle cord and brake.
Now that I have cleared that up (thanks Walt Disney!), back to the celebration.
I had never been to the Casey Jones museum before. (I don’t think…my parents might correct me later. I certainly don’t remember ever going.) The museum was full of Casey Jones material, ranging from childhood to his death; Illinois Central railroad history, some with and some without Casey Jones; history about the founding of the museum; and of course no southern museum is complete without a section dedicated to the American Civil War. While each aspect was fascinating, the part that I thought was most interesting was his name. I had always assumed that Casey Jones’ name was Casey Jones. The story of how he got his nickname is simple, yet significant to Jackson, Tennessee’s, long-lasting impression on Casey Jones.
Unfortunately, I did not make it to the museum at 10:00 am when the majority of the special activities occurred. From what I understand though, there was cake and Casey Jones’ grandchildren were present. I did get to hear some live music while I was there. If you are into folksy, southern-banjo music, you can check out the clip I uploaded on Youtube.
I was glad to have the opportunity to go see this museum (for free), but I would have been disappointed if I had driven more than an hour’s drive. With the fliers and brouhaha in the newspapers, I was expecting a little more excitement. I took a few pictures if you want to check out the gallery.