TALCOTT, WV (WVNS) — If you live here in Southern West Virginia, most likely you are family with the folklore of John Henry, a steel-driving man. Stacy Ford, a volunteer with the John Henry Days Committee, said Henry is said to have grown up right here in Talcott, Summers County.
“We have a lot of testimonials, stories from people that were here when they were building the tunnel when they worked,” Ford said. “People that worked with him. People whose families helped feed the workers.”
During the building of the C&O Railroad through Summers County, the company hired workers to join their labor force and drill them through the Great Bend Tunnel.
However, those in the workforce would have lost their jobs with the invention of the steam drill. John Henry challenged the machine to a contest, and he won, dying of what the folklore says was an aneurysm.
“Of course, there’s a few different stories,” Ford said. “Some say he died thereafter the competition probably of an aneurysm. Then there’s some stories that say he actually went home from work and died in his sleep.”
Roughly 1,000 feet from the end of the Great Bend Tunnel, from the spot where John Henry successfully beat the steam drill, is where he is believed to remain to this day based on the testimony of Preston Meadows.
“He and his brother worked on the sawmill that was right before the tunnel,” Michael Cales, the Project Manager for the John Henry Historical Park, said. “He claimed they knew John Henry, they were friends with John Henry. John Henry did have a competition with the steam drill and he did die at the end of it and he was buried 1,000 feet from the east end of the tunnel.”
Regardless if you believe John Henry is buried 1,000 feet from the east end of the Great Bend Tunnel, there is proof Henry was a real person, our very own piece of history from right here in Southern West Virginia.