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CELEBRATE CASEY JONES CENTENNIAL

Celebrate the 100th anniversary of the death of America's best-known locomotive engineer on Sunday, April 30, 2000.

John Luther Jones was known by his nickname "Casey," derived from his birthplace of Cayce, Kentucky. As one of the youngest engineers on the Illinois Central, he earned a reputation for his ability to handle fast trains and to bring them in on time. He was also renowned for his skill in coaxing remarkable tones from his locomotive's whistle; as was later related in the famous song, "All the switchmen knew by the engine's moans that the man at the throttle was Casey Jones."

Jones spent the summer of 1893 in Chicago, operating passenger trains between the Loop and the World's Columbian Exposition at Hyde Park. Illinois Central's newest and finest locomotive, which had been displayed at the Exposition, was assigned to him at the close of the exhibit. In 1899, he was assigned to the Memphis-Canton (Mississippi) run of the railroad's premier passenger train, the New Orleans Special. It was on that run, on the night of April 30, 1900, that Jones came around a curve near Vaughan, Mississippi, and saw a stopped freight train fouling the main line just ahead. Jones applied the emergency brakes, but there was not enough distance to stop. His fireman, Sim Webb, was uninjured, after Jones ordered him to jump from locomotive moments before impact. Jones remained at his post, slowing the locomotive as much as possible to avert a greater catastrophe. He was found dead in the locomotive's wreckage; none of the passengers or other crewmen were seriously injured.

Wallace Saunders, an engine-wiper at the Canton roundhouse, later composed a song about the wreck. A few years later, vaudevillians Lawrence Siebert and Eddie Newton (without crediting Saunders) published a sheet music version of "Casey Jones, The Brave Engineer." While the lyrics of the published song took great liberties with the facts, the song became an instant hit and has endured to this day.