Mudcat Café message #1354202 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #50747   Message #1354202
Posted By: Lighter
11-Dec-04 - 04:04 PM
Thread Name: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
Subject: RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO
It's not surprising to me that contests between human steel-drivers occurred, that people laid bets on them, and so forth. Nor that the papers would be silent about such local events out in the sticks - they probably wouldn't even have heard of them, or by the time they did, the contests would have been old news. More to the point, I doubt that many white 19th century journalists would have been professionally interested in anything that happened in a chiefly black construction camp short of a particularly heinous crime.

Personally, I must agree with John that a John-Henry type contest, particularly if impromptu, would also be unlikely to hit the papers. If such a contest really occurred, there's no reason to expect that it would have been an elaborately planned event.

Moreover, folklore being what it is, IF an impromptu match took place between a human driller and a machine, there's no particular reason to believe that the man must have died. He could have given up after twenty minutes, gotten a round of backslapping and applause and maybe a dram, and that was that. But such an event wouldn't make a very good story - or song.

How about this scenario - I got a million of 'em. A driver named John Henry or similar died on the job accidentally from a hammer blow (or almost died) hence the floating verse about "This ol' hammer killed John Henry/ Won't kill me." Hearing the verse, semiliterate chap, not necessarily Blankenship, wonders how it hapened and why laborers should be singing about it. Later, he has the inspiration to make a song.

I hate to say it, but this series of events seems to me to be quite as likely as the idea that there was a drilling contest at all.

And FWIW, documents prove there was a prizefighter named John Morrissey, the hero of two or three broadsides But no matter how hard we look, we'll never find the proof that he fought a Russian sailor in Tierra del Fuego "on a Christmas Day," as some versions tell us.

I really hate to sound so negative. I'm just a folk curmudgeon, I guess. ; )