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GUEST,John Garst Origin Of John Henry--part TWO (240* d) RE: Origin Of John Henry--part TWO 24 Jan 05


"they buried him in the sand"
             –many versions of "John Henry"

buried him in a "cemetery" or "burying ground"
             –several versions

took John Henry up the mountain
             –one or two versions

took him on that "long white road"
             –one version

buried him between two mountains
             –two versions

Sand Ridge Cemetery, Shelby County, Alabama, is in "Back Holler," east of Dunnavant. Sand Ridge lies between Oak and Coosa Mountains, parallel southwest-to-northeast running ridges. It is a distinct ridge itself, sandy on top, that serves as the northeast boundary of, a kind of "plug" for, Dunnavant Valley.

A group of distinguished folks interested in Shelby County history met my wife and I in Leeds and set out to find John Henry's grave there on Friday afternoon, 21Jan2005.

In the beginning, Sand Ridge Road is paved, but after a while the pavement stops and the road is both sandy and white.

From Sand Ridge Cemetery, there is a clear view across a valley to the old C & W RR line outside the east portal of Oak Mountain Tunnel. "Every locomotive came rolling by / Says 'There lies a steel driving man.'"

I had expected (!) to find a nice marble tombstone reading "John Henry Dabney ... Here lies a steel driving man." I thought that Captain Dabney might have provided that for his old friend who died so far from home. Sadly, I was disappointed.

We did find what appears to be an unmarked grave *outside* the fence bounding the cemetery. One reason for a grave adjacent to, but outside of, a white cemetery is that it belongs to an African American. Sand Ridge Cemetery is populated mostly with the Isbell and Howard families, both white. The outside grave could be John Henry's.

Lt. Col. Glenn Nivens (ret. Army) says that he's heard or seen a version of "John Henry" that states that John Henry was buried "with his hammer in his hand." Since he is supposed to have been a famous steel driver in the community, that is certainly a logical possibility. Perhaps it is customary for skilled people to be buried with a tool.

There was some talk about bringing ground-penetrating radar equipment to the site to see what the contents of the outside grave look like. That lies in the future.

Sand Ridge Cemetery remains a viable possibility for the site of John Henry's grave.


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