Was wondering if anyone had seen an article by Linda Wheeler of the Washington Post. It appeared in the Los Angeles Times issue of 12/26/98. Wheeler reported that a William & Mary researcher discovered evidence that a prisoner, buried at Virginia Penitentiary, could have been the "real" John Henry. References in the variants of the ballad to "the White House" do not refer to the President's home in the nation's capital, but to the prison hospital, which was commonly known as such. I don't have the article handy, but it can be downloaded from the LA Times archive website for $1.50.
Cary Ginell Sound Thinking Music Research firstname.lastname@example.org