The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #4018 Message #615366
Posted By: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
23-Dec-01 - 01:43 PM
Thread Name: Origins: John Henry
Subject: RE: The origins of John Henry
Guest djc, every time I see the word "docudrama," I run the other way. Most are speculation and nonsense, dressed up to appeal to the lowest common denominator in the public. Garst has endulged in much speculation in this thread, but has failed to put forth evidence to support his theories.
"Informants" were mentioned in his last post. A parallel situation is outlined in "Folk Songs of the South" by J. H. Cox, 1925, a respected folklorist of his day. The governor of West Virginia from 1893-1897, in a letter, said John Hardy was a "steel-driver and was famous in the beginning of the C & O Railroad. It was about 1872 that he was in this section." The letter goes on to describe his prowess. A Mr. Walker reported a "current belief" about John Hardy, working for a railroad contractor named Langhorn, working on the Big Bend Tunnel. The contractor on the other side of the tunnel had a steam drill. A wager was made that Hardy could drill a hole in less time than the steam drill. Hardy won but died. Some of the ballads, however, go on to describe a John Hardy who later became a gambler and murdered a man.
Cox wrote a thesis (Harvard Univ.) and an article with material "showing" that John Hardy was the steel driving man of the ballads. I haven't seen the thesis, but the material in the book on folk songs contains only information from "informants." This is another good story but several scholars have thrown cold water on it, as well.
To quote one of the best advertisements on TV recently, "Where's the beef?" I prefer the John Hardy tale, and could make a "docudrama" out of it as well.