1996 32¢ John Henry
Issue Date: July 11, 1996
City: Anaheim, CA
Printed By: Ashton-Potter (USA) Ltd
Printing Method: Lithographed
Perforations: 11.1 x 11
John Henry – Hero of Railroad Men
Of all America’s tall tale heroes, John Henry was a real flesh-and-blood man. He worked as a gandy dancer – a steel-driving man, for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. In 1870, while drilling in the Big Bend Tunnel in West Virginia (seen on the front), John Henry died.
Shortly after that, both John Henry songs and stories sprang up. Songs set the rhythm for the grueling work on the line. The stories initiated new hands to the fraternity of steel-driving men – the men who moved mountains with sweat and blood so that the country could be bound together with iron rails. At the height of rail power, more than 100 hammer songs and over 100 ballads existed. One-upmanship, of course, made each tale more fantastic with the telling.
John Henry was special from birth. In some tales, he weighs 44 pounds; in others, he walks and talks at birth. In still others, he is born with a hammer in his hand. Full grown, John Henry could do anything that required muscle, and did it well. But more than anything else, John Henry’s passion was to be a steel-drivin’ man. Finally he was, and he was the best there ever was.
That’s why John Henry pitted his muscles against the muscle of a steam engine – and won. But he died in the doing with his hammer in his hand, gaining immortality.