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John Henry: The Steel Drivin’ Man

Placing John Henry


Generations of folklorists and historians have tried to prove John Henry really existed and to place the alleged contest. Early research pointed to the Big Bend Tunnel in Summers County, West Virginia, as the site of John Henry’s deed.

In the 1920s a rivalry developed between two professors researching John Henry – Louis Chappell of West Virginia University (shown here) and Guy Johnson of the University of North Carolina. They never agreed on the details, but both placed the story in West Virginia. Others claim that John Henry beat the steam drill in Alabama or Virginia or Jamaica.

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