Jonathan Luther "Casey" Jones (March 14th, 1863 - April 30th, 1900) was an American railroader who died in a train crash on April 30th, 1900 when his train collided with the caboose of a stalled freight train near Vaughan, Mississippi. His dramatic death while trying to stop his train and save the lives of his passengers made him a folk hero; he was immortalized in a popular ballad sung by his friend Wallace Saunders, an African-American engine wiper for the IC.
He was known for his skills with the train whistle, and made his calls unique. The whistle would involve a long-drawn-out note that began softly, rose and then died away to a whisper. The sound of it was variously described as "a sort of whippoorwill call," or "like the war cry of a Viking."
World's Columbian Exposition of 1893
During the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago, Illinois, in 1893, IC was charged with providing commuter service for the thousands of visitors to the fairground. A call was sent out for trainmen who wanted to work there. Jones answered it, spending a pleasant summer there with his wife. He shuttled many people from Van Buren Street to Jackson Park during the exposition. It was his first experience as an engineer in passenger service and he liked it.
Saves a child
In 1895, a group of children wandered on the tracks where Casey's train was passing through. All but one little girl got off the tracks. Casey seeing the child on the track, he yelled to fellow engineer Bob Stevenson to reverse the train and yelled to the girl to get off the tracks in almost the same breath. Realizing that she was still immobile, he raced to the tip of the pilot or cowcatcher and braced himself on it, reaching out as far as he could to pull the frightened but unharmed girl from the rails.
On April 30th, 1900, Casey Jones and his fireman Simeon T. "Sim" Webb were taking passengers to Vaughan, Mississippi. The train was a little bit off schedule, but Casey was sure they'll get to Vaughan in good time despite the foggy weather from a rain storm. Unfortunately, a freight train No. 83 had left four rear cars behind on the track because it was delayed due to having two drawbars pulled while at Vaughan. The cars were in the path of Casey's train.
Despite the poor visibility, Slim Webb saw the cars up ahead yelling "Oh my Lord, there's something on the main line!" Jones quickly yelled back "Jump Sim, jump!" to Webb, who crouched down and jumped before impact, and was knocked unconscious by his fall. The last thing Webb heard as he jumped was the long, piercing scream of the whistle as Jones warned anyone still in the freight train looming ahead. Jones reversed the throttle and slammed the airbrakes into emergency stop, but "Ole 382" quickly plowed through a wooden caboose, a car load of hay, another of corn, and halfway through a car of timber before leaving the track. Because Jones stayed on board to slow the train, he was believed to have saved the passengers from serious injury and death – Jones was the only fatality of the collision, he was only two minutes behind schedule.
Casey's bravery on that fateful day immortalized him through songs, a lost silent film, and a highly fictionalized Disney 1950 short cartoon called The Brave Engineer.