The Casey Jones Village is centered around the last home of the famed engineer, whose heroic death made him a locomotive legend.
Jonathan Luther “Casey” Jones’ love of trains began as a child in his adopted hometown of Cayce, Kentucky. (Thus the nickname Casey) There, he would spend his days hanging out at the railroad station. When a train was due, he would sit on a fence and watch as the locomotive pulled to a stop alongside the water tank. He’d talk to the crews as they topped off the water in the tender and dream of one day becoming an engineer.
In 1878, at the age of 15, he went to work for the Mobile and Ohio Railroad as a telegrapher and was later promoted to brakeman. He finally became an engineer — for the Illinois Central Railroad — in 1891. Jones was known for his distinctive train whistle, “like the war cry of a Viking,” that would prompt people to exclaim, “there goes Casey Jones!” as his train chugged by. He was also famous for getting to his destination on time, even if it meant taking the occasional ill -advised risk. He was also a family man, and settled in Jackson, Tennessee in a small frame house with his wife and three children.
At 12:50 AM on a foggy April 30th, 1900, Casey’s Engine No. 382 departed from Memphis headed for Canton, Mississippi. They were already 95 minutes behind schedule, and Casey, always the daredevil, was determined to make up for lost time. The train roared along, leading Jones to comment to a co-worker, “Sim, the old girl’s got her dancing slippers on tonight!” But danger lay ahead — a caboose and three freight cars had been accidentally left on the track. Casey sprang into action. “Jump, Sim, jump,” he yelled to his co-worker as he slammed the airbrakes to lessen the impact of the crash.
Casey was killed instantly. He was the only fatality. It is said when his mangled body was pulled from the rubble, his hands still clutched both the brake and the whistle cord. His death made national news, and the story of his demise inspired his friend Wallace Saunders to write a popular ballad, versions of which have been sung for over a century:
Casey said, just before he died
“There’s a lot more railroads that I’d like to ride;”
He said the good Lord whispered, “It’ll never be,”
The Illinois Central be the death of me
Headaches and heartaches and all kinds of pain
Ain’t no different from a railroad train
You can take your stories, noble and grand
All just a part of a railroad man.....
Today, the Casey Jones Village in Jackson celebrates the man and his industry. It features a railroad museum, Old Country Store, 1890s style Ice Cream Shoppe, a gift store, and the little white house that Casey called home. If you’re in Jackson, stop on by, and take a step back in time.