John Henry Monument – Talcott, West Virginia - Atlas Obscura

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John Henry Monument

Talcott, West Virginia

This statue in Talcott, West Virginia, is an enduring symbol of American grit. 

Sponsored by West Virginia Tourism & Visit Southern West Virginia CVB
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A bronze statue of John Henry towers over the entrance to the Great Bend railroad tunnel near Talcott, West Virginia. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Great Bend Tunnel’s completion in 1972, the statue, constructed by Charles O. Cooper, was unveiled near Talcott. It stayed there for 40 years, until, in 2012, it was moved to the John Henry Historical Park.

Between 1868 and 1870, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway drew strong men to this part of West Virginia to help carve a tunnel through the mountains to continue the rail line. These “steel drivin’ men,” as they were known, used hammers and axes to bore holes that would hold explosives to blast through the rock.

As legend has it, Henry, a formerly enslaved man, signed on as a steel driver and built a reputation as the strongest man on the railroad crew. When the company introduced a steam-powered drill to expedite work on the tunnel, the men issued a challenge: Henry versus the machine.

Some accounts say Henry died in an explosion. Others say he died of a broken heart, unable to best the machine. An early version of The Ballad of John Henry details it this way: “John Henry was hammering on the right side, / The big steam drill on the left, / Before that steam drill could beat him down, / He hammered his fool self to death.”

Regardless of which details were true and which were spun over the last 150 years, Henry lives on in American folklore. On July 11, 1996, the U.S. Postal Service dedicated a stamp in Henry’s honor.

Know Before You Go

The statue is located near the entrance to the Great Bend railroad tunnel in Talcott, West Virginia. A museum and gift shop is located at 21 Pat Ball Road in Talcott.

Sponsored by the West Virginia Department of Tourism & Visit Southern West Virginia CVB. Learn more and plan your trip at wvtourism.com

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