John Henry: “Take this hammer, it won’t kill you”

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John Henry: “Take this hammer, it won’t kill you”

by John Douglas
Southern Cultures, Vol. 10, No. 2: Summer 2004

"John Henry and his shaker apparently kept hammering and drilling, hour after hour, while the steam-powered drill got tangled up in the hard rock. Years later, a hammer with the initials 'J. H.' was found in the tunnel."

One January day in 1968, a bunch of us lit out from Westminster, Maryland, and headed down through the Allegheny Mountains to the southwest corner of West Virginia. We weren’t exactly Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters on the Magic Bus, but we still made something of a 1960s caravan as we hauled books to start a library in an old two-room school in Mohawk, a small coal-mining town near the Kentucky line.