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Though the story of John Henry sounds like the quintessential tall tale, it is certainly based, at least in part, on an actual historical character. John Henry was an African American folk hero ranking with other imaginary legends like Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan. People disagree as to where the legend of John Henry originated. Some believe John Henry came from West Virginia, while recent research suggests Alabama. Still, all share a similar back-story. In order to build the railroads, companies hired thousands of men to smooth out the land and chop and cut through obstacles that stood in the way of the proposed tracks. One such chore that figures heavily into some of the earliest John Henry ballads is the blasting a hole through a mountain in order to make the Big Bend Tunnel. This tunnel was more than a mile straight through a mountain in West Virginia.
Steel-drivin' men like John Henry used large hammers and stakes to pound holes into the rock, which were then filled with explosives that would blast a cavity deeper and deeper into the mountain. In the folk ballads, the central event took place under such conditions. Eager to reduce costs and speed up progress, some tunnel engineers were using steam drills to power their way into the rock. According to some accounts, on hearing of the machine, John Henry challenged the steam drill to a contest. He won, but died of exhaustion, his life cut short by his own superhuman effort. Your host, Binary Mouse, introduces Your Virtual World's Campfire Tales Series in the hosted version. You can also view this video below in our special Virtual
World TV mode.
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Free Fireside Theater stories are tiny tales usually less than ten minutes long and told by Your Virtual World's animated story tellers. They are published and freely available for viewing without cost to the worldwide audience of story listeners. Unlike the Campfire Tale Series of stories, they cannot be personalized or serve as reading exercises for early readers. They are presented to the world in order to share in and preserve the long cultural history enshrined in stories that mankind has collectively created over many generations on earth.