Apr 30 2011

On This Day In History April 30

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

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April 30 is the 120th day of the year (121st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 245 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1900, Jones dies in a train wreck in Vaughn, Mississippi, while trying to make up time on the Cannonball Express.

John Luther (“Casey”) Jones (March 14, 1863 – April 30, 1900) was an American railroad engineer from Jackson, Tennessee, who worked for the Illinois Central Railroad (IC). On April 30, 1900, he alone was killed when his passenger train, the “Cannonball Express,” collided with a stalled freight train at Vaughan, Mississippi, on a foggy and rainy night.

His dramatic death, trying to stop his train and save lives, made him a hero; he was immortalized in a popular ballad sung by his friend Wallace Saunders, an African American engine wiper for the IC.


On April 29, 1900 Jones was at Poplar Street Station in Memphis, Tennessee, having driven the No. 2 from Canton (with his assigned Engine No. 382 ). Normally, Jones would have stayed in Memphis on a layover; however, he was asked to take the No. 1 back to Canton, as the scheduled engineer (Sam Tate), who held the regular run of Trains No. 1 (known as “The Chicago & New Orleans Limited”, later to become the famous “Panama Limited”) and No. 4 (“The New Orleans Fast Mail”) with his assigned Engine No. 382, had called in sick with cramps. Jones loved challenges and was determined to “get her there on the advertised” time no matter how difficult it looked.

A fast engine, a good fireman (Simeon T. Webb would be the train’s assigned fireman), and a light train were ideal for a record-setting run. Although it was raining, steam trains of that era operated best in damp conditions. However, the weather was quite foggy that night (which reduced visibility), and the run was well-known for its tricky curves. Both conditions would prove deadly later that night.

Normally the No. 1 would depart Memphis at 11:15 PM and arrive in Canton (188 miles to the south) at 4:05 AM the following morning. However, due to the delays with the change in engineers, the No. 1 (with six cars) did not leave Memphis until 12:50 am, 95 minutes behind schedule.

The first section of the run would take Jones from Memphis 100 miles south to Grenada, Mississippi, with an intermediate water stop at Sardis, Mississippi (50 miles into the run), over a new section of light and shaky rails at speeds up to 80 mph (129 km/h). At Senatobia, Mississippi (40 miles into the run) Jones passed through the scene of a prior fatal accident from the previous November. Jones made his water stop at Sardis, then arrived at Grenada for more water, having made up 55 minutes of the 95 minute delay.

Jones made up another 15 minutes in the 25-mile stretch from Grenada to Winona, Mississippi. The following 30-mile stretch (Winona to Durant, Mississippi) had no speed-restricted curves. By the time he got to Durant (155 miles into the run) Jones was almost on time. He was quite happy, saying at one point “Sim, the old girl’s got her dancing slippers on tonight!” as he leaned on the Johnson bar.

At Durant he received new orders to take to the siding at Goodman, Mississippi (eight miles south of Durant, and 163 miles into the run) and wait for the No. 2 passenger train to pass, and then continue on to Vaughan. His orders also instructed him that he was to meet passenger train No. 26 at Vaughan (15 miles south of Goodman, and 178 miles into the run); however, No. 26 was a local passenger train in two sections and would be in the siding, so he would have priority over it. Jones pulled out of Goodman, only five minutes behind schedule, and with 25 miles of fast track ahead Jones doubtless felt that he had a good chance to make it to Canton by 4:05 AM “on the advertised”.

But the stage was being set for a tragic wreck at Vaughan. The stopped double-header freight train No. 83 (located to the north and headed south) and the stopped long freight train No. 72 (located to the south and headed north) were both in the passing track to the east of the main line but there were more cars than the track could hold, forcing some of them to overlap onto the main line above the north end of the switch. The northbound local passenger train No. 26 had arrived from Canton earlier which had required a “saw by” in order for it to get to the “house track” west of the main line. The saw by maneuver for No. 26 required that No. 83 back up and allow No. 72 to move northward and pull its overlapping cars off the south end, allowing No. 26 to gain access to the house track. But this left four cars overlapping above the north end of the switch and on the main line right in Jones’ path. As a second saw by was being prepared to let Jones pass, an air hose broke on No. 72, locking its brakes and leaving the last four cars of No. 83 on the main line.

Meanwhile, Jones was almost back on schedule, running at about 75 miles per hour toward Vaughan, unaware of the danger ahead, since he was traveling through a 1.5-mile left-hand curve which blocked his view. Webb’s view from the left side of the train was better, and he was first to see the red lights of the caboose on the main line. “Oh my Lord, there’s something on the main line!” he yelled to Jones. Jones quickly yelled back “Jump Sim, jump!” to Webb, who crouched down and jumped about 300 feet before impact and was knocked unconscious. The last thing Webb heard when he jumped was the long, piercing scream of the whistle as Jones tried to warn anyone still in the freight train looming ahead. He was only two minutes behind schedule about this time.

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 half way through a car of timber before leaving the track. He had amazingly reduced his speed from about 75 miles per hour to about 35 miles per hour when he impacted with a deafening crunch of steel against steel and splintering wood. Because Jones stayed on board to slow the train, he no doubt saved the passengers from serious injury and death (Jones himself was the only fatality of the collision). His watch was found to be stopped at the time of impact which was 3:52 AM on April 30, 1900. Popular legend holds that when his body was pulled from the wreckage of his train near the twisted rail his hands still clutched the whistle cord and the brake. A stretcher was brought from the baggage car on No. 1 and crewmen of the other trains carried his body to the depot ½-mile away.

 313 – Battle of Tzirallum: Emperor Licinius defeats Maximinus II and unifies the Eastern Roman Empire.

1006 – Supernova SN 1006, the brightest supernova in recorded history, appears in the constellation Lupus.

1315 – Enguerrand de Marigny is hanged on the public gallows at Montfaucon.

1492 – Spain gives Christopher Columbus his commission of exploration.

1513 – Edmund de la Pole, Yorkist pretender to the English throne, is executed on the orders of Henry VIII..

1789 – On the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street in New York City, George Washington takes the oath of office to become the first elected President of the United States.

1803 – Louisiana Purchase: The United States purchases the Louisiana Territory from France for $15 million, more than doubling the size of the young nation.

1812 – The Territory of Orleans becomes the 18th U.S. state under the name Louisiana.

1838 – Nicaragua declares independence from the Central American Federation.

1863 – A 65-man French Foreign Legion infantry patrol fought a force of nearly 2,000 Mexican soldiers to nearly the last man in Hacienda Camaron, Mexico.

1871 – The Camp Grant Massacre takes place in Arizona Territory.

1894 – Coxey’s Army reaches Washington, D.C. to protest the unemployment caused by the Panic of 1893.

1900 – Hawaii becomes a territory of the United States, with Sanford B. Dole as governor.

1900 – Casey Jones dies in a train wreck in Vaughn, Mississippi, while trying to make up time on the Cannonball Express.

1904 – The Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair opens in St. Louis, Missouri.

1907 – Honolulu, Hawaii becomes an independent city.

1925 – Automaker Dodge Brothers, Inc is sold to Dillon, Read & Company for $146 million plus $50 million for charity.

1927 – The Federal Industrial Institute for Women opens in Alderson, West Virginia, as the first women’s federal prison in the United States.

1927 – Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford become the first celebrities to leave their footprints in concrete at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

1937 – The Philippines holds a plebiscite for Filipino women on whether they should be extended the right to suffrage; over 90% would vote in the affirmative.

1938 – The animated cartoon short Porky’s Hare Hunt debuts in movie theaters, introducing Happy Rabbit (a prototype of Bugs Bunny).

1939 – The 1939-40 New York World’s Fair opens.

1939 – NBC inaugurates its regularly scheduled television service in New York City, broadcasting President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s N.Y. World’s Fair opening day ceremonial address.

1943 – World War II: Operation Mincemeat: The submarine HMS Seraph surfaces in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Spain to deposit a dead man planted with false invasion plans and dressed as a British military intelligence officer.

1945 – World War II: Fuhrerbunker: Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun commit suicide after being married for one day. Soviet soldiers raise the Victory Banner over the Reichstag building.

1947 – In Nevada, the Boulder Dam is renamed Hoover Dam a second time.

1948 – In Bogota, Colombia, the Organization of American States is established.

1953 – In Warner Robins, Georgia, an F4 tornado kills 18 people.

1956 – Former Vice President and Senator Alben Barkley dies during a speech in Virginia. He collapses after proclaiming “I would rather be a servant in the house of the lord than sit in the seats of the mighty.”

1961 – K-19, the first Soviet nuclear submarine equipped with nuclear missiles, is commissioned.

1963 – The Bristol Bus Boycott is held in Bristol to protest the Bristol Omnibus Company’s refusal to employ Black or Asian bus crews, drawing national attention to racial discrimination in the United Kingdom.

1966 – The Church of Satan is established at the Black House in San Francisco, California.

1967 – The Aldene Connection opened in Roselle Park, NJ, shutting down the CNJ’s Jersey City waterfront terminal and transferring commuters to Newark Penn Station.

1973 – Watergate Scandal: U.S. President Richard Nixon announces that top White House aids H.R. Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and others have resigned.

1975 – Fall of Saigon (or Liberation of Saigon from the Communist perspective): Communist forces gain control of Saigon. The Vietnam War formally ends with the unconditional surrender of South Vietnamese president Duong Van Minh.

1980 – Accession of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

1988 – Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II officially opens World Expo ’88 in Brisbane, Australia.

1993 – CERN announces World Wide Web protocols will be free.

1993 – Virgin Radio broadcasts for the first time in the United Kingdom.

1995 – U.S. President Bill Clinton became the first President to visit Northern Ireland.

1999 – Cambodia joins the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bringing the number of members to 10.

2004 – U.S. media release graphic photos of American soldiers abusing and sexually humiliating Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

2008 – Two skeletal remains found near Ekaterinburg, Russia are confirmed by Russian scientists to be the remains of Alexei Nikolaevich, Tsarevich of Russia and one of his sisters.

2009 – Chrysler automobile company files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Holidays and observances

   * Birthday of the King Carl XVI Gustav, one of the official flag days of Sweden.

   * Children’s Day (Mexico)

   * Christian Feast Day:



       Amator, Peter and Louis

       Blessed Miles Gerard

       Eutropius of Saintes

       Marie Guyart (Anglican Church of Canada)

       Maximus of Rome

       Pomponius of Naples

       Quirinus of Neuss

       Suitbert the Younger

       Saint Pope Pius V

       April 30 (Eastern Orthodox liturgics)

   * Consumer Protection Day (Thailand)

   * Earliest day on which Global Day of Prayer can fall, while June 3 is the latest; celebrated 10 days before Pentecost. (Christianity)

   * May Eve, the eve of the first day of summer (see May 1):

       Beltane Fire Festival (Calton Hill, Edinburgh)

       Carodejnice (Czech Republic and Slovakia)

       Eve of Beltane (Celtic Druidic holiday)

       Walpurgis Night (Central and Northern Europe)

   * National Persian Gulf Day (Iran)

   * Queen’s Day, the largest one-day holiday in the Netherlands.

   * Reunification Day (Vietnam)

   * Teacher’s Day (Paraguay)

   * Camaron Day (French Foreign Legion)