Casey Jones, a railroad engineer, became an American legend because of a ballad about his death. Born John Luther Jones, he got the nickname Casey from the town of Cayce, Kentucky, where his family moved when he was a teenager. Jones was an engineer on the Cannonball Express, which ran between Chicago and New Orleans. On April 30, 1900, he was filling in for a sick engineer when the train's fireman warned him of trains stopped on the tracks ahead. Jones ordered the fireman to jump off the train but stayed aboard himself, holding on to the brake. After the crash, Jones's body was found in the engine with one hand still on the brake lever. Jones was the only person killed in the crash, which would have been much worse if he had not stayed aboard to apply the brakes.
Casey Jones passed into American folklore when a black railroad worker named Wallace Saunders wrote a song about the wreck. The ballad was translated into several languages and has gained popularity around the world. Later versions of the tale have portrayed Casey Jones as, among other things, a dashing ladies' man, a World War II pilot, and an engineer who breaks a union strike and is punished by death. Robert Ardrey published a play called Casey Jones in 1938.