A folk hero who became a legend, Jonathan Luther "Casey" Jones (1864-1900) was an engineer on the Illinois Central Railroad.
Good-looking and over 6-foot-4, Casey would blow the whistle of his Cannonball Express distinctly, so everyone always knew his train was coming through.
According to conductor A.J. "Fatty" Thomas, "Casey could just about play a tune on the whistle. He could make the cold chills run up your back with it, and grin all the time. Everybody along the line knew Casey Jones' whistle."
Because people on his route came to expect the whistle, Casey pushed hard to stay on time. Late at night on April 30, 1900, heading from Memphis to Canton, Mississippi, at a bend near Vaughan, Casey had the throttle wide open when he discovered a stalled boxcar up ahead.
"Decisions," said Frederick Speakman, "determine destiny."
Casey knew he couldn't stop. He ordered his crew to jump off the train, then slowed the train down enough to save his passengers before the collision took his own life.
His daring individualism and ultimate sacrifice were retold by a friend Wallace Saunders and put to words by Eddie Newton and music by T. Lawrence Seibert in the Ballad Casey Jones(1902).
About such bravery, aviator Charles Lindbergh, Jr. once said, "What kind of man would live a life without daring? Is life so sweet that we should criticize men that seek adventure? Is there a better way to die?"
Heroes are made by great occasions.