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August 9

A Folk Tune About a Train Wreck, “The Wreck of the Virginian”

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A Folk Tune About a Train Wreck, "The Wreck of the Virginian" 1
The Wreck of the Virginian |Photo Credits: shazam.com

The Folk Song and its Story

An American folk song, “The Wreck of the Virginian” was penned and recorded by folk-country singer-songwriter Blind Alfred Reed. On July 28, 1927, he originally released it for Victor Records. It was included in Reed’s album entitled Complete Recorded Works, 1927-29.

The Wreck of the Virginian” narrates about a train wreck that happened in Ingleside, West Virginia. In fact, the crafted words in the song tell a documentary. It talks about the journey of an engineer and a fireman, E. G. Aldrich and Frank M. O’Neill. Aldrich is from Roanoke, Virginia who was an engineer since 1906 while O’Neill hails from Pax, West Virginia.

The story then starts when the two took the train and left Roanoke en route for Huntington on a bright spring morning on May 24, 1927. They left Ingleside at 11:52 A.M. that day when an unfortunate incident happened. An eastbound freight struck into the train they are aboard in killing both of them.

The Singer-Songwriter Behind the Folk Tune

A Folk Tune About a Train Wreck, "The Wreck of the Virginian" 2
Blind Alfred Reed |Photo Credits: dusttodigital.bandcamp.com

While “The Wreck of the Virginian” was gaining its popularity at the time of its release, many became interested who created such a poignant story song. In 1927, while playing in a convention, Ralph Peer, director of Bristol Sessions, heard Alfred Reed singing the song. With interest, Peer invited and asked Reed if he wanted to record some more songs of his own. As a result, the latter agreed and recorded four more songs. This included “The Wreck of the Virginian” which was sung by Reed solo. The other three songs were “I Mean to Live for Jesus,” “You Must Unload,” and “Walking in the Way with Jesus” which featured Arville’s guitar accompaniment.

Two years later, Reed left the recording limelight and lived out for the rest of his life. However, his passion for music lived on with him as he performed locally. For most of his years, he spent it in the Princeton area in Mercer County, West Virginia. Until the year 1937, it was a shame that they passed a statute prohibiting blind street musicians.

He then passed away in 1956 believed to have been caused by starvation. His remains were buried in Elgood, West Virginia. For once, he is remembered as a great singer and musician, but for most of his life, he is a lay preacher and a church minister.

LISTEN to the tune of this 1920s folk music, “The Wreck of the Virginian:”

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Blind Alfred Reed, folk music, the wreck of the virginian


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