January 2

Blind Alfred Reed’s Folk Song “The Wreck of the Virginian”

“The Wreck of the Virginian” is an American folk song by Blind Alfred Reed. Recorded on July 28, 1927, the song tells about a train wreck in Ingleside, West Virginia. Originally, its release was Victor 20836. It became part of Reed’s Complete Recorded Works 1927-29 album.

The lyrics are like a documentary. It describes how E. G. Aldrich and Frank M. O’Neill “left Roanoke en route for Huntington” on “a bright Spring morning on the twenty-fourth of May, 1927”. Aldrich, an engineer, is from Roanoke, Virginia, and people know him as “Dad”. O’Neill, a fireman, is from Pax, West Virginia. The two were on running train number three. Then, “at eleven fifty-two that day, they just left Ingleside”. After that, an unfortunate event happened. “An eastbound freight crushed into them”, leaving them both dead. In the track, it notes that “Dad” Aldrich had been an engineer on the line since 1906.


In detail, the two trains met in a head-on collision. Aldrich and O’Neill were scalded to death by the steam of their locomotive. Its steam crawled up and over the engine moving the freight train. None of the trains got wrecked. However, 20 passengers injured themselves because of its sudden stop. Fortunately, none of the injuries were serious.

Blind Alfred Reed’s Brief Background

While playing during a convention in 1927, Ralph Peer, who was the director of Bristol Sessions, heard Reed playing “The Wreck of the Virginian”. Peer then asked Reed if he wanted to make some recordings. Reed agreed and he recorded four songs. One was a solo—“The Wreck of the Virginian”. Three with Arville’s guitar accompaniment—“I Mean to Live for Jesus”, “You Must Unload”, and “Walking in the Way with Jesus”. After the Bristol Sessions, Reed kept recording until 1929. This was the year of his most famous song’s release—“How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live”.

After 1929, he stopped recording and lived out the rest of his life. He spent his years mostly in the Princeton area in Mercer County, West Virginia. His passion for music continued as he performed locally. Come 1937, they passed a statute prohibiting blind street musicians.

In addition to being a recording artist and a musician, he also served as a lay preacher Methodist church minister. In 1956, Reed died, supposedly of starvation. He is buried in Elgood, West Virginia.


Blind Alfred Reed, the wreck of the virginian

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