Wreck of the Old 97


John McCrady ( American, 1911 - 1968 )

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General Description

Capturing the moment that the train begins its plummet, John McCrady's print of the Wreck of the Old 97 portends the catastrophic demise of a mail train near Danville, Virginia on September 27, 1903. The thick, ominous clouds echo the smoke pouring from the train as it derails from the trestle bridge. Darkness is broken by the bright headlight of the train and the strong moonlight which outlines the silhouettes of the trees that line the track. The lone central figure possibly represents engineer Joseph A. Broady who was operating the train. As the speeding train derailed, the trestle bridge partially collapsed, and most of the men on board perished.

Jennie Russell, Digital Collections Content Coordinator, 2018.

Adapted from

"Nine Fell to Death." Washington Post, September 28, 1903_._

Fun Facts

  • The 1924 Vernon Dalhart recording of the song "Wreck of the Old 97" was the B-side track of the first country music record to sell over a million copies. The A-side was titled "The Prisoner's Song."

  • The inspiration for the name of Dallas band the Old 97's came from Johnny Cash's cover of the song "The Wreck of the Old 97."


Web Resources

  • Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
    View another print of this scene by regionalist artist Thomas Hart Benton.

  • YouTube
    Listen to a version of the ballad "Wreck of the Old 97" by Vernon Dalhart from 1924.

  • YouTube
    Listen to a version of the ballad "Wreck of the Old 97" by Johnny Cash from 1957.