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James and Grace


James Callahan was born in 1884 in Jackson County, Indiana. He was the oldest of seven. James' mother died giving birth to her 7th child, Jacob, who survived. James' father, Erastas Callahan, remarried quickly to a younger woman. A necessity, given the fact that he had a bunch of young children, including a newborn, with no mother. We can only guess at the young woman's motivation. Shortly thereafter, the new wife ran off with a younger man. Erastas, apparently still distraught over the death of his first wife, and suffering with some acute physical ailments,committed suicide - leaving his children orphans. James was the age of 16 at this time and rose to the occasion; he apparently more or less raised his younger siblings.


James was married by a Justice-of-the-Peace on April 10, 1907, to Grace May Green in a civil ceremony. He was a steam engine machinist, foreman, and inspector, and worked for the B&O Railroad. As the song says, "He was a hard-drinkin', gamblin' railroad man." He had the reputation of being incredibly strong, as strong as a mule.

Engine #4537 and James Callahan


James retired from the B&O Railroad on Jan 30, 1954
So this photograph is most likely early 1950's

James Callahan (on the left) and his buddy Carl Smith, who worked with him on the railroad for 23 years - picture taken in 1943

I assume that James indulged in many of the behaviors a drinking and gambling lifestyle would entail. Grace (James called her, "Gracie") was a church-going woman. Because of his railroad job, James worked all through the Great Depression. To keep James from gambling their money away, Gracie used to take money out of his pocket and give it to the church to help its poor members get through the hard times. Gracie has said that James single-handedly supported her little church through the Great Depression.


Gonna sing you a song of James Callahan

He was a hard drinkin' gamblin' railroad man

A girl named Gracie took his wedding band

And his journey into grace began


In 1935, when James was 51 or 52 years old, Gracie decided to fast and pray for the well being of James' soul. She prayed and fasted for 9 days.


Now Gracie is a cryin' sayin' 'Lord have mercy

James is a runnin' on the highway to hell

Lord you got to save him from his evil ways'

There's no runnin' from a woman who prays


James consequently suffered some kind of sickness or collapse -  he called it an "attack of the rheumatism" and was confined to bed. He had an experience - a vision if you will - of many fearsome demons gathered around his bed, gleefully waiting for him to die. Needless to say, after James recovered he was a changed man. He quit his drinking and gambling ways, stood up in front of the church and apologized for the things that he'd done and said, and became an upstanding member of the church and the community.


Now James is a troubled by the visions in his head

He's seein' all kinda devils gathered round his bed

He's sayin, 'Lord I'm sorry for the things I said

So sorry for the things I done


To illustrate the depth of his change of heart, there is a story of an insurance salesman who was servicing James and Gracie's little farm. He was talking to James one day and said he was worried. The tires on his car were wearing out - this was during WW II when tires were rationed - and he didn't know what he was going to do, he HAD to have his car in order to service his accounts. James promptly jacked up his car and gave the man four tires. Gracie would complain that James would give away everything they had with no thought of taking care of his own. Instead of taking his money and giving it to the church, so he wouldn't drink and gamble it away, she was now hiding it so he wouldn't give it away! That is an indication - a rather ironic indication - of the depth of James' change. When one of his sons-in-law became a minister, James insisted that he and Gracie get married again, this time by a preacher, in the church, and so there was another wedding of James and Grace - in 1951.


Gracie died in 1972 after a long illness. James, long since retired, took care of her for many years and nursed her until the end. At her funeral he remarked through his tears, "She was the best wife any man could ever have." It brings to mind something I heard once: "When two people are truly in love, there can be no happy ending."


 James lived alone and was basically self sufficient for 9 years after Gracie died. James died in January of 1981 two weeks shy of his 97th birthday. There was no illness, no crisis, and no struggle. It was just time to go. He laid down on his bed and zoned in and out of consciousness for 24 hours, breathed out, and didn't breathe back in again. His pastor, who was with him at the end, said it was the easiest death he'd ever seen.


Gracie left first and was followed by James

Runnin' after a woman who prays


Perhaps there is a happy ending; we just can't see it from where we stand. I would like to think that that is the case.


Just to give you an idea of the scope of James' life consider this: he could remember when there were no cars, no indoor plumbing, and no electricity. His parents were wary of Indians. In 1901 James was 17 and struggling to raise his younger siblings. From that, to men walking on the moon, all in one lifetime! By the way, James didn't buy that men-on-the-moon thing for one second! It was a hoax and a fraud. An understandable opinion, considering where he came from.


James played the fiddle. He held it in the crook of his arm and sawed the bow back and forth, scritching and scratching out Amazing Grace. That's why I wanted a fiddle solo on this song. It's immensely appropriate.

That's James playing Amazing Grace for

a couple of his great grandchildren

Grace, Grace, amazing Grace

James'll bless the day that he saw your face

Grace, Grace, amazing grace

Comin' through from a woman who prays


James and Grace had seven children. Five of them were born dead or died within a month of birth. It appears that no one really knows for sure what the problem was. It has been said that Grace, for some unknown reason, was not able to carry to term. It has also been said that James and Grace had a blood type incompatibility. One of them had a negative RH and the other one had a positive RH. If a woman conceives and the child has a different RH than the mother, the mother's body treats it like a disease and manufactures antibodies against it. Today that would be taken care of by a simple inoculation. But back then there was nothing to be done.


No guarantee about tomorrow

James and Gracie had their share of sorrow


The two children that survived were both girls. The younger of those girls couldn't bear any children. She and her husband adopted two, a boy and a girl. The other daughter was named Opal. Opal had 4 children. Her oldest son, named James after his grandfather, also had 4 children. His oldest son had 5 children. I am that oldest son. James Callahan was my great-grandfather. My oldest daughter, Amber, was born on July 2, 1980. She is James' first great-great grandchild. My wife and I have the same type of RH incompatibility that James and Grace may have had. Today it's no big deal. We have five children - kinda makes me wonder. There's some kind of strange symmetry there.


On Thanksgiving Day of 1980, in his old farmhouse in North Vernon, Indiana, James held Amber - his great-great granddaughter.


James and Gracie lived a mighty long time

Saw five generations down the family line

James with his daughter Opal, his grandson James,
his great grandson Jay, and his great-great granddaughter Amber


James Callahan's great great great grandson
Cole Stephen Lewis Eames

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