By Jeremy Oster
BYRON, Ill. — In August 2005, Josiah Henson was working at what is now Felker’s Grocery in Byron, Ill. Henson was in the store parking lot when he heard a dog barking frantically and children crying from inside a moving minivan. Henson chased after the minivan and saw three toddlers and a dog were locked inside. Henson finally convinced a scared little boy to unlock the door. Henson got the minivan back into park just inches before it would have entered Illinois Route 2 in front of a fast-moving semi.
In October 2005, the mayor of Byron presented Josiah Henson an award for his bravery. This experience led Henson to become a volunteer firefighter.
In February 2014, Henson was working at the Byron Fire Department when he noticed an expired fireman’s turn-out gear suit about to be cut up into little pieces. For safety purposes, these turn-out gear suits have to be retired every 10 years. Henson’s inner artist spoke up, and he asked if he could re-purpose an old suit. Henson decided to design a memorial to his firefighting brothers and sisters who perished while saving lives at the Twin Towers during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York.
At about 6-foot-4, Henson’s memorial art, titled “Josiah’s Angel,” stands about as tall as its artist. The angel’s wingspan measures approximately 8 feet. Henson resolved to remain standing for every minute of every hour that it took him to print the names and titles of all 343 firefighting heroes lost that day onto the chest of his firefighting angel. Henson said he knows his brothers and sisters didn’t die sitting down, and it wouldn’t feel right to him to be at ease while printing their epitaphs.
Henson chose not to do the traditionally all-white angel feathers. One cannot help but look at the coloration of Josiah’s feathers, the obsidian black of soot, with the gray and white ash on top of it, and be reminded of those iconic images of ash falling like snow on Sept. 11, 2001, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.
Henson said he would be willing to donate the angel to the New York 9/11 Memorial. Family members of those lost on 9/11 would be able visit the memorial and find their lost loved ones’ names on the angel’s uniform.
Josiah’s Angel will be revealed to the public Thursday, Sept. 11, at the Byron Fire Department.
From the July 2-8, 2014, issue