Around midnight on October 15, 1854, the four-story brick Howard College building (then located near the Siloam Baptist Church in Marion) caught fire. Housed in the building were 140 or more students and facility. The fire begun in the basement under the stairs, the only exit for the upper floors. It quickly spread up the stairs and up the flue of the chimney. Harry, a slave of Howard’s president, Henry Talbird, served as the janitor and handyman at the school. When told to save himself, he replied, “I must wake the boys first”. He then went floor by floor knocking on doors and rousing students. Harry got trapped by fire on the fourth floor and escaped by jumping from a window. He died the next day from burns and injuries received in the fall. All of the students and facility managed to escape the building. One student died later that year and one facility member died years later due to injuries received during the fire. Not only did Harry save lives but possibly the school itself. It would probably not have been rebuilt if there had been a large number of lost lives. Harry’s funeral took place in Siloam Baptist Church and he was buried in the Marion City Cemetery. Howard students and the Alabama Baptist Convention erected a large marble obelisk in memory of Harry. President Talbird of Howard College, President Miles P. Jewett of Judson College, and Isham W. Garrott, chairman of the Judson Trustees, supervised the erection of the monument and its public dedication.
The Marion City Cemetery is located on East Lafayette Street approximately 0.3 miles east of the intersection of Lafayette and Washington Streets. GPS coordinates of Harry’s gravesite are 32.632701, -87.313855. Provided below are maps that show the location of the cemetery and Harry’s grave site.
Sources: 1) PerryCountyAlabamaChamber.com/Discover-Perry-County; 2) Alabama’s Tapestry of Historic Places 1978, published by the Alabama Historic Commission.