Leeds leaders get first look at proposed $85K John Henry statue

Branko Medenica, a well-known local sculptor, presented a drawing of what the statue could look like to city leaders last week.

A drawing of a proposed $85,000 bronze statue of John Henry was revealed to the Leeds Redevelopment Authority and the City Council their Aug. 5 meetings.

John Henry is an African American folk hero who, according to legend, died of exhaustion after defeating a machine in a contest to determine which could hammer more steel spikes. He is so famous that he is commemorated in song, and another city – Charleston, West Virginia – claims him as their native son.

But Sam Pezzillo, chairman of the Redevelopment Authority, said there is historical evidence that John Henry’s famous life and death occurred in Leeds. John Henry has been memorialized in Leeds with a festival, and perhaps also with a bronze statue.

Branko Medenica, a well-known local sculptor, presented a drawing of what the statue could look like to the Redevelopment Authority and later that evening to the City Council and the citizens attending the meetings. The drawing depicts John Henry with his famous hammer in his grip and a rail spike at his feet. The statue would be 8 feet tall on a 5-foot granite slab. The drawing will be on display at Leeds Jane Culbreth Library.

The statue would cost about $85,000, but Pezzillo said such a statue could be “an interstate diversion,” something so interesting that travelers might get off the interstate to see it. Pezzillo said it could take several years to raise that kind of money through donations and sponsorships. Meanwhile, the John Henry Festival, the first in several years, will be held in Leeds on Sept. 21 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Just in time for the John Henry festival, most of downtown Leeds will be an entertainment district, thanks to a vote from the City Council. Most of downtown, with residential areas and churches carved out, will be in the district. At special events approved by the City Council, folks can walk in the area with alcoholic beverages in specially marked cups.


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