Volume 80, Number 35 | January 27 - February 2, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photo by Albert Amateau

After the service, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani gave Peter DeLuca, owner of Greenwich Village Funeral Home, a grateful pat on the back. DeLuca covered all the funeral expenses for Josephine Harris, who had filed for bankruptcy before her death.

Photo by William Alatriste / NYC Council

Cardinal Edward Egan, archbishop emeritus of New York, celebrated the Mass of Resurrection at St. Joseph’s Church for Josephine Harris last week, as former Mayor Giuliani, seated to the left of the coffin, listened.

Funeral director, firefighters help ‘angel’ take wing

By Albert Amateau

Fire Department officials and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani were among those attending the Jan. 21 funeral in Greenwich Village of 9/11 survivor Josephine Harris, whose story was one of the most miraculous of the World Trade Center attack.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Harris was rescued from the W.T.C. North Tower by six firefighters from Chinatown’s Ladder Co. 6, miraculously helping them all escape death.

Cardinal Edward Egan celebrated the Mass of Resurrection at St. Joseph’s Church, at Sixth Ave. and Washington Place, for Harris, who died at her home in Brooklyn Wed., Jan. 12, at age 69. Her steel coffin — with “Josephine Harris Guardian Angel of 9/11” engraved on its lid — was borne by firefighters who honored her memory.

Found unconscious by an Emergency Medical Service team who could not revive her, Harris was declared dead of an apparent heart attack during the early hours of Jan. 12. The story of her rescue from the World Trade Center nine years ago was the subject of a History Channel documentary in 2006, “The Miracle of Stairway B.”

A bookkeeper for the Port Authority, Harris was making her way down stairway B from the 73rd floor in the North Tower and was near exhaustion at the 15th floor. Ladder Co. 6 firefighters, who had climbed to a higher floor before being ordered to go back down, were descending when they encountered Harris and decided to help her to safety.

At the fourth floor, Harris collapsed and yelled at the firefighters to leave her but they stayed on. It was then that the tower around them collapsed leaving Harris and the six firefighters alive in stairway B, which did not collapse between the fourth and first floors.

“You could say that if she were not there for us to save her we probably would not have made it,” said Deputy Chief John A. Jonas, who was the captain of the Ladder 6 crew at the time. The Ladder 6 firefighters dubbed Harris their guardian angel.

More recently, however, she had been unemployed for several years. She was subsisting on disability assistance, had unpaid bills and had filed for bankruptcy before her death, according to her sister, Thelma Johnson.

Her body was unclaimed at the morgue for two days until Peter DeLuca, owner of Greenwich Village Funeral Home, learned from Johnson that there were no funds for a funeral. He then pledged to provide a funeral free of charge.

DeLuca said he was moved by Harris’s plight because his 13-month-old son had been killed in the collapse of his building on Sullivan St. in 1987.

A viewing for Harris was held at the funeral home, at 199 Bleecker St., and the funeral, with firefighters as pallbearers, was at St. Joseph’s on Friday morning Jan. 21. Burial was in Cypress Hills Cemetery on the Brooklyn-Queens border.

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