Hartland Firefighter Honors 9/11 Fallen With Jack-o-Lantern Made From a 300-Pound Pumpkin
Walter Johnston, 20, plans to share the gord's story with trick-or-treaters while giving out candy.
Walter Johnston — a Hartland firefighter who loves to grow giant pumpkins — decided to bring his two big passions together by carving a 10-year anniversary Sept. 11 tribute into a 300-pounder he grew in his backyard this year.
The 20-year-old said he was inspired when he attended this year's Sept. 11 memorial dedication ceremony in Brighton, wanting to honor those who lost their lives, especially a cousin of her mom's boyfriend, New York Fire Department Chief Peter Ganci Jr.
So, over this past weekend he etched a fire fighter logo with the number of firefighters who died in the attacks — 343 — along with the dates in the front and two squares at the top to symbolize the World Trade Center's Twin Towers with a U.S. flag planted on top. Johnston illuminated the now jack-o-lantern, which now weighs far less after the seeds were removed, with a flood light he once used for his pet lizard's cage.
"We all have our stories on 9/11," he said. "My healing process was I grew pumpkins. … My remembrance of toward that is I can build something new out of my losses. … I feel like we lost a little bit of our freedom when we were attacked."
Johnston also plans sitting on the porch in the San Marino subdivision and sharing the story of the pumpkin carving while he hands out candy after he accompanies his 18-year-old sister while she trick-or-treats.
Tamara Johnston, his mom who also is a member of the Hartland Deerfield Fire Authority, is proud of his effort.
"It's very touching and very nice," she said. "It's his way of helping (my boyfriend) heal."
A member of the fire authority since he was 15, Walter Johnston recently completed a fire training academy and also works as a chef at the Black Rock Bar and Grill. He currently is taking classes at Washtenaw Community College and hopes to earn degrees that can help him advance in a public safety career.
He's been growing pumpkins since he was 5, including one that was 500 pounds when he was about 8 when his family lived in Oxford. He said he plans on composting the gord's remains back into his family's 10-by-10 garden. And while he enjoys growing pumpkins, he's not interested in entering any contests.
"Personally, it’s the spirit of growing," Johnston said. "The satisfaction of seeing what you made … is what really matters."