Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 12, Part IV

By Holice and Debbie

About ten o'clock at night the fire was got under, and all the engines took up their hose. For some time No. 27's plan of battle had been arranged by Ely Hazleton, their "boss" warrior, the Napoleon and Achilles of the Company. The signal for the fight was to be the work "boots," and then that was given every man was to 'sail right in." Well, the ropes were lined inside and out, and No. 27 had all their friends around. When they got near Hudson Street they were almost abreast No. 34. No. 34 was about to turn the corner, but three parts of No. 27's rope stretched across the way. Now was the moment; now had the hour of revenge arrived.

"Boots!" thundered the muscular and stentorian Hazelton.

Down went the ropes, up went the avenging hands of the lads of No. 27, and in a twinkling they were pummeling their opponents. Blows were rained with stunning force and bewildering rapidity, while the exchanges were few and far between. But the rush of No. 27 was like the fall of a mountain torrent reinforced by the 'whelming flood of a winter's storm, and the unfortunate boys of No. 34 were overpowered and swept away. The foreman and assistants in those days used to walk in the rear of the engine. Foreman Broderick was far in the rear when the battle began, and, scarcely realizing what had happened, was marching up Hudson Street, near spring, when he received a gentle hint of what was going on. The temptation was too great, and he let fly at Broderick, who, as the old chroniclers of the tournaments say, "bit the dust." Dave's hat fell off and was lost to him. It became the trophy of No. 27. The boys of No. 34 rallied, but their opponents were this time determined to conquer or die, and full of enthusiasm charged en masse on No. 27 and drove them up the street. In the struggle Mount was struck in the stomach by the stave of a barrel and badly gashed. No. 34 was already whipped when its foreman and assistants put a stop to the further progress of the fight.

Broderick's fire cap was picked up, and carried in triumph by No. 27 to their engine house in Desbrosses Street, where it was placed on the flagstaff, and remained on exhibition all next day. The headquarters of this company was at Joe Orr's saloon, at the corner of Desbrosses and Greenwich Streets. Broderick called there on the afternoon following the fight, accompanied by Mike Walsh, Johnny Ketcham, and several other members of his company to negotiate for the return of his official headgear. Hazelton and some of his chums were there. The peace propositions did not proceed satisfactorily; indeed they resulted in a row. Walsh had his fingers broken, Broderick was run out of the place, and his aid-de-camps scattered. Dave was pursued into Washington Street, and he ran for safety into the restaurant kept by Budd. Mount saw his light, and noticed the infuriated crowd that chased him. He at once stepped in between the pursued and pursuers, and arrested further hostilities. "You ought to be ashamed of yourselves," said he, "so many of you to attack one man. Let him have fair play." The temper of the crowd cooled, they acknowledged the justness of the rebuke, and allowed the young fireman to have his way. Mount then escorted Broderick to the latter's place, at the corner of Commerce and Hudson Streets, and was warmly thanked for his generous interposition.

Hazelton, the fighter, subsequently came to an untimely end. He gave himself up to drink, and all efforts to reform him were in vain. In 1850 he went on a spree, and one night took an awl, put the point to his head, and drive it into his brain with a mallet. He died almost instantly.

Nearly the entire time of the Common Council was taken up in settling the disputes between Broderick's Company (No. 34) and No. 27. They were always bitter enemies, and never lost an occasion to quarrel. Generally the battle ground was near Sweeney's Hotel, and not a meeting of the Council passed without the friends of both companies being present in force, carrying bludgeons, stick, hook and every kind of fighting implements, as evidence for an against one another--trying to prove which was the aggressive party.

No. 40 ("Lady Washington") was housed in Mulberry Street, near Grand. Her foreman and assistant foreman was Joseph Primrose and John Carlin, brother to William Carlin, who subsequently owned and kept the hotel on Fourteenth Street, opposite Macy's. Among the most conspicuous of her fighting men were: Mose Humphreys, a type setter (afterwards the prototype already referred to of Chanfrau's Mose in a "Glance at New York"), who died in the Sandwich Islands, where he had married a native woman, and reared a large family of young natives; and Jim Jerolomon, a shipbuilder, six feet four inches tall, who wore earrings, and who challenged "Yankee" Sullivan to a prize fight, but was easily beaten.

There were several other popular fire companies more or less in sympathy and in aggressive alliance with one or other of the above companies. Among these were No. 44 ("Live Oak") at the foot of Houston Street; No. 30 ("The Tompkins"), of which tom Hyer was a member; No. 34, at Christopher Street and Hudson, of which Dave Broderick was foreman, and Bill Poole--the only man who ever beat John Morrissey--was a member; and No. 33, afterwards "Big Six," of which William M. Tweed and Malachi Fallon were then only modest privates. Its foreman was Sam Purdy, who afterwards became the first lieutenant-governor of California. Purdy's father was the rider of Eclipse in his junior race on the Long Island course with Henry.

Between Nos. 15 and 40 an ill-feeling had been for a long while brewing. Both companies when running to down town fires used frequently to meet in Chatham Street, and fright the town from its propriety with angry wranglings, or with excited shouts as they would "buck" the pavements, one on either side of the street, and engage in a furious contest of speed in heir rival efforts to be first at the fire. On this remarkable occasion, however--it was a bright summer Sunday-- the two companies, after several hours of arduous duty at a fire in South Street, near Wall, turned homeward about the same time, and passed up Pearl Street together, in dangerous proximity to each other. The ropes of both sides were--as usual on Sundays--fully manned. Probably five hundred men confronted each other on either side. It had been rumored early in the day that No. 40 intended to attack No. 15, and destroy its boasted invincibility. The presence in the ranks of the former, of several noted fighters from 34 and 44, lent color to this report, and the hostile companies were followed by an army of expectant lookers-on and partisans.

The two wheeled into Chatham Street together, No. 15 leading. No. 15 turned eastward on it usual way homeward, via the Bowery. No. 40 should have taken the westward course down Chatham Street to its house on Mulberry Street, but instead of doing so, followed its rival until the broad space of Chatham Square was reached. Here the two companies came abreast, and the satirical chaffing which up to this had marked their antagonism swelled into a chorus of mutual taunts and menaces. So they continued, until the Bowery was reached. At the head of 15's rope was "Country" McCluskey, confronted by the formidable Jim Jeroloman at the head of 40. At the rear of the line Hen Chanfrau was opposed by Mose Humphreys. Both sides were by this time ripe for conflict.

The two foremen, Colladay, on the part of No. 13, and Carlin, on the part of No. 40, passed rapidly up and down their respective, ostensibly endeavoring to preserve the peace, but in reality stimulating the courage and exciting pride of their partisans. "Now, boys, no fight," said Colladay, audibly, adding in an undertone, "but if they will have it, give it 'em good!" "Be quiet, men," said Carlin, loudly; then in a lower tone, "till they begin, then go in!" the vociferations of the opposing companies grew meanwhile louder and more threatening, until at last words being exhausted, both sides began to "peel" for the conflict which was felt to be inevitable. Jerolomon took out his earrings and put them in his pocket.

Passing from Chatham Square into the Bowery, the opposing companies, which up to that point had moved side by side, surrounded by a dense crown, were, by the narrowing limits of the latter street, forced into collision. That proved the signal for the fray. The lines of each extended nearly an entire block. The instant McCluskey and Jeroloman came within striking distance of each other, they dropped their respective ropes and became fiercely engaged. The shock of battle rolled down the line, and quicker than it takes to write the words, one thousand sturdy, stalwart fellows were fiercely grappling each other in a hand-to-hand fight. The din was frightful; louder than the furious exclamations that filled the air would be heard the resounding blows. The fighters were so thick that there was scarcely room for one to fall. Combatants who, so to say, felt themselves knocked down, were upheld by the pressure of the surrounding throng, and those who were unlucky enough to find mother earth were nearly trampled to death by the feet of friend and foe before they could escape. The leaders on both sides did their very best to maintain their reputation for courage and personal prowess. McCluskey, after a hot and desperate struggle, thrashed Jeroloman, Freeland triumphed over a noted fighter of No. 40, known as "Orange County," and other champions of No. 15 were making it all right.

The most conspicuous opponents at the other end of the line were Hen Chanfrau and Mose Humphreys. Both were pure-blooded American and men of noted bravery. At the crisis of their little difficulty, when victory appeared somewhat uncertain on who gladiatorial arm to perch, a handsome bright-eyed lad of twelve years ran quickly out of Alvord's hat store, in which he had acted as clerk, and nimbly mounting an awning-post, shouted down to one of the combatants, who had just then pressed his antagonist backward over the tongue of 40 engine, and was pounding him very industriously, "Give it to him, Hen; Julia is looking at you from the window! Don't choke him; give him a change to holler enough!" This nimble and encouraging youngster was Frank Chanfrau; and Mose Humphreys, who presently chorussed Frank's advice with a hearty acknowledgment of defeat, was to suggest to the then comedian in embryo a type of character which won him a double fortune and an enduring fame.

The fight lasted about thirty minutes. It resulted in the total defeat of No. 40, who abandoned their apparatus and fled precipitately. The victorious 15, determined to humiliate their antagonists in the most bitter manner known to the Volunteer firemen of that day, seized the captured engine--which was beautifully painted in white and gold--dragged it o a pump, and deluged it with water. They held possession of it for hors, but finally released it to John Carlin. They, however, refused to permit any of "40's fellows" to enter their bailiwick, and the latter was made to suffer the additional mortification of seeing their beloved "Lady Washington; drawn home from the scene of their defeat at the tail of a cart. This notable battle terminated the hostilities between 15 and 40.

William H. Philp, a well--known artist and a whilom fireman, has many pleasant reminiscences to recall. One is the serenade and the torchlight procession in honor of Jenny Lind. During her first visit to this country she had given the proceeds of one of her concerts to the Fireman's Widow and Orphans Fund. In recognition of her generosity the firemen subscribed for the purchase of a copy of Audubon's Book on Birds, a very rare and costly work, this was presented to her by a committee of firemen at the Irving House, corner of Broadway and Chambers Street. It was a beautiful night, and the whole department turned out with bands of music and torches. Broadway was crowded. Then jenny Lind appeared on the balcony and bowed her acknowledgments many times, deafening cheers following each bow, torchlights waving and bands playing.

Mr. Philp went on the famous excursion to Philadelphia in 1852, where the Department were received by the municipal authorities, and the firemen shown about the city and most hospitably entertained. Mr. Philp thinks that it was about this period that the New York Fire Department reached the greatest epoch of its glory; there was an esprit du corps in the department and a manly zeal in the discharge of duty not surpassed at any later period. It was witnessing the feats of the firemen at The Hague Street explosion that inspired Mr. Philp with a desire to become a fireman, and he always took an active part with his company during the three years that he served. He was present at the Pearl Street fire in 1850; at the fire in the drug store of McKesson & Robbins, where a number of the fireman were injured by the spattering of vitriol from broken carboys; at the Jennings clothing store fire, opposite City hall Park, and at the burning of the Great Republic, the largest sailing vessel then afloat.

The most trying fire ever attended by Mr. Philp was that in Broadway, between Grand and Howard Streets, in the winter of 1853. It was a bitter cold night; the water froze in sheets on the firemen's backs while their faces were exposed to the heat of the fire. Many were totally benumbed, and one or two firemen were killed by falling walls. Mr. Philp declares that he endured nothing throughout the war of the Rebellion equal to his suffering on that memorable night. He is a member of the Volunteer Firemen's Association.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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