Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 40, Part VI

By Holice and Debbie

Whether it was David Garthwaite or John Carland, who had 40's trumpet that night the writer is uncertain but Mose Humphrey had the head of the rope. Old firemen recollect Mose--not the Mose represented on the stage by Frank Chanfrau, who pulled on 15's rope, but Mose Humphrey of Lady Washington Engine Company No. 40. He was tall and slender, had red hair, and could hold his own well, express himself forcibly when excited, and down many a heavier weight'; but it was his pride to be at the head of 40's rope. The last heard of Mose he was at Honolulu, Sandwich Islands. The King took a fancy to Mose and doubtless listened attentively to his narration's of fire life among the boys in New York, and the exploits of Old Hays, A. M. C. Smith, Prince John Davis, Bowyer, Stanton, Matsell, and others prominent in police history before the era of stars or blue coats and brass buttons, not excepting the M. P.'s of Mayor Harper's reign. Mose was made chief of police, and was never timid about going in himself when occasions required. No Sandwich Islander or imported tough had any terrors for Mose; he could lay them out without turning a hair, and give Captain Williams points how to deal with a crowd without being euchered. He had been educated among the New York boys who struck straight out from the shoulder, at a period when a knife or a pistol was never dreamed of being used. Their motto was "go in if you get squeezed." And they went in every time. Mose became owner of a hotel, and was looked upon as ine of the solid citizens, but he never went back on the "White Ghost."

As the engine swung into Grand Street, more rope was let out and eagerly seized by the men who darted out from Centre Market Place, and she went round the corner of Orange Street (now Baxter--name changed in honor of Lieut. Colonel Baxter, an old member of the volunteer Fire Department, who was killed in the Mexican war) with a whiz. From the trumpet came a firm, determined shout, "Get down to your work, boys! Lively! Lively! Now! Give it to her!" It had been whispered that 15 was to be passed that night. Down Orange Street the "White Ghost" hummed. The signal was well ahead of the rope, and the glare of the torches illuminated the street as they dashed onward. As the head of the rope reached Bayard Street the invincible Hydrant Company was discovered thundering down the street. "Now, boys! She's after you?" was the shout from 40's trumpet, and the little gooseneck engine just skimmed the cobblestone.

The Hydrant Company truck Orange Street, bucked the curb and took the walk. Who had command? It was a tall man, and, of course, could not have been Alfred H. Webster, neither was it John S. Belcher, F. Westray, Alexander Meatkin William Neilson nor David Rowland. Hiram Eagle had not graduated into a Hydrant Company in those days. It may have been Stephen Barker, the well-known dry goods merchant. The writer is uncertain who commended the Hydrant Company that night, but through the trumpet rolled out a bright cheering shout, "Old Smoky is after you, and the White Ghost is ahead! Lively, now!" Each man firmly grasped his wrench, as with increased energy he pushed onward. The crowd that had assembled on the walk in front of Pete Williams' noted dance house, opposite Leonard Street, scattered like chaff before a blizzard as the Hydrant Company reached 40's tail screw. A soiree at this dance house was one of the sights that Dickens beheld during his first visit to New York. Charles dickens spoke well of the Volunteer Firemen of that period. He said New York has "an admirable fire department."

Con. Donahue's Democratic headquarters reached, and Mose began to see the heels of the Hydrant Company, Old-timers will recollect Con., and also the war cry of his followers, "Citizens of the Sixth Ward, turn out! Turn out! Con, Donahue lies bleeding on the pave forninst his own door." As Mose turned Vultee's corner into Chatham Street he saw 15's back, and heard the shout from her trumpet ring clear in the night air: "Come you now, Old Peterson! Now you've got 'em!" If Wilson, Foster, or Freeland had command that night they never made better time. John J. Tindale, John H. Forman, William Charlock, Ed. J. Lappin, Geo. R. Nicholl, Robert A., Coffin, Philip E. Heiser, and John Slowey were probably on 15's rope, and with other youngsters were doing their level best, but that Hydrant Company passed the "Old Maids" at the corner of Pearl Street.

Neptune Engine Company No. 6.--not "Big 6," for this was before the Tiger's time.--and United States Engine Company No. 23, shot out of William Street nearly neck-and-neck; they had met in Broadway, near Duane Street, and they "went for the fire." It is needless to tell old firemen how these two companies went, for they were boys who knew what quick time was, and made it every run.

Pearl Street was now the scene of great excitement--signals dancing in the air, the glare of torches, the shots of men eager to be at the front, and the clarion-like notes of the foremen, each determined to bring out all the mettle of his men while urging them onto achieve victory. It was a scene that would have defied the vest efforts of the graphic pen of an 1887 reporter to portray, hence it would be presumption of the writer to attempt it. 40 was doing her best to pass 15, but the "Old Maids" were to lively for the "White Lady.'

The present generation can hardly imagine the spirit and endurance exhibited ina race between fire companies in those days. Talk about hose races or rowing matches--they vanish like bubbles into thin air, in comparison with the race of the firemen, each endeavoring to outdo his fellow in the strife to be first at the fire, first at work, and have first stream on. Lives and property were to be saved--that was the chief aim. When ladders were too short, or not on hand in time, packing boxes and barrels were brought into use. Water leaders on the houses were mounted; buildings were scaled by climbing up the front without scaling ladders, using doors, shutters, sills, and lintels to rest the foot, as the intrepid spirits went up bound to win, knowing no such word as fall. What reward? Often abuse, misrepresentation, and an early grave at Greenwood. Who were these Old Volunteer Firemen? They represented New York's best citizens, engaged in manufacturing and mercantile pursuits, all branches of trade, banking, the legal, theatrical, artistic, and other professions.

This article was intended to be about the Hydrant Companies, but old members rushing through the brain cause the pen to wander. The Hydrant Company, that night, won against the field, and was ready to give the field water, id not back down from any company, and had no fear of being washed. The Chief congratulated the Company, as did also a delegation from "Old Smoky," after he order was given to take up. Old firemen know "Old Smoky," (Bunker Hill Engine Company No. 32); she swam the East River to reach a fire in Brooklyn, with Peter Burns as chief navigator. Among the delegation that night may have been John B. Miller, who was elected assistant engineer in 1841. He was the foreman of 32, and was ever an active fireman' was president of the Board of fire Wardens. He organized Adriatic Engine Company No. 31 and Hook land Ladder Company No. 10, and is a lively young man yet among the Veterans. His brother, James L. Miller, of Jackson engine Company No. 24, and one of the organizer of Empire Hose Company No. 40, and afterwards assistant engineer, passed to the other side a few years since. "Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?" He was very inch a fireman, took to fire life in very early years, and serve with zeal till his brow bore a wrinkled front, tinged with gray. He received a very rich silver service form his friends in the department when he resigned the office of assistant engineer. But of "Old Smoky's" delegation, probably there were Neil Gray, alderman of the Tenth Ward when Wilson Small, of Protection Engine Company No 5, represented the ward in the Board of Assistants. Neil was a member of Eagle Engine Company No. 13, but 32 was in his ward, and of course, he took a lively interest in the boys. He was for many years secretary of the Firemen's Insurance Company of which John B. Miller is the surveyor. The company has had but two surveyors in sixty-one years. Pine Hopkins, a member of Chatham Engine Company No. 2, was the first surveyor, and he filled the office for over thirty years; after his death, John B. Miller, who was the surveyor of the Hanover Insurance Company, succeeded him and he also has occupied that position for over thirty years. Mr. John F. Halsted, an old and respected member of the Brooklyn volunteer Fire Department, is now, and has been for a number of years, president of the company. It was one of the sturdy old landmarks of fire insurance that survives the reckless competition of late years. Wilson small was assistant engineer when John Riker was chief, and was for many years one of the trustees of the Fire Department, and was long an earnest advocate of the public schools. His recent death is fresh in the minds of many. May his memory be ever green. But in 32's delegation could probably have been seen John Cobanks, John Treanor, Sam. Dougherty, able to have taken care of Boston's pride if he had been around in those days and cut up any of his antics about "Old Smoky." William Burnton, a good second, Jacob Joseph, and Nicholas Theal, George Snyder, the well-known lithographer in William Street, Samuel Townsend, now president of the City Fire Insurance Company, which has celebrated its half century of an honorable business career, and his brother, Sylvanus, as enthusiastic a firemen as ever wore a fire-cap, William Smith, Cornelius Garrison, who was killed at a fire in Elm Street, William J. McLaughlin, John Tipper, who was able to defend "Old Smoky," on all occasions, John lee, William Bell and James Magee, one tall and the other thin, but good firemen, William Ackerman, Anthony Carroll, Thomas and James Cooper, John Nixon, William Cobanks, and William C. glover, at one time coroner, and a well-known writer for the Sunday Atlas when under the editorial control of Deacon Herrick. John Boice must not be forgotten , as he doubtless was present. He is the oldest member of Bunker Hill Engine Company No. 32 living, being eighty-three years of age, and is as active as many men many years his junior. He resides over in Bayonne, but occasionally comes over to look after his real estate in this city. He takes a lively interest in the boys of olden times. The members of Bunker Hill Company No. 32, knew what fire duty was, and never shirked it. If the writer is in error, see the ex-coroner at the High Court in Fifty-seventh Street, and get his opinion. George McKinley of United States Engine Company No. 23, also congratulated the Hydrant Company, and John Crossin of the same company an tell all about the excitement in James Smith's (the celebrated engine builder) the next day, when the race was discussed. Many of the old boys know Crossin--he was a good fireman, and was afterwards a member of United States Hose company No. 25, when James H. Ridabock was foreman. Crossin was elected at Firemen's Hall one of the fire wardens; later on he was captain of the Insurance patrol, and for many years an insurance surveyor.

There is a model of Lady Washington Engine No. 40 at the rooms of the Volunteer Firemen's association in Eightieth Street. A son of David Garthwaite, who was a popular foreman of this company, is secretary of the Stuyvesant Insurance Company, of which Geo. B. Rhoads, captain of Company E, Seventh Regiment, is president. The Stuyvesant is another one of the old new York fire insurance companies which, under prudent management, has weathered the storms that have wrecked so many companies. Frederick R. Lee, foreman of Engine Company No. 3--Veteran fireman will recollect, "Old Sea bass"--was formerly president of this company. Mr. Lee was several years an alderman and a member of the fire and water committee. Ex-alderman James Kelly, formerly postmaster, member of Empire Engine Company No. 42, and for many years a trustee of the Fire Department, was also president of the Stuyvesant.

The Hydrant Companies evolved many years ago. They had good citizens on their rolls--men who turned out to fires and endeavored to do their duty in a quiet way, credible to themselves and to the Volunteer Fire Department.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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