The Fires of Welcome ____________________________________________________________________________________________
An Object Analysis of Firemen’s Parade Torches in the Collection of the New York State Historical Association David A. Lewis American Material Culture Fall of 1996
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The Veterans had seen and taken part in nearly all of the Torchlight Parades in this country and many had seen them in all parts of Europe, but “Poughkeepsie” eclipsed them all. From the landing at the foot of the hill to the end of the march, a distance of about four miles, the streets were literally on fire. The Vets had often been singed in fighting fire, but here they were called upon to get singed in marching through “Fires of Welcome.” No pen can describe that sight, but one can imagine what it might be, with Tar Barrels, stationed 10 feet apart on both sides of the street, ablaze, and from every house on the route fireworks, Red and Blue Lights burning from every window, Companies of Infantry firing their rifles from their armories, and every foot of ground on sidewalks crowded with citizens, aglow with excitement and enthusiasm, and you can form a slight idea of the “Welcome to the Veterans” displayed on all sides. 1
Parades have long been forms for displaying group identity, conveying messages, and influencing social attitudes. Politicians, militias, labor organizations, ethnic groups, reformists, and countless civic and religious groups utilized processions in their repertoire of self expression. As a unique part of Americana, volunteer firemen enthusiastically participated in most of the civic and historical processions of the nineteenth century, as well as specialty parades of their own. Four firemen’s parade torches from the collection of the 2
New York State Historical Association (NYSHA), serve as the basis for an analysis of the tradition of popular parades and celebrations in general, and firemen's parades in specific.
The first two torches (a matched pair) have brass “urn-shaped” fonts suspended on heavy ornamental “U” brackets attached to ornately turned handles with brass caps and acorn shaped finials on the ends. (fig. 1) The large fonts have four burners each, and they are complete with wicks. These highly ornamental torches bear the inscription “Presented by 1 Souvenir of the Transcontinental Excursion from New York to San Francisco 1887, Veteran Firemen’s Association of the City of New York. New York (Thomas Barrington, 1887), p.18 2* For purposes of this paper, the more historically correct, yet gender specific term “firemen” will be used. Traditionally, firefighting has been almost exclusively a male occupation, and period terminology reflects that distinction. – 2 –
John W. Edmonds to Edmonds Engine Co. No. 1.” (fig. 2) Although neither the town nor the date are included in the inscription, research at the American Museum of Firefighting, in Hudson, New York provided several clues.
The first fire company in Hudson was organized in 1793. Upon receipt of their second piece of fire apparatus, in 1836 the company was renamed the “John W. Edmonds Engine Company.” Mr. Edmonds, the company’s namesake and the presenter of the torches, was 3
“one of the most Prominent men of his day, having been recorder of Hudson in 1828; member of Assembly in 1831; State Senator from 1832-35; State Prison Inspector in 1843; circuit Judge in 1845; and Supreme Court Judge in 1847....” Mr. Edmonds also served as the 4
first Chief Engineer of the Hudson Fire Department from 1830 to 1835. Mr. Edmonds died in 5
1874, which limits the time span for the torch presentation to 38 years, from 1836 to 1874. 6
Even though there is no evidence to support this speculation, it can be supposed that they were presented closer to 1836, when the fire company was “younger” and more likely to be active in parades. Examination of torches in other collections, suggests that these torches were of the style popular in the early decades of the nineteenth century.
The Edmonds paraded torches are slightly different that the other two torches discussed in this paper because they are also “presentation” pieces in addition to being “parade” pieces. Because the purpose of this paper is to examine parades, the significance of the presentation will not be examined any further.
Two other firemen's parade torches in the NYSHA collection are of similar construction, 3 The name was changed again in 1874 to “Edmonds Hose Co.” when the advent of a town water works eliminated the need for fire “engines.” 4 New York State Fireman’s Association, State Fireman’s Souvenir - August 19-22 1902 (New York State Fireman’s Association), p.57 5 Ibid. 6 Karen Del Principe, Curatorial Assistant, New York State Firemen’s Home - American Museum of Firefighting, interview by author, 1997 7 See discussion on pages 10-11 for more comparison with other torch styles. – 3 –
having silver plated, double-swung fonts attached to 29-inch long turned wooden handles. The “double-swung” font is pivoted on two perpendicular axes and was common on mid-tolate nineteenth century torches as it ensured the wick would always remained upright. Unfortunately, neither torch has any kind of manufacturers' marking, leaving one to only speculate as to their maker.
One torch from the collection, (marked with the accession number 1278), has “Phinney Hose” engraved on one side of the oil font. (figs. 3 & 4) Organized in 1871 and disbanded 1901, the Phinney Hose Company No. 1 was a prominent fire company in Cooperstown, New York. Douglas Preston in his thesis, The Clang of the Bell, The Wail of the Whistle - a history of fire fighting in Cooperstown, points out that the members of the Phinney Hose Company made precision drilling their speciality and gained a wide reputation for their street showmanship. Mr. Preston’s thesis also contains numerous references to the 8
“Phinneys” flamboyant parade uniforms, their elaborate engine decorations, and their utilization of blacks as “mascots” or “ornaments” in parades. Although there is no specific 9
mention of parade torches, or special parade equipment, it would seem likely that this torch was in fact used by the Phinneys. Made out of metal with cast hanging brackets and gimbal ring, the patina and discoloration of the tarnish, indicate that this torch was silver plated.
The wood handle has two simple carved grooves around the top near the joint of the hanging bracket and tapers to form a handle at the base.
After careful examination of the attachment of the handle to the metal hanging bracket, it can be concluded that this handle is original. Overall, this torch is in fair condition, although it is damaged and incomplete. The oil font has suffered moderate damage where one of the lateral pivots is missing and has torn a half-inch hole in the side wall of the font. A second 8 Douglas M. Preston, The Clang of the Bell, The Wail of the Whistle, A History of Firefighting Cooperstown (M.A. Thesis, Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York College at Oneonta, 1975), p.280 9 Ibid, pp.276-290 10 Bernard Bernstein, Sanctification and the Art of Silversmithing (Judaica Museum, 1994), pp.18-19, 23 – 4 –
hole appears to have been made solely to lop a crude wire through the font, thus securing it to the inner gimbal ring. In addition to missing one of the pivots, the wick holder and burner which would screw into the top of the font are also absent.
Another torch, (NYSHA accession number N.167.41L), bears no lettering but is highly ornamented with both floral and fire related motifs. Of similar construction to the Phinney torch, this piece differs only slightly in the shape of the handle, in the dragooned design around the inner gimbal ring and in the shape and decoration of the font. The “U” shaped bracket attaching the gimbal ring and font to the wooden handle is identical to that on the Phinney Hose torch.
By far the most distinguishing feature of this torch are the two 3-dimensional fire helmets applied to the top of the oil font near the wick burner. (figs. 5 & 6) These helmets are exquisitely crafted with fine detail, yet curiously when they were soldered to the font, they were not perfectly centered to the engraved designs. (figs. 7 & 8) The designs on the font also appear to have been created by separate individuals (or at least by different processes). The stylized floral pattern and circle on the “back” of the font, (that part which is closest to the handle), is finely engraved or etched with thin and shallow lines . The front of the font 11
displays a crossed hooks and ladder design engraved using a thicker (heavier) line. (figs. 7 & 8) These differences in craftsmanship lead to the speculation that both the applied fire helmets and the engraved hooks and ladder design were done by a different person, and at a different time, than the rest of the torch. It is possible this torch was mass produced with the floral design and further embellished by a local craftsman with the fire related motifs to better fit the end user - a local fire company. The condition of this torch is incomplete yet in good condition. The font is completely detached from the gimbal ring at both lateral pivot points or axes are missing, however no secondary damage or tearing to the side wall of the 11 Ibid., p.23, p.30 – 5 –
font has occurred as in the Phinney torch.
Although there is no lettering or numerals to specifically identify what company used this torch, the hook and ladder motif depicted on the shields (front) of the fire helmets and engraved on the font can not be ignored. Nineteenth century fire companies used specific symbols to distinguish between “engine companies” - those that operate either a hand or steam operated pumper truck; “hose companies” - who as the name implies, literally supply the hose to fight the fire; and “hook and ladder companies” - whose primary responsibility is rescue and salvage operations. Rivalry was fierce between these various companies and it is unlikely that an engine or hose company would ever carry a torch engraved with a hook and ladder design. According to NYSHA records, this torch is on loan from the Cooperstown Fire Department, and while we can not unequivocally conclude that it was in fact used in Cooperstown, it would be a likely possibility. If it were used in Cooperstown in the nineteenth century, it would undoubtedly have belonged to Cooperstown's only ladder company “Mechanics' Hook and Ladder Co. No. 5”, organized in 1874.
Before any further comparative analysis or conclusions can be made, a brief history of torches in general and fire department torches in specific must be provided. Next to the moon, fire is the oldest form of illumination. The “torch,” (from the Latin term “torca” meaning twist of something) references the earliest torches, nothing more than tow fibers dipped in pitch and twisted on stick. “Homer (800 B.C.) mentions the torch of resinous 13
pine... Propertius (54 B.C.- A.D. 2) tells us that the Romans used wax torches.”
century medieval flambeauxs were far superior to the torches of earlier days. They had tow fiber (and later cotton) wicks impregnated with resin and coated with wax, and were designed so that excess wax and resin might flow down instead of becoming wind-born, and 12 Douglas M. Preston, The Clang of the Bell, The Wail of the Whistle, p.98-99 13 Oxford English Dictionary 14 William T. O’Dea, The Social History of Lighting (Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1985), p.68. – 6 –
yet they allowed the wicks to burn fiercely enough to resist wind and rain.
It is only natural that when the early fire companies were called out in the dead of night, and in an era when the streets were dark except for the light of the moon, flambeauxs, and later signal lamps and torches, were employed to light the way to the alarm. In the early part of the nineteenth century, each fire company had a group of young men and boys commonly referred to as “runners”. These individuals, “who had been unable to join the company because of their youth, or because the rolls were filled, or for other reasons. ...aped the firemen in dress and deportment and followed the engines with dog-like devotion.”
Although these runners were occasionally permitted to assist at fire scenes, and they often performed menial tasks around the engine houses, their principal duty was to serve as torch bearers for the fire apparatus on the way to the fire. Numerous period illustrations depict nocturnal fire scenes with small boys running just ahead or along side a responding engine, thus providing us with visual evidence of both the torch bearers youth as well as their popularity in this role. (figs. 9 & 10)
Fire related lighting devices come in a variety of shapes and styles. They include, “apparatus lamps, hand lanterns, torches, and pole lamps.” Apparatus lamps were 17
generally silver or nickel plated over brass or copper with four glass panes colored and etched with the fire company name or number and were secured to the piece of apparatus. Hand lamps were generally attached to the apparatus in such a way as to be easily removed at the scene. Although these hand lanterns evolved through a variety of styles throughout the nineteenth century, they were generally made of brass or copper, often silver or nickel plated, and like their larger apparatus lamp counterpart, they usually carried the company name and number etched into their globe. As mentioned above, tin flambeauxs, pole lamps, 18
15 Ibid pp. 68-69. 16 Herbert Asbury, Ye Olde Fire Laddies (Alfred A. Knopf, 1930) p.89 17 Chuck DeLuca, Firehouse Memorabilia (Publication of Maritime Antique Auctions, 1989) p.1 18 Ibid. – 7 –
(also referred to as signal lamps), and torches were primarily used to light the way to the fire. However, the development of the “torchlight parade” gave birth to a new and equally important function.
After examining these torches and comparing them with examples in other collections, I have determined that they are indeed extraordinary examples covering a range of styles. The New York City Fire Museum, recently held a special exhibit which included fifteen torches from their collection. Of the “single-swing” style, only one torch on exhibit, a brass torch 19
marked “Eagle Engine 13” (fig. 11) approximates the style, and construction of the pair of 20
brass presentation torches from Edmonds Engine Co. The date “1823” inscribed on the “Eagle Engine 13” torch, might suggest that the Edmonds’ torches are from the earlier half of the nineteenth century. Trying to draw comparisons for the other two torches is a bit more difficult. There was only one “double-swing” torch in the New York City Fire Museum’s exhibit and it bears no engraving or ornamentation, and is only vaguely similar in construction. A review of the three “collector’s guides” to fire memorabilia also failed to provide any examples which might compare.
A reproduction of an 1884 fire equipment supply catalog did however, uncover an illustration of a similar torch. Pictured is a silver double gimbal torch with a similar cast ornamental “U” bracket that attaches the inner gimbal ring to the wooden handle, a gimbal ring with dragooned design around the edge, and an engraved (chased) font. (see fig. 12) 21
Although this is not identical to the hook and ladder torch in the NYSHA collection, it is indicative of the era in which the Hook and ladder torch was created, and it tends to supports my theory that the two fire helmets and engraved hooks and ladder design were applied at 19 Barbara Haywood, Reflecting Reality - Toys, Lamps, and Lanterns from the New York City Fire Museum. Catalog of exhibition on view at Paine Webber Art Gallery, New York, July 14-Sept. 15, 1995, pp.47-51 20 Ibid, p.50 21 Fred J. Miller Fire Apparatus and Fire Department Supplies New York - 1884; reprint, (Jacques Noel Jacobsen, 1978) p.29 – 8 –
another time (after-market) than the rest of the decoration.
Although national holidays, like the Fourth of July; the death of prominent Americans, like Presidents Andrew Jackson and William Henry Harrison; visits by foreign dignitaries, such as the Marquis de Lafayette and the Prince of Wales; the dedication of a public monument, like the Statue of Liberty; and the commemoration of particular historical events, like Washington’s birthday, the opening of the Erie Canal, or the laying of the first cable across the Atlantic, were all celebrated with “grand” processions, (often lasting hours and consisting of thousands of marchers). Charles Dickens noted that most any occasion could be cause for a civic procession. These street processions are incessant in New York, and contribute much to the gayness of the street. Whether fireman, or volunteers, or political torchbearers, they are very arbitrary in their march. They allow no omnibus, or van, or barouche, to break their ranks; and I have often seen all of the immense traffic of Broadway (a street that is a mixture of Cheapside and Regent-street) stand still, benumbed, while a band of men, enclosed in a square of rope, dragged by a shining brass gun or a brand new gleaming fireengine. 22
Be they elaborately structured events or spontaneously organized celebrations, parades and processions are a common and important part of the nineteenth and twentieth century American society. They are a culturally and or symbolically significant method of getting from one place to another. They employ distinctive elements, like costumes and music to distinguish them from other everyday movements through space, and through the use of symbols, they often dramatize an important event or convey a particular message to an audience. Parades and processions, (also commonly referred to by scholars as “street 23
theater”), are essentially a form of non-written communication and expression and as such it 22 Charles Dickens, All the Year Round, 1861, as quoted in Kenneth Holcomb Dunshee, As You Pass By (Hastings House, 1952), Pg.36 23 Barbara Kirshenblatt and Brooks McNamara, “Processional Performance, An Introduction,” Drama Review, Fall 1985, pp.2-3 – 9 –
has often been used as a tool for, “building, maintaining, and confronting power relations.”
Parades have evolved greatly from the tradition of local residents marching en-mass with an orator to the speakers stand, yet some of the customs of more modern parades can trace their roots back to these earliest processions. Even in these earliest processions participants often marched as members of a particular group rather than as individuals.
“By the late nineteenth century, the multiplicity of civic, industrial, commercial, military, fraternal, religious, ethnic, and labor organizations present in even medium-sized towns made these processions rather lengthy. Civic officials, clergy, soldiers, municipal employees, volunteer firemen, employees from local businesses, veterans, and members of fraternal organizations all marched in their finest raiment, often accompanied by their gleaming brass band and a carriage or placard trumpeting their group's identity and contributions to the community at large.” 26
A review of the prominent nineteenth century civic and historical parades supports the popular notion that, “a military and civic pageant... is never complete without the appearance therein of the firemen, and no body of men comes in for a greater share of applause than the citizens whose business is fighting fire.” The procession marking the 27
completion of the Erie Canal is a excellent example of the firemen’s participation in such “civic pageants.” A truly magnificent and memorable celebration was that organized in New York City and State in 1825, in honor of the completion of the Erie Canal. The festivities began at Buffalo on the 25th of October, and ended in the City of New York on the 4th of November; and it took Colden's royal quarto volume of four hundred pages, published by the Common Council, to do them justice. Fiftynine divisions had the grand procession, division No. 35 consisting of “the firemen and the Fire Department,”..... Twenty-seven engine companies, with their engines, on sumptuously decorated platform wagons, drawn by elegantly caparisoned horses, put in an appearance; and it takes nearly ten printed pages 24 Susan G. Davis, Parades and Power (Temple University Press, 1986), p.5 25Glassberg, David, American Historical Pageantry (University of North Carolina Press, 1990), p.16 26 Ibid. 27 A. E. Costello, Our Firemen, A History of the New York Fire Departments, (Knickerbocker Book Publishing Co., 1888) p.356 – 10 –
of the quarto volume to describe how resplendent were the machines. For instance, the engine of Washington Company No. 20, “mounted on a car,” was “drawn by four beautiful black horses. The platform was covered with rich Brussels carpet, and surmounted by drapery festooned and richly ornamented; mounted on the platform were two fireman, clad in appropriate dress, bearing implements of their calling. [the “implements of their calling” included torches] 28
A description of the November 26, 1883 procession celebrating the centennial of the evacuation of New York by British forces during the Revolutionary War, mentions that the, “The Fire Department made a notable display..... The glittering engines, beautiful horses and stalwart men were as striking as any feature of the parade.... The New York Volunteer Firemen [dressed in their traditional red firemen’s shirts] made Fifth Avenue look from a distance as if a broad stream of blood was flowing down its roadway.”
“The death of a great American,” according to Susan G. Davis, often prompted a “peculiar nineteenth-century event, the military or ‘sham’ funeral.” Even if the deceased were not a resident of, or to be buried in, that particular community, they were often honored with a “Sham obseque” consisting of “a parade of volunteers leading a riderless horse, accompanying an empty flag-draped coffin to a church where a funeral service was conducted.” George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, and Presidents Jackson, John 30
Quincy Adams, Harrison, and Taylor were all honored with sham funerals, and the volunteer fire companies routinely marched as part of these processions. An account of the 1845 New York funeral procession for President Andrew Jackson, describes the procession as consisting of, “thirteen grand divisions, civic, military, and political. The firemen’s division was large and impressive, its men dressed in black, as were their banners and officer's
28 George W. Sheldon, The Story of the Volunteer Fire Department of the City of New York (Harper & Bros., 1882), p.267 29 A. E. Costello, Our Firemen, A History of the New York Fire Departments (Knickerbocker Book Publishing Co., 1888), p.384 30 Susan G. Davis, Parades and Power (Temple University Press, 1986), p.66 – 11 –
trumpets.” Reports of New York's 1850 funeral procession for President Zachary Taylor 31
indicate that the fire department made a “conspicuous” appearance, and when the body of John Quincy Adams was received at Whitehall “a portion of the [fire] department assisted at the ceremonies.”.
One fire department biographer remarked, “A Fireman's Parade, especially a fireman’s torch-light procession, was the most picturesque and unique public pageant that old New York could offer to a distinguished guest.” As such, volunteer firemen 33
were often called upon to greet and demonstrate their prowess for the benefit of foreign dignitaries. The Marquis de Lafayette, the Prince of Wales, and the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, among others were treated to elaborate processions and displays of the New York Fire Department. The culmination of the 1824 ceremony in honor of Lafayette’s visit called for the hook and ladder companies to form a pyramid of ladders circled by forty-six fire engines. “A tin box in the shape of a house and filled with candlewick soaked in oil was placed on the top of the ladders. At a signal it was set on fire... [and] 46 streams of water shot up at the torch.” For the Grand Duke 34
Alexis, the fire department paraded around a course in Tompkins Square. The first pass was made in slow review with the officers in salute. A second, third, and fourth pass were then made with the horse drawn engines traveling successively at a walk, trot, and full gallop.
The term “visiting firemen” is said to have been coined after a group of volunteer firemen from Philadelphia hand-pulled their engine all night through a blizzard to help fight New York’s great fire of 1835. Upon arriving in New York after two laborious days of travel, they 31 Sheldon, The Story of the Volunteer Fire Department of New York p.273 32 Costello, Our Firemen, pp.368-369 33 Sheldon, The Story of the Volunteer Fire Department of New York p.262 34 John V. Morris, Fires and Firefighting Morris (Bramhall House, 1955), pp.99-100 35 Harper's Weekly, Saturday, December 16, 1871, P.1 – 12 –
found the fire had been extinguished, (but had not been, they would have been too exhausted to be of much use). Although the “brave Philadelphia fire lads” didn’t actually help fight the fire, they were treated as heroes by the residents and firemen of New York.
Mr. J. B.
Harrison, a Philadelphia firemen who made the legendary journey is quoted as saying, “‘When we got ready to go home, the New York firemen pulled our engine to the wharf, the mayor appointed a committee to escort us home, and after that the firemen got to visiting from one city to the other’”
Parades and processions became an important part of entertaining the “visiting firemen.” Charles Mackay, noted one such parade in his book chronicling his visit to America. The occasion of the gathering was to receive a fire company on its return from a complimentary visit to another fire company in the adjoining Commonwealth of Rhode Island, a hundred miles off. Such interchanges of civility and courtesy are common among the 'boys' who incur very considerable expense in making them, the various companies presenting each other with testimonials of regard and esteem in the shape of silver claret-jugs, candelabra, tea service, etc. 38
As an outgrowth of their participation in Independence Day and civic processions of the early nineteenth century, most municipal fire departments organized their own local annual or triennial parades. These were firemen's processions for procession’s sake, designed to instill pride in the community's fire protection. The October 25, 1856 issue of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper contained this glowing account of the Second Triennial Parade of the New York Fire Department. [It was] a parade far more beautiful than ever greeted the gaze of those who have witnessed the proudest civic or military display of any monarchical country. The heavy, measured tramp of the gallant Firemen as they marched to the soul-stirring strands of martial music from scores of bands, the beautiful engines and carriages polished to spotless brightness and tastefully decked with floral wreaths and bouquets, the uniform appearance of their 36 Don Collins, Our Volunteer Firemen (Science Press, 1982) pp.71-74 37 Costello, Our Firemen, p.300 38 Charles MacKay, Life and Liberty in America (Harper & Bros., 1859), p.25 – 13 –
bright red shirts and dark caps, their smiling and exultant faces, and above all the thought of their deeds of many daring and heroic self-denied, all conspired to create the most intense enthusiasm, and he must be indeed a sluggard whose feelings would not kindle upon such an occasion or who would fail to catch a spark of inspiration from such a scene. 39
A report of the Triennial Parade of the Firemen of Philadelphia, also speaks of the pride in that city's fire companies, as well as alluding to the immense popularity of the firemen. The principal feature of the day was the procession, which was composed of fifteen divisions, and numbered 5,880 equipped firemen - and the whole number of men in the line is estimated at 8,000. The number of Philadelphia companies was 69, and there were 25 companies of visiting firemen. It is thought to be the greatest display of the kind ever known in the United States. ...every window was crowded with pleased faces, the sidewalks were densely thronged... Altogether this affair was one highly creditable to the Philadelphia firemen and the City of Brotherly Love, and elicited warm encomiums from those who had the good fortune to witness this gala day of the firemen. 40
Period reviews of the civic, historical processions, thoroughly document the overwhelming popularity of the firemen. One report of New York’s November 26, 1883 Evacuation Day Parade proclaims, “The firemen were in the fifth division of the parade, and the greeting given them was the hardiest of the day.” In describing the Annual Parade of 41
the New York Fire Department in 1851, an issue of Gleason's Pictorial Drawing Room Companion says, “It could be easily seen by the smiling countenances of the dense crowd of spectators, and by the waving of handkerchiefs among the ladies, that the spectacle was one of no ordinary interest.” George Sheldon, a noted chronicler of the New York Fire 42
Department, claims, “The Militia never made a show that went so straight to the popular heart, and stirred it so deeply as did a festive procession of firemen, drawing with long ropes their lavishly decorated engines, hose-carriages, and hook and ladder trucks.” 39 Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Oct. 25, 1856, p.310 40 Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, June 1852. p.344 41 Collins, Our Volunteer Firemen, p.385 42 Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, 1852 43 Sheldon, The Story of the Volunteer Fire Department of New York, p.262 – 14 –
Their are several explanations for the fire fighter’s popularity. The first of which might best be defined as the “institutionalization” of the “American firemen.” When noted English author and poet Charles Mackay documented his travels in the United States and Canada in the late 1850s, he devoted an entire chapter to the American fireman. By way of introduction, he defines and illustrates the concept of institutionalization. Whatever the Americans are proud of - whatever they consider to be particularly good, useful, brilliant, or characteristic of themselves or their climate, they designate, half in jest, though scarcely half in earnest, as an “institution.” Thus the memory of George Washington... is an institution; the Falls of Niagara are an institution; the Plymouth Rock, on which the Pilgrim Fathers first set foot, is an institution... ; “Sweet potatoes” are an institution, and Pumpkin (or Punkin) pie is an institution; Canvas-back ducks are an institution; squash is an institution; Bunker Hill is an institution; and the firemen of New York a great institution. (emphasis mine) 44
Personal, and especially familiar, relationships also contributed to the intense popularity of firemen’s parades. Most fire companies in the nineteenth century were comprised of volunteer members from the local community. As one author put it, “When the fireman paraded it was... far more personal..... Everyone had a father, son, husband, or brother, or at least an uncle, in the procession, and the whole town turned out to watch and cheer the closeto-home guardians of their lives and property.” A report of the Third Triennial Parade of 45
the Fire Department cited in the book, Reminiscences of Old Fire Laddies, says, “As the New York firemen march past, headed by their respective bands, they are greeted with shouts of recognition from the bystanders and waving of handkerchiefs from the ladies and children. To these compliments they respond in the same way, and so it appears a real ovation which these gallant fellows are receiving in the streets of their native city.”
“To those who followed the procession along the various streets through which it 44 Mackay, Life and Liberty in America, pp. 34-35 45 Morris, Fires and Firefighting p.x98 46 Frank J. Kernan, Reminiscences of the Old Fire Laddies (M. Crane, 1885), p.291 – 15 –
passed, the scene must have been gratifying in the the extreme, and calculated to inspire the mind with lively and manly sentiments and hallowed reverence for the institutions under which we live.” 47
The American fireman’s popularity might also be considered as an important and intended result of their participation in these numerous processions. As has been said before, parades are a non-written form of communication, and as such they often have very specific intended “messages.” In terms of a firemen’s parade, the most obvious of these is to inspire confidence among the community. Following the Second Annual Parade of the Metropolitan Fire Department of New York, the fire commissioner boasted, “We have now shown you, and the citizens of this great metropolis, an organization so perfect in all its arrangements and details so as almost to defy criticism.”
Not only were firemen’ parades intended to inspire pride and confidence, but they were also designed to counteract some of the negative images of firemen. Throughout the early nineteenth century, many fire companies were gaining increasingly notorious reputations for their acts of rowdyisim, arson, and violence. By the 1840s fire companies were perceived as a major social problem. One source of concern was the fraternities' appeal to young men and apprentices. Many companies had groups of young followers or ‘runners’ who socialized at the engine house and tagged along to fires. The runners unemployed or absent from work, sometimes took part in petty crime such as theft, lounging, or loitering, prompting charges that fire companies corrupted youth. At the same time, adult rivalries between fire companies and associated gangs often burst into brawls and riots. 49
In other words, “They [the volunteer firemen] used parades and ceremonies to build a good public image, one which would distract attention from their less peaceful – but no less dramatic – public activities”
47 Gleason's Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, 1851 48 Harper’s Weekly, December 8, 1866, p.1 49 Davis, Parades and Power, pp. 144-145 50 Susan G. Davis “Strike Parades and the Politics of Representing Class in Antebellum Philadelphia,” – 16 –
Fire company mottoes such as, “Good Intent,” “The Wishes of the People,” or “All private duties are subordinated for those we owe to the public,” “Southwark – Always – Ready,” or “Ever Ready, Ever Willing,” “Duty our pleasure,” and “The noblest motive is the public good” were all obvious attempts to promote themselves as selflessly devoted to duty.
Members of the early volunteer fire companies often equated “wealth” with “worthiness” and as such, despite their predominantly working class background, elaborate decorations, uniforms, and displays of finery were employed to demonstrate their “worth” An 1852 52
issue of Gleason's Pictorial documents the extensive preparations for one of Philadelphia's annual fireman’s parades. For months the preparations have been going on for this celebration and the time, the labor and the money of the firemen have been lavishly expended for the sake of adding ornament and attractiveness to their various apparatus.... Silver and brass workers, painters, gilders and decorators of all kinds. have had months of employment in the service of the department. The making of gorgeous banners of silk and satin has occupied hundreds of hands that would otherwise have been engaged in the ordinary spring business of dress and bonnet making. The artificial flower makers have been monopolized by the firemen for months, in the preparation of wreaths, festoons, etc. for the adornment of their machines. 53
Not only did the early volunteer firemen “dress-up” their engines for parades, but they also “dressed-up” themselves, often maintaining two sets of uniforms, one for fighting fires and the other for parades and ceremonies. Special parade hats, coats, capes, gloves, belts, ties, gauntlets, and shields all served to present an impressive image to the other fire companies and to the general public as a whole. This “parading apparel was supplemented by a plethora of specially designed parade equipment. Most common were ornamental axes
Drama Review, Fall of 1985, p.107 51 Davis, Parades and Power, pp.146-147; Asbury, Ye Olde Fire Laddies, pp. 146-149 52 Davis, Parades and Power, pp.146-147 53 Gleason's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, 1852, p.344 – 17 –
and speaking trumpets....” The four firemen’s parade torches examined earlier in this paper 54
also were part of this “specially designed parade equipment.”
Bonfires, candles, torches, fireworks, and other incendiary devices have long been included in many civic celebrations. By the early nineteenth century it was only natural for many parade and festival organizers to incorporate spectacular fire and pyrotechnic displays into their events. An account of the Wide-Awake Procession of Wednesday, Oct. 3, 1860, in 55
New York City, speaks of “fire’s” universal popularity in celebrations, and is but one typical example of a “political” torchlight parade. Those who have traveled far and witnessed extraordinary sights always place among the most striking those in which fire by night plays a principal part. The oldest sight-seers generally place the.... illuminations [in foreign cities] at the head of their startling experiences, and in all of these tallow lamps, fireworks and tapers form nearly the whole ceremony. To these may very firmly be added the great Wide-Awake Torchlight Procession of Oct. 3,  on which occasion the Wide-Awakes from different parts of the country joined with their brethren in New York in a grand march through the principal portion of the city.... So long was the first division that there was a lively discussion when it had passed whether it was not the whole. But a few minutes afterward the avenue was again a sheet of flame, and so again and again and again, until the wondering crowd thought it never would be done. There were at least twenty thousand torches in the procession, and more than twenty thousand men.... A full moon, a clear sky, the intense light of the torches, and the whole world of New York out of doors, formed a marvelous pleasant sight.... Broadway was one river of fire, as though from its northern terminus Vesuvius had poured forth a torrent of molten lava surging, and rolling, and seething toward the ocean. 56
Torchlight processions have become synonymous with political rallies, the torches, burning tar barrels, illuminated transparencies, and elaborate fireworks displays have become fixtures of many civic, and historical processions and celebrations - including the firemen’s parade. 54 Margaret Hindle Hazen & Robert M. Hazen, Keepers of the Flame (Princeton University Press, 1992) p.139 55 Hazen & Hazen, Keepers of the Flame, pp.45-47 56 Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Oct.13, 1860 – 18 –
It is often said that the firemen took the torchlight parade and made it there own. Many of the firemen’s parades and processions mentioned in this paper, and countless others, were in fact “torchlight” parades. What follows is a description by Charles Mackay of a rather typical parade he encountered during his travels in New York one evening. We emerged into Broadway. But there was no fire. It was only a procession of firemen, with their engines (or en-gines, as the word is generally pronounced in America), their ladders, and their hooks. Thousands of people lined both sides of Broadway.... It was a grand “turn-out” of the firemen. Each company had its favorite engine, of which it is as fond as a captain is of his ship, gayly ornamented with ribbons, flags, streamers, and flowers, and preceded by a bank of music. Each engine was dragged along the streets by the firemen in their peculiar costumes - dark pantaloons, with leathern belt around the waist, large boots, a thick red shirt, with no coat or vest, and the ordinary fireman's helmet. Each man held the rope of the engine in one hand, and a blazing torch in the other. The sight was peculiarly impressive and picturesque. I counted no less than twenty different companies, twenty engines, and twenty bands of music - the whole procession taking upward of an hour to pass the point at which I stood. 57
No book, article, or paper discussing parades, or fire parades, is complete without making at least passing reference to the fireman’s torchlight procession in honor of the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1860. This parade was one of the largest of its kind and, “the effect of the countless torches, Drummond lights, transparencies, and various illuminated devices, ...was striking and impressive.”
Nothing so unique, so picturesque, so characteristic of our metropolis, wrote a contemporaneous chronicler of the scene, has been attempted or achieved, during the brief sojourn of the Prince of Wales in New York City, as the torchlight parade in his honor, on the night of October 13, 1860, when six thousand uniformed firemen, with their profusely decorated and illuminated machines, marched in front of the Fifth Avenue Hotel from half-past nine o'clock until eleven, and were reviewed from the balcony of the inn by the eldest son of the British Queen. Almost every man held a torch in his hand; hundreds of rockets flashed in the sky; and as each fire company advanced in procession before the Prince the air was badly rent with its cheers, to which his Royal Highness 57 Mackay, Life and Liberty in America, pp.24-25 58 Harpers Weekly, October 20, 1860, p.659 – 19 –
responded by touching his august hat. The Exempt Engine Company, under Zophar Mills, dragged the old 'Hay wagon' which was a parterre of flags, and challenged admiration, in red shirts, black trousers, and white 'comforters'. Hose Company No.1, Lewis Hopps foreman, had trimmed its carriage with colored lights. Niagara Engine No. 4, F. W. Brown foreman, displayed its ornaments in a blaze of light produced by powerful reflectors. Hook and Ladder Company No. 4, J. J. Borras foreman, exhibited a wild live eagle chained to the ladders. Engine Company No. 5 had provided itself with an illuminated bee-hive; Hook and Ladder Company No. 12, with a calcium light - then a curiosity - lent by Professor R. Ogden Doremus; Hose Company No. 19, with a profuse supply of Roman candles, each member holding a lamp with a red light; Manhattan Steam Engine Company No. 8, Robert C. Brown foreman, with a large bright flame proceeding from its smoke-stack. The Prince had seen many 'sights' before, and has seen many since, but it may safely be said that this one would have been novel to the most jaded royal experience. 59
It is be reasonably safe to conclude that the firemen in Cooperstown paraded in much the same way and for many of the same reasons as their firefighting brethren in larger cities such as New York, Philadelphia, or Boston. According to Douglas Preston, and his thesis, The Clang of the Bell, The Wail of the Whistle - a history of fire fighting in Cooperstown, the volunteer fire companies of Cooperstown participated in numerous civic and special event parades throughout the 1800s - including at least one firemen’s torchlight parade. Preston explains that traditional holidays, especially Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, “provided the firemen with an occasion for at least one parade per year - a chance to show off their numbers, their apparatus, their uniforms, and their skill at marching.” The July 7 1854 issue 60
of the Freeman's Journal hints at the fire department’s involvement in the holiday event when it says, “a portion of the company [Engine Co. No. 3] paraded our streets on the Fourth, proceeded by marital music - the good old fife and drum.” Five years later the local 61
paper provided a slightly more descriptive account of the fire companies participation in the Fourth of July parade. The procession formed... at 11 o’clock and preceded by the Cooperstown Cornet 59 Sheldon, The Story of the Volunteer Fire Department of New York, p.276-77 60 Preston, The Clang of the Bell, The Wail of the Whistle, pp. 249-250 61 “Summary of Local News,” Freeman's Journal, July 7 1854 – 20 –
Band and a good band of Martial music, took up its line of march for the Fairgrounds. The three Fire Companies of the village took the right of the procession. They were out in full force, and made a fine appearance with their appropriate banners. Companies 2 and 3 appeared in new uniforms, and No. 1 in black coats and hats, white pants and vests. The machine of this company was beautifully festooned with wreaths of flowers, and lead by Africans in oriental costume. 62
The only known reference to Cooperstown firemen participating in a torchlight parade was during the Third Annual Firemen’s Festival in 1859. For weeks prior to the event the following announcement placed in the local newspapers provided the schedule of events. “Engine Companies No.’s 2 and 3, will meet at the Engine House at 8 o’clock A. M. on Saturday the 30th inst., and from thence march through the principal streets, escorted by the Cooperstown Cornet Band, to the foot of West Street and will there embark for Three Mile Point, where Cromwell’s Cotillon Band will discourse sweet melody for those who wish to ‘trip the light fantastic toe,’ and partake of a bounteous collation. The companies will return to the village at 7 P. M. where a Torch Light Procession and a display of Fire Works will take place. Fire Companies from abroad are expected. – The public generally are cordially invited to participate. 63
The coverage of the actual event was only slightly more descriptive. The Fireman's Celebration came off according to previous announcement, on Saturday last The weather was all that could be desired. At 9 o'clock A.M., Companies 2 and 3 paraded the principal streets of the village, in full force, drawing their beautifully decorated machines - for the fine appearance of which they were very much indebted to "the Fair." Mounted on No. 3, was a person dressed in the full costume of an Indian Chief. Doubleday's Cornet Band and Crumwell's Band furnished the music. At the Point, we understand, everything passed off very pleasantly – a large company, in addition to the Firemen, participating in the “merry dance” and other festivities. Just before the Companies took up their line of march, a brief and well-written letter – addressed to the Firemen by the Ladies who had assisted in decorating the 62 “Summary of Local News,” Freeman's Journal, July 8 1859 63 “Summary of Local News,” Freeman's Journal, July 22 1859 – 21 –
machines – was read by one of the committee of arrangements. The torch-light procession, fire-works, &c., in the evening, surpassed anything of the kind, for good taste and fine effect, ever witnessed on any similar occasion in the village. As a new feature, colored lanterns were strung across Maine street, by Company 1, at six different points, producing a novel and pleasing effect. The whole affair was well planned and admirably executed – reflecting great credit upon our Fire men and their friends. There was a fair attendance from the country in the evening.
Although their are no references to the specific “torches” used during this parade, (and it is entirely possible, indeed probable, that the Cooperstown firemen did participate in other as yet undiscovered torchlight parades), one cannot help but wonder if the “Phinney Hose” parade torch in NYSHA collection was procured and utilized specifically for this event.
The fireman’s parade torches in the NYSHA collection are as unique and expressive as the events in which they were used. Although they most likely span nearly a century of use, and their construction and ornamentation is quite varied, these four torches shared a common unchanging function - to supplement the image of the fireman and instill a sense of pride and confidence in their services. Although the grand torchlight parades of the nineteenth century are gone, the parading tradition of the fire service lives on. Contemporary annual parades of the New York State Firemen’s Association typically last 3 hours and they includes nearly a hundred marching units, and the Cooperstown Fire 65
Department can routinely be found marching the Fourth of July and Memorial Day parades. Parades and processions were, are, and will continue to be important forms of collective expression, used to influence and inspire. To paraphrase the words of one fire historian, no procession is ever complete without an appearance of the firemen. 64 “Summary of News,” Freeman's Journal, August 5 1859 65 Del Principe, Curatorial Assistant, American Museum of Firefighting, interview by author, 1997 – 22 –
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Bibliography of Selected Works ______________________________________________________________________________________________
Asbury, Herbert. Ye Olde Fire Laddies. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1930. Bernstein, Bernard. Sanctification and the Art of Silversmithing. New York: Judica Museum, 1994. Cannon, Donald J. Heritage of Flames, The Illustrated History of Early American Firefighting. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1977. Collins, Donald L. Our Volunteer Firemen. Ephrata, PA: Science Press, 1982. Costello, A. E. Our Firemen, A History of the New York Fire Departments. New York: Knickerbocker Book Publishing Co., 1888. Davis, Susan G. Parades and Power. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986. ___________. “Strike Parades and the Politics of Representing Class in Antebellum Philadelphia.” Drama Review, Fall 1985: pp.106-116. DeLuca, Chuck. Firehouse Memorabilia. York, Maine: Publication of Maritime Antique Auctions, 1989. Descriptive Acquisition List American Museum of Fire Fighting. Hudson, NY: Firemen’s Home, Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, 1952. Ditzel, Paul C. Fire Engines Firefighters. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1967. Dunshee, Kenneth Holcomb. As You Pass By. New York: Hastings House, 1952. Fales, Martha Gandy. Early American Silver. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1973. Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (New York). October 25, 1856; December 4, 1858; October 13, 1860; July 22, 1876. Fred J. Miller Fire Apparatus and Fire Department Supplies. New York: 1884; reprint, New York: Jacques Noel Jacobsen, 1978. The Freeman’s Journal (Cooperstown, NY). July 4, 1854; July 8, 22, August 5, 1859. Glassberg, David. American Historical Pageantry. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990. Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion. (Boston), June 1852. – 24 –
Gurka, Andrew G. Hot Stuff! Firefighting Collectibles. Gas City, IN: L-W Book Sales, 1994. Hazen, Margaret Hundle and Robert M. Hazen. Keepers of the Flame. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992. Harpers Weekly (New York). November 1, 1856; October 20, 1860; December 8, 1866; December 16, 1871; July 22, 1876; December 8, 1883; October 17, 1885. Haywood, Barbara. Reflecting Reality - Toys, Lamps, and Lanterns from the New York City Fire Museum. Catalog of exhibition on view at the Paine Webber Art Gallery, New York, July 14-September 15, 1995. Henry K. Barnes Fire Department Supplies. Boston, MA: Manor Publishing 1895; reprint, New York: Jacques Noel Jacobsen, 1977. Holzman, Robert S. The Romance of Firefighting. New York: Bonanza Books, 1956. Kernan, J. Frank. Reminiscences of the Old Fire Laddies. New York: M. Crane, 1885. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara and Brooks McNamara. “Processional Performance: An Introduction.” Drama Review, Fall 1985: pp.2-5. Loeper, John J. By Hook & Ladder, The Story of Fire Fighting in America. New York: Atheneum, 1981. MacKay, Charles. Life and Liberty in America. New York: Harper & Bros., 1859. McCosker, M. J. The Historical Collection of Insurance Company of North America. Philadelphia: The Beck Engraving Co., 1967. Morris, John V. Fires and Firefighters. New York: Bramhall House, 1955. New York State Fireman’s Association, State Fireman’s Souviner - Auguast 19-22 1902 Hudson: New York State Fireman’s Association. O’Dea, William T. The Social History of Lighting. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1985. Piatti, James. Firehouse Memorabilia. New York: Avon Books, 1944. Preston, Douglas M. The Clang of the Bell, The Wail of the Whistle, A History of the Cooperstown Fire Department. M.A. Thesis, Cooperstown Graduate Program, State University of New York College at Oneonta, 1975.
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Prevots, Naima. American Pageantry. reprint, Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1990. Rainwater, Dorothy T. and H. Ivan Rainwater. American Silverplate. Nashville,TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; Hanover, PA: Everybodys Press, 1972. The Rushlight Club. Early Lighting, A Pictorial Guide. Boston: The Rushlight Club, 1972. S. F. Hayward & Co Fire Department Supplies, 34th Edition. New York: 1902; reprint, New York: Jacques Noel Jacobsen, 1975. Sheldon, George W. The Story of the Volunteer Fire Department of the City of New York. New York: Harper & Bros., 1882. Veteran Firemen’s Association of the City of New York. Souvenir of the Transcontinental Excursion from New York to San Francisco. Also condensed history of important events in the New York Volunteer Fire Department. New York: Thomas Barrington, 1887.
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Published on Dec 30, 2013
Published on Dec 30, 2013
An Object Analysis of Firemen’s Parade Torches in the Collection of the New York State Historical Association. by David A. Lewis, Fall of 1...