Monday, October 26, 2015

Join Us...Vine Street Cemetery Memorial Re-Dedication 04 Nov 2015

Vine Street Hill Cemetery - Public Safety Memorial Restored

What:  Re-Dedication of the Vine Street Hill Cemetery 
Public Safety Service LODD Memorial

Where:  Vine Street Hill Cemetery 
(3701 Vine Street, Cincinnati, Ohio)

When:  04 November 2015 @ 12:00 Noon

Vine Street Hill Cemetery Fire and Police LODD Memorial
Courtesy: Cincinnati Fire Museum

       In 1980 Vine Street Hill Cemetery honored fallen members of the public safety services buried on their cemetery grounds with a public memorial.  The memorial included a bronze plaque that listed the names of Firefighters and Police Officers who were killed in the line of duty and subsequently buried in the cemetery.  At some point in the recent past the monument was desecrated.  The bronze name plates were pulled off of the plaque.

Vandalized Memorial:  Name Plates Removed
Courtesy:  Vine Hill Street Cemetery

     Members of the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum were conducting research related to the death of a member who was buried at Vine Street Hill Cemetery.  It was found this member was interred without a headstone.  The Greater Cincinnati Police Museum and the Cemetery purchased a headstone to honor this member and it has now been installed in the cemetery.  It was during the course of this research that the damage to the public safety monument came to light.

Vandalized Memorial - Detail
Courtesy: Vine Street Hill Cemetery

     The Greater Cincinnati Police Museum conducted research with the cemetery and Cincinnati Fire Museum to reconstruct the LODD that was vandalized.  The monument has now been repaired and will be re-dedicated during a ceremony on November 4th.

     The newly installed headstone for fallen Patrolman Frederick Karsch who was shot during a public disturbance on November 3, 1880 will also be featured in the ceremony.  Patrolman Karsch died on November 4, 1880 and the ceremony coincides with the 135th anniversary of his death in the line of duty.

Fallen Police & Firefighters 
Honored at Vine Hill Street Cemetery:

                          Frederick Karsch                                        CPD                             1880
                          Louis Klusman                                           CPD                             1896
                          John Schnucks                                            CPD                             1916
                          William Deiters                                          CPD                             1918
                          Richard Ell                                                 CPD                             1918
                          Elijah Boileau                               B&O South West RR                1919
                          Lt.Fred Hotel                                              CFD                             1920
                          Fire Marshal Peter Schraffenberger           CFD                             1922
                          Clifford Cornish                                         CPD                             1925
                          Engineer Albert Klingler                            CFD                             1929
                          Walter Commins                                 Wyoming PD                      1930
                          Lt.John Kuhfers                                          CFD                             1933
                          Charles Blymyer                                         CFD                             1934
                          Jesse Hicks                                                 CPD                              1935
                          Julius Mayer                                               CPD                             1940
                          Carl Hille                                                    CPD                             1942
                          Richard Spratt                                             CFD                             1942
                          Lewis Hall                                                   CPD                             1948
                          Lester Meyers                                             CFD                              1951
                          Walter Williams                                          CPD                             1951

Additional information about the above listed Firefighter LODDs can be found by clicking the link:

Additional information about the police officers listed above can be found on the website of the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Two Horses Killed - Slippery Streets in the Age of the Steamer - 1914

Hills & Winding Roads Prove Deadly in Steamer Accident
15 April 1914

Newspaper Headline 16 April 1914
Cincinnati Enquirer

     Two boys were out causing trouble on the campus of Xavier College on Thursday April 15, 1914.  They lit a fire, intentionally or accidentally it is not known, then took off.  Firemen at Engine Company 39 were looking forward to lunch.  The bells rang above the joker stand as an alarm of fire was taken.  The horses, Bull and Roxie, rushed forward to their harnesses and the doors of he house flung open.  Snaps were fastened and the men jumped aboard.  In seconds the engine was off, tearing across Montgomery Road and down Clarion Avenue.  Rain had been falling steadily making the roads treacherous.  Once at the bottom of Clarion the engine made a left turn onto Dana.  The driver, Frank Voellmecke, noted the roads to be very slippery as he passed through the intersection with Woodburn.  With no details about the fire speed remained a priority but care had to be taken.  Hills and bends were a serious threat even in the best conditions.  Horses were driven to pull the heavy engine but once it got moving it could be difficult to stop.  The horses could be unpredictable, despite their training. 

Engine Co.39 as it appeared around the time of the accident.
E39 & Hose Wagon 39 pictured
Courtesy Cincinnati Fire Museum

      The engine continued on and started into the intersection with Winding Way.  Xavier College was to the right and the company was nearing the fire.  Suddenly, as the engine swerved to the right turning onto Winding Way, Bull slipped and fell causing Roxie to be tossed to the ground as well.  The animals let out a terrible cry.  The weight of the engine tossed the horses into the curb with the engine coming to rest on Bull whose neck was broken.  He was killed instantly.  As the engine was thrown to the side of the road it struck a telegraph pole.  Voellmecke was spit from his seat breaking his shoulder as he landed nearby.  Roxie was writhing in agony having sustained a broken leg.  The engine itself was damaged and would require service before it could be placed back in service.

Frank J. Voellmecke
Courtesy Voellmecke Family Collection

     Chief Bunker learned of the accident as he neared the fire and rushed to the scene in his automobile.  The department had only recently started switching from horse pulled steamers to new mechanized auto pumpers and Engine 39 had not yet been changed.  Accidents such as these were one of a number of reasons why it was argued that the change to auto pumpers was a necessary one.  The chief helped to package Voellmecke up and drove him home.  A mounted police officer arrived and euthanized Roxie with his pistol.  Chief Bunker notified a police detective that two boys had been witnessed running from the college just as smoke was seen.  

Engine 39 Joker Stand
Courtesy Cincinnati Fire Museum

     Soon horse pulled steamers would be a thing of the past.  The Cincinnati Fire Department had set the standard model by which all other fire departments followed for 60 years.  Horse drawn steamers operated by paid professional firefighters was a system that worked.  As technology made jumps the world was pulled into the future.  Automobiles were running along the same streets as horse pulled vehicles.  Horses were easily startled by these heavy machines.  It was clear that they would not both occupy the streets together for long.  The fire department had been luck on this day.  Voellmecke was injured and two horses were killed in the wreck but the results could easily have been worse.  The fire department had already witnessed a number of members killed in traffic accidents during responses.  Indeed the response itself was often more dangerous than the emergency the men were confronted with.  

Chiefs Report regarding the accident at Dana and Winding Way
Courtesy B.Houston Collection

Montgomery and Clarion as they appear today - Engine 39s former quarters at the intersection 
E39 crossed Montgomery and started down Clarion prior to the wreck
Google Street View

Report of the City Veterinarian regarding the wreck and the death of two department horses
Courtesy: B.Houston Collection

The intersection of Dana and Winding Way as it appears today. To the right a parking area for Xavier University can be seen
Google Street View

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Collapse of the Dater House

Collapse of the Dater House - 03 September 1877

     A terrible construction accident brought members of the fire department together in a search for survivors on Monday September 3, 1877.

Cincinnati Enquirer 04 September 1877
Headline of the story that appeared in the Enquirer following the collapse

     For a couple of weeks work had been progressing on the demolition of No.76 Longworth Street.  That building was owned by the Weighell Brothers, tobacconists.  Finally the structure was cleared from the site and the work of preparing a cellar for the new factory was started.

     No.74 was a 3 story brick tenement immediately next door.  The building was constructed around 1847 and was said to have been poorly built.  In order to deepen the cellar of No.76 the contractors dug below the level of the foundation of No.74.  They used a bank of earth and gravel to help stabilize the wall of No.74.  It became clear that No.74 would need to be shored up in order for the project at No.76 to continue.  Gilbert Dater, the owner of the tenement, hired a company to accomplish the shoring work.  Work to stabilize the structure started on Monday September 3rd in the morning.  The plan was to drill several holes in the walls so as to use wooden planks and jacks to support the wall along with bracing.  Conflicting reports are offered regarding notification residents received from the property owner.  Ultimately the only person that seems to have moved to safety was the occupant of the basement and that was largely because the work was taking place in that space.

     The Dater House was occupied by Susie Keam the keeper of the house and her husband, Ada Price, Mrs. Louie Dowling, Kittie Grant and John Disten, Laura Miller, Mertie Gray and her friend Henry Johnson, Laura Miller, Lottie Williams, and a servant girl named Mary - The construction men in the basement were working under foreman John Finnegan and included Hugh Quigley, Patrick Boyle, Pat Flaherty, and Conrad Leyden.

     The construction crew worked through the day cutting holes into the wall and digging corresponding holes in the basement floor so as to set jack screws to support the wall.  All of the cutting and digging coupled with the already weak nature of the wall and the earth that had been removed while digging out the cellar in the neighboring building was too much.  At around 3:40 in the afternoon there was a thunderous crash as the building collapsed.

     The work of digging a cellar next door at No.76 had also been ongoing.  John Mehen, Jerry Colter, Tim Maher, and John Quinn were loading soil into a cart driven by John Reilly.  The men were warned of the impending collapse by a fellow workman standing in the street.  The men immediately jumped into a preexisting coal cellar that was in front of them.  The cellar was sheltered under some pavement.  This jump saved the men's lives.  The mule and cart they had been filling was buried to the reins with brick and debris.  The noise had been great enough that it was heard a couple of blocks away at the Gifts Engine House.  In minutes there were people running up to the house calling for help.

Cincinnati Enquirer 04 Sept 1877
Illustration of the scene as it appeared in the Enquirer

     Firemen responded with the Phoenix Hook and Ladder Co.1 along with Assistant Engineer Joe Bunker and Jakey Hughes.  Scores of volunteers assisted the firemen and police in digging through the rubble in the search for survivors.  Mertie Gray and her friend Henry Johnson were the first to be rescued.  Kittie Grant was next to be saved.  She had also had luck enough to survive the Robinson's Opera House disaster in February 1876 when a false call of fire in an overcrowded venue resulted in a rush of people to the exits.  Nine women and children were trampled to death in that incident.  Near her was John Disten.  One of Finnegan's workmen, Conrad Leyden, was found on the steps of the buildings Longworth Street entrance.  In the rear of the structure firemen were searching an area from which could be heard a woman's voice calling for help.  Here Susan Keam was found crushed to death near Lottie Williams who had been calling for help.  More calls for help were heard from around the entrance and workers rescued Pat Flaherty from this location.  He was shaken and had some minor injuries but after being looked over by a doctor he immediately returned to the scene to help search for his missing coworkers.  Flaherty had been working near Hugh Quigley and knew he would be close.  Hugh was found dead in the rubble soon after.  Louise Dowling and Laura Williams were soon rescued as well.  Next were found Ada Price and Myrtle Gray who both survived the ordeal.  By 5:00 all but one had been recovered from the building.  Foreman John Finnegan was still missing.  Fire Company No.12's diary is the only known company diary to survive from 1877.  It records the event and notes that a couple of men were sent to the scene from each company to aid in searching for survivors and digging through the rubble.  By 7:00p Finnegan had still not been found and a fire was built atop the debris to light the scene.  When the fire failed to provide enough light a calcium light was placed on the roof of a neighboring store and a tree chopped away to provide more light.  Finally around 9:45p Finnegan's body was discovered crushed under the rubble.  The mule and other heavy debris was removed with the use of a hoisting rope.

Mohawk Fire Co.12 Diary c.1877 (BHouston Collection)
Entry for 03 September notes the collapse of the house on Longworth near Elm and indicates 2 men from each
company detailed to the scene.  At the time E12 was still located in the Mohawk Neighborhood (This would change later in the year).
The diary also notes a large loss of life at a fire in New York.  This is a reference to the Hale & Co Piano Factory Fire that took place on the same
date.  The initial estimate of loss was very high but ended up being much lower.  As many as 80 buildings were lost or damaged.

Cover of Mohawk Fire Co.12 Diary for the year 1877
(BHouston Collection)

     Over a hundred firemen, policemen, and volunteers helped dig through the rubble.  Ultimately three of the people inside the Dater House were killed.  The event highlights the dangers associated with the building trades as well as the absence of laws and regulations to govern construction and building safety at the time.

The Persons Lost in the Collapse:
Susan Keam
Hugh Quigley
John Finnigan

A Calcium Light (Limelight) - This was a 19th Century form
of theatrical stage lighting.  A piece of lime would be burned by an oxyhydrogen flame
creating an intense light.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

J. Rush Thomas - Newly Uncovered LODD - 1873

John Rush Thomas - Tossed From His Horse & Killed 
03 April 1873

     Though not completely forgotten, the death of Rush Thomas has for decades been unacknowledged.  His story was lost save for an article published in the Cincinnati Volksfreund in 1874.  The article recalled a short history of the fire department and concluded with a list of members who died in service to the department.  This appears to be the earliest such list.  Deaths of members were recorded in each annual report if they met the given criteria of the age but there was no running list maintained or at least no running list that survived.  Unfortunately many of the annual reports are lost and as such a great deal of research has been necessary to compile a list of members that died while in service to the citizens of Cincinnati.

Cincinnati Enquirer - 04 April 1873

     Rush Thomas was out with the horses for their afternoon exercise.  On his way back to the quarters of Engine 13 he heard the bells calling the men out to a fire.  Bringing the horses to a gallop he made a dash back to the house.  He arrived and tried to dismount as fast as he could.  It is not known if the horse reared up or if he simply slipped but he fell to the ground striking his head.  He died that same day.  The engine had been dispatched for a fire at the corner of Central and Poplar.

UC Death Index Card - John Rush Thomas

     Thomas left behind a wife and three children.  He was almost 41 years old and had a long record of service with the department.  He was previously a member of Engine 05, The Jefferson Engine Company.  The funeral services took place at his residence, 27 Bank Street and he was laid to rest at the Wesleyan Cemetery

1872 Fire Department Annual Report shows J.R.Thomas as a member
of The Jefferson Steam Engine Co.5

     The early list of members killed in the line of duty was printed in the Cincinnati Volksfreund in 1874 and reprinted in December 1999 in the quarterly publication of "Tracer" produced by the Hamilton County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society.  A link to the article can be found here:

The following information will be added to the Roll of Honor of the Cincinnati Fire Department:

John Rush Thomas
Driver - Brighton Fire Co.13
Died 03 April 1873
Fell From Horse - Head Injury