Monday, September 26, 2011

The New York City Fire Museum

Another fire horn.
The firehouse for Ladder 8 and the Ghostbusters was built on North Moore and Varick Streets in 1912.
19th-century axes, and a very tall, narrow helmet.
Antique company badges.
A nineteenth-century fire wagon.
An antique shield.
Another antique shield.
Since I visited the New York City Police Museum a few weeks back, I thought It would make sense to visit the New York City Fire Museum next.  First opened in 1934 as the Fire College Museum in Long Island City, it moved to a firehouse on 100 Duane Street in 1959.  That same year, SoHo's Engine Company 30 at 287 Spring Street between Hudson And Varick Streets closed down.  By 1981, the Home Insurance Company donated a huge collection of fire memorabilia it had acquired over the years to the museum, making a move to larger quarters necessary.  The 1904 Engine 30 building, which had sat empty for years, underwent an extensive renovation and became the new home of the New York City Fire Museum in 1987.

An ornate wagon from the Astoria company.
Next to this old quilt was a breakdown of the FDNY logo.
North Moore Street in 1919, with the Ghostbusters firehouse to the left. (NYPL)
The Fire Museum, formerly Engine 30, was built on Spring Street between Varick and Hudson Streets in 1904.
So I took the 1 Train down to Franklin Street and got out at the Varick and North Moore Street exit, right across the street from the firehouse built in 1912 for Hook & Ladder 8, also home to the Ghostbusters.  The company dates back to 1865, and its original home around the corner at 153 Franklin Street was recently converted to a luxury condo for Domonique Strauss-Kahn.  There was talk that he was going to be staying near me at about 65th and 3rd, but a story on the news about it reported that the neighbors didn't want him.  It all comes together.

An 1880s banner from the Brooklyn Fire Department.
An 1880s-era fire wagon.
The museum had a great antique toy display.
Another toy on display.
The museum's oldest piece, dating back to 1820.
Anyway, just a few blocks up was Engine 30 on Spring Street.  I was greeted at the front desk by a couple of youngish looking people who were surrounded by the gift shop, displaying your standard stuff for the most part, but I was a little surprised to see a prominent display of t-shirts honoring Father Mychal Judge, with the silhouette of a Franciscan friar blowing a fire horn and a children's book about Father Judge entitled He Said Yes: The Story of Father Mychal Judge.  The Franciscan friar was an FDNY chaplain and is considered the first casualty of the September 11th attacks, dying in the collapse while giving last rights.  I'm sure this book is a favorite in Catholic schools.

A ceremonial fire horn.
An 1860s pitcher honoring Col. Ellsworth, the NYC firefighter who brought zouave regiments to the U.S.
From there I walked up an ornate staircase to the display on the second floor, which was dominated by a number of mid-nineteenth century fire wagons, the oldest dating back to 1820, all intricately decorated and beautifully preserved.  A sign described how in the nineteenth century, the independent fire companies in the city took great pride in their wagons and went to great lengths to give them an eye-catching appearance.  Surrounded by wagons were displays of badges of fire departments from all over the world, and a number of antique helmets, axes, and picks.  There was also a number of decorative ceremonial fire horns.  These long horns, once used by officers to shout orders during fires, remain a familiar symbol of the FDNY despite not being used for almost a century.  There was also an impressive collection of nineteenth-century heraldry.  Back then it was common practice for fire companies to present commemorative shields to each other as signs of friendship, which would be prominently hung up in the recipient's station house.

This truck was in the Ghostbusters firehouse in 1931.
Also on the second floor was a pitcher from the 1860s memorializing the death of Colonel Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth and the zouaves regiments that fought for the Union in the Civil War.  It is considered one of the first pieces of American pottery that commemorated a specific event.  The twenty-four-year-old Colonel Elsworth, who in 1861 personally captured the confederate flag of a hotel owner in Alexandria, Virginia, and was shot and killed by him in the process, is said to be the the first casualty of the Civil War.  Before the war, he was a prominent fire marshall in New York City, and is credited with bringing zouave regiments to the American military.  He was so impressed by the intricate and demanding training drills of the zouaves and by their heroic service to France during the Crimean War, that he created the first American zouave regiment from among the city's fire companies.  Eleven hundred firefighters were said to have volunteered within the first twenty-four hours.

On the first floor was a more modern collection, with a sign encouraging "children of all ages" to try on a couple of coats and helmets open to the public.  There are a number of trucks from the '30s and '40s, and the fire chief's buggy from the early twentieth century is attached to a model of a horse.  To my surprise, the museum wasn't mostly devoted to September 11th, but there was a room in the back with a large display showing each of the three hundred forty-three firefighters who died.  There was also a large display devoted to the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of March 1911.

All in all, a good visit.  I left my card with them and asked them to check out  Next time you're down on Spring Street, check out the New York City Fire Museum for a little history of the city's bravest.

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is
    also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee,

    The image can be seen at who can supply you with a canvas print of it.