Museum lauds 'Smokestack's' legacy He was one of city's first black auxiliary firefighters

July 15, 1998|By Paula Lavigne | Paula Lavigne,SUN STAFF

Long after the fire-engine wail dies and the hoses are tucked away, the passion to remember those who fight the flames still burns in Guy Cephas.

The 46-year-old retired auxiliary firefighter is as much a part of history as the collection of model engines, firehouse memorabilia and photographs he stuffs into his living-room shrine called the Arthur "Smokestack" Hardy Fire Museum. The museum at Cephas' home at 203 N. Carey St. is named after one of the city's first black auxiliary firefighters and fire history buffs.

Cephas said he hopes his museum sparks the interest of the 12,000 people expected at the 15th annual Firehouse Emergency Services Expo, which runs today through Sunday at the Baltimore Convention Center. Sponsored by Firehouse magazine, the convention offers five days of exhibits, forums and speakers open to the public.

Flea market, parade

It ends Sunday with a flea market and parade of more than 100 antique and modern fire engines on Key Highway and around the Inner Harbor.

Such fire engines used to scare Cephas as a child. But fear changed to a fascination that lured him to the fire station to learn more. In 1971, he became an auxiliary firefighter so he could respond to fires, help hook up the hoses and shoot more photographs.

In a room wallpapered with photographs and crammed with toy fire engines and knickknacks, it's almost as if Cephas is continuing where "Smokestack" Hardy left off when he died in 1995 at age 94.

Hardy, who was a 3-year-old when flames ripped through Baltimore in 1904, got his nickname from the smokestacks on top of the horse-drawn fire trucks of that era. In 1952, he became one of the first black auxiliary firefighters in Baltimore.

Hand-held lanterns

Smokestack's collectibles fill the museum: the hand-held, battery-operated lanterns from the early 1900s, two miniature horse-drawn fire engines, a small fireman trophy. Articles and photographs are on the walls, in scrapbooks, in piles in the center of the small room.

He doesn't appear in many of the photographs in the museum, because he was usually behind the camera.

But Delmar E. Davis, a retired auxiliary firefighter and a colleague of Hardy's, does appear in many of those pictures. Davis, 77, worked with Hardy.

With Hardy's help, Davis said, the first black firefighters proved they could withstand the hardships of the profession and paved the way for others -- in a time when black firefighters were expected to "keep to themselves."

He said he couldn't explain his friend's curiosity, but "it was probably in his blood."

That curiosity is typical for a "house cat," the name given to citizens like Cephas, Davis and Hardy who develop an interest in firefighting, said Hector Torres, city Fire Department spokesman.

About half of Baltimore's 42 fire stations have a "house cat," Torres said, and some of those fire buffs have gone on to become full-time or auxiliary firefighters.

Buffs found nationwide

Such buffs can be found around the country, Torres said. The International Fire Buffs Associates represents 5,200 of them in 82 organizations in the United States and five in Canada, said Executive Vice President Roman A. Kaminski, 77, of Baltimore. He said buffs bring refreshments to firefighters -- or police officers -- at the scene of an emergency.

Kaminski also is past president of Baltimore's Box 414 Association, whose members supply coffee and food to firefighters working multiple-alarm blazes in Baltimore. Box 414, named after the first alarm box pulled in the 1904 fire, also operates a museum on Gay and Hillen streets.

Two surviving members

Hardy founded a black fire buffs club in 1949 called the SHC -- named for himself and friends James M. Smith and Elbert C. Carter -- which Cephas said at one point had about 100 members. Cephas and Davis are the only surviving members.

Cephas said he could fill three more rooms with the memorabilia he has stored in boxes, and he wants to move the museum into a larger building downtown.

"People don't have enough museums where they can really learn about something," he said. "From the early 1800s, you look at pictures and wonder, 'How did they ride in this old raggedy thing back in the day?' "

This week, the museum will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m through Friday, and on Saturday and Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is $1 per person or $2 per family. Information: 410-225-7460.

Pub Date: 7/15/98

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