in 1906, city recalled another disaster

WAY BACK WHEN

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September 09, 2006|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

As the nation prepares to look back on the events of Sept. 11, 2001, exactly 100 years ago today, Baltimoreans gathered for another remembrance.

Jubilee Week, which began Sept. 9, 1906, was a weeklong series of events and parades, that marked the city's renaissance after the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904.

It also was a civic outpouring that publicly thanked the firefighters who had so bravely risked their lives saving their city from the conflagration.

The fire began Feb. 7, 1904, a blustery Sunday morning, in a nearly deserted downtown, when a passer-by noticed smoke coming from the six-story John E. Hurst Co. The building housed a dry goods and notions firm on what is now Redwood Street, between Liberty Street and Hopkins Place.

At 10:48 a.m., a fire alarm began ringing in the Hurst building, which brought Engine Co. 15, No. 2 Truck Co., and the Salvage Corps to the scene.

The Great Baltimore Fire had begun and would burn for nearly 48 hours.

Twenty-four fire departments from the Middle Atlantic states responded to Baltimore's call for assistance, including firefighters from Washington, Wilmington, Del., and Philadelphia, who raced to the city aboard special trains.

New York City responded with the most men and equipment by far. Nine engine companies and a hook-and-ladder were loaded aboard flatcars and sent to the beleaguered city via the Central Railroad of New Jersey and the Pennsylvania.

By the time the fire was declared under control, 140 acres of downtown Baltimore lay in ruin and with it, some 1,500 buildings containing 2,500 businesses. Estimates for destroyed property reached $100 million.

"In a city of 539,000 people, it threw about thirty-five thousand out of work. For all of its vast, destructive power, the fire caused only one reported death, and no serious injuries," wrote Peter B. Petersen in his centenary history, The Great Baltimore Fire, published by the Maryland Historical Society two years ago.

Within two years, Baltimore "had snapped back from the edge of ruin," wrote Petersen. "Visitors in 1906 called the reconstruction unbelievable. Photographs of the renewed district did not show how Baltimore still lacked a sewer system, or that it remained one of the last major cities to modernize its approach for dealing with wastewater."

However, a new Baltimore had emerged from the flames of the old. Structures from the 18th and 19th centuries that had fallen during the fire gave way to 800 modern buildings, streets were widened and the harbor was revitalized with new docks and wharves.

Now it was time to celebrate and "present the new city to the world," when "municipal pride was on prominent display," wrote Petersen of Jubilee Week.

The Firemen's Parade - 1,400 strong - began at 2 p.m. Sept. 13. Units formed on Broadway and then marched to City Hall Plaza, where they passed the reviewing stand, and then continued through what had been the "Burnt District" until disbanding at the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon Place.

Thousands of Baltimoreans cheered as the firefighters with their "axes and apparatus gleaming in the sunlight" marched along city streets, reported The Sun.

"No warmer welcome has been given to any marching body than [that] accorded the brave firefighters, many of whom had aided in defending the city when in February 1904, the great fire devastated the heart of the town," the newspaper reported.

"Has it occurred to you that at this particular season, when we are commemorating `Old Defenders' Day,' it is particularly appropriate to do special honors to our firemen? They belong in the list of `Old Defenders.' Like the heroes of 1812, they defended the city from irreparable disaster," A.S. Goldsborough, City Council clerk, told The Sun.

"And they made a splendid showing. With bands playing gaily, flags flying and horses prancing as they pulled along glittering engines, the procession presented an inspiring spectacle, which could not fail to arouse enthusiasm," reported the newspaper.

The crowd roared its approval when Goliath, a white Fire Department horse that had suffered burns in the fire, made his appearance.

The horse, which had pulled a Hale Water Tower, had saved his crew when flames bursting from the Hurst building caused him to pull away at the same moment a wall came crashing down.

In a special act, the City Council gave Goliath a lifetime position in the department, which spared him from being assigned as a workhorse to another department at the end of his firefighting career - or, worse, destroyed.

"Goliath was the proudest thing in the parade," said The Sun. "He frisked from side to side, danced to the music of the bands and generally enjoyed himself, while the people cheered."

Another relic from the fire was the old No. 15 engine, which had been crushed and buried by a falling building during the fire and later withdrawn from the wreckage.

"Everywhere along the line, the old and battered wreck was enthusiastically greeted," reported the newspaper. "It was drawn by two magnificent horses but looked as if at any moment it would fall to pieces."

The Sun added: "The people of Baltimore are neither forgetful nor unappreciative, and as the line of firemen started over the route, the cheering began, and it never stopped until the last fireman had passed."

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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