Saturday, 28 May 2016

Hatching cat - 1888: Requiem for Ginger, the Fire Dog of Greenwich Village


Ginger the Fire Dog
This is not Ginger, but I thought this old photograph was appropriate. 

Although their names were omitted from the payrolls, the fire dogs of the Metropolitan Fire Department played some very important roles in nineteenth-century New York City. Not only were they considered pets of the firehouse and furry friends of the neighborhood, but they also worked hard barking loudly to clear the streets ahead of the horse-drawn engines, guarding the men’s equipment at the scene of a fire, spurring the horses on to greater speed by nipping at their legs, or alerting the firemen to injured fire victims.
For 16 years, Ginger did all of these things and more for Hook and Ladder Company No. 5 of Greenwich Village, New York.
Ginger, a mutt, joined the firehouse at 95 Charles Street in 1872 – just seven years after the hook and ladder company was organized. According to The New York Times, Ginger was a “fireman’s dog” who “took an almost human interest in the affairs of the company.” He would always promptly respond to fire alarms, and his short, sharp barks would mingle with the truck’s loud gong as he ran in front of the horses.
All the children in the neighborhood loved him, especially the little schoolgirls, who would often stop at the firehouse on their way to and from school to play with the friendly dog they called Ginger.
On November 16, 1888, Ginger met his demise while taking his daily walk on Bleecker Street. The old dog was reportedly injured when he was hit by a truck; a police officer used his revolver to put Ginger out of his misery. Ginger was buried in the yard of the firehouse following a visitation for the school children.
A Brief History of Hook and Ladder Company No. 5
The Metropolitan Hook and Ladder Company No. 5 was organized on September 25, 1865. It was one of the twelve hook and ladder companies organized that year under a state act titled “An Act to Create a Metropolitan Fire District.” This bill, passed into law on March 30, 1865, abolished New York’s volunteer fire department and created the Metropolitan Fire District, a Board of Commissioners, and the Metropolitan Fire Department (MFD).
The new hook and ladder company had 12 members, including Foreman Charles O’Shay, an assistant-foreman, driver, and nine privates. The combined annual salary for all the company members was $8,550.
From Harper's Weekly, official formation of New York City's Metropolitan Fire Department.
In 1866, Harper’s Weekly featured this illustrated print celebrating the official formation of New York City’s Metropolitan Fire Department. Museum of the City of New York Collections
Prior to the transition from volunteer to paid service in 1865, New York City was served by 18 hook and ladder companies as follows:
Mutual No. 1, Chelsea No. 2, Eagle No. 4, Union No. 5, Mechanics No. 7, Empire No. 8, Washington No. 9, C.V. Anderson No. 10, Harry Howard No. 11, Friendship No. 12, Columbian No. 14, Baxter No. 15, Liberty No. 16, Hibernia No. 18, Phoenix No. 3, Lafayette No. 6, Marion No. 13, John Decker No. 17.
During the transition, Columbian Hook and Ladder No. 14, which was housed at 96 Charles St., was replaced by Hook and Ladder Company No. 5. Hook and Ladder 5 occupied the Charles St. firehouse until November 25, 1975, when the company moved into its present quarters at 227 Sixth Avenue.
Columbian No. 14 — “Wide Awake”
This volunteer company was organized May 11, 1854, with Robert S. Dixon as foreman, Kinloch S. Derickson as assistant, Robert Wright as secretary, William Hutchings as treasurer, and ten other members. They worked out of a temporary location on Greenwich Street near Amos Street, which they erected at their own expense in May 1854. In January 1857 the company moved into their new Italianate-style firehouse on Charles Street and took possession of a new truck finished by Pine & Hartshorn of New York City.
April 21, 1860, Scientific American “Fire escape Hook and Ladder Truck.”
On April 21, 1860, Scientific American featured this illustration titled “Fire escape Hook and Ladder Truck.” This apparatus is probably very similar to the truck acquired by the Columbian No. 14 volunteer fire company in 1857.
The new firehouse was among the best in the city, and featured a grand meeting room and parlor, a well-appointed bunk room and truck room, and a large library. There was also a beautiful little garden attached to the house, where on summer evenings the members would gather to while away the quiet hours. One must wonder if it was in this peaceful garden that Ginger the fire dog of Hook and Ladder Company No. 5 was laid to rest.
96 Charles Street firehouse
Built in 1854 as a carriage house, 96 Charles Street was purchased by the city in 1855 and converted to a firehouse for Columbian No. 14. Hook and Ladder Company No. 5 occupied the firehouse from 1865 to 1975. Today the building houses a contemporary art gallery and two large residential duplexes.

In Memoriam
The following members from Ladder 5 and Battalion 2 made the supreme sacrifice on September 11th, 2001:
Lt. Mike Warchola
Lt. Vincent Giamonna
Lou Arena
Andy Brunn
Greg Saucedo
Paul Keating
Tommy Hannafin
John Santore
BC. William McGovern
BC. Richard Prunty
FF. Fautino Apostol, Jr.
Ladder 5 Battalion 2 memorial
Pictured here are the 11 men of Ladder 5 and Batralion 2 who lost their lives at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
If you enjoyed this story, click here to read a true tale about another Ginger — the fire cat of the Lower East Side.

Olaf, the Viking Cat
An old maritime superstition was that if a mascot was lost at sea, a member of the crew would be lost shortly thereafter. Even worse, a lost mascot on a maiden voyage spelled constant disaster for the ship in the future. That is why when Olaf the cat fell overboard on the Sud Americano’s maiden voyage from Kiel, Germany, to Brooklyn, the captain and crew did not hesitate to attempt a daring rescue.
Olaf was described in The New York Times as a “blond Viking” who attached himself to the sailors of the South American liner, Sud Americano. The twin-screw steamer was built in Kiel, and was scheduled to go into service as an express passenger and freight liner out of Brooklyn to Rio de Jeneiro, Montevideo and Buenas Aires. Sud Americano and its sister ship, Sud Expresso, were operated by Garcia & Diaz, of Pier 44 in Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Redhook, Brooklyn, Piers
The Dutch established the village of Red Hook (Roode Hoek) in 1636, making it one of the earliest areas in Brooklyn to be settled. The area was named for its red clay soil and the hook shape of its peninsular corner that projects into the East River. By the 1850s, Red Hook was one of the busiest ports in the country.
On the morning of July 2, 1929, Olaf fell overboard while sunning himself amidships. According to the August 1929 issue of The Lookout, which was published by Seaman’s Church Institute of New York, the watchman cried out, “Cat overboard!” and Captain Boettger ordered an immediate rescue. The chief officer and six seamen manned a lifeboat in record time and pulled at the oars hard, turning the boat toward the small dark object bobbing up and down in the waves.
In spite of the heavy seas, Olaf swam courageously until his rescue. Upon returning the waterlogged Olaf to the ship, two “hefty Norwegian sailors,” under the direction of the second mate, T. Anderson, started pumping air into his lungs and salt water out, following instructions for humans in the ship’s first-aid manual. After resuscitating the cat, the sailors wrapped Olaf in a blanket and brought him to the engine room to dry out.
International Lifeboat Race New York
The annual International Lifeboat Race in New York featured 8-men crews in lifeboats that weighed about 5,500 pounds or more.
Several days after the rescue, the Sud Americano steamed up to Pier 44 at the foot of Conover Street, with Olaf reportedly standing in the bow, head and tail up, purring. Following a few days in Brooklyn, Olaf and his crew sailed off on July 12 for Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, and Buenos Aires with Captain Anders Nielsen at the helm.
Pier 44 Red Hook Brooklyn
Today Pier 44 features a waterfront garden and Waterfront Museum. For more information, click here to take a tour of the Red Hook Pier 44 Waterfront Garden with the Flatbush Gardener.
Rescue Prepares Crew for Lifeboat Race
Two months after Olaf’s rescue, the crew of the Sud Americano took part in the third annual international lifeboat race on the Hudson River. The race was sponsored by the Neptune Association, an organization of shipmasters and dock officers who recognized the need for better lifeboat skills for rescue and emergency work at sea.
On September 2, 1929, crowds of people lined up from 86th Street to 126th Street to watch the crews from various passenger ships compete in the two-mile race. As reported in The New York Times, the Garcia and Diaz lifeboat crew from the new motor freighter Sud Americano pulled to victory against seven competitors, with a winning time of 17 minutes and 11 seconds.
Sud Americano twin-screw motorship
The Sud Americano was a 7,000 gross ton twin-screw motorship built by the Deutsche Werke, Kiel, in 1928, for the Norwegian A/S Linea Sud Americano.
On September 6, William H. Todd of the Todd Shipyards Corporation presented the Todd lifeboat racing trophy to the crew at a luncheon aboard the ship at Pier 44. Captain C.A. McAllister, president of the American Bureau of Shipping and referee, inferred that the crew may have won because they were all under the age of 30 and “they were Norsemen whose ancestors were rowing boats while some of ours were shooting bows and arrows.”
Perhaps the crew of the Sud Americano won because they had recent lifeboat practice with Olaf the cat?
The Sud Americano Meets German Sub U-558 in 1941
Shortly after the Sud Americano went into service, she and her sister ship were returned to their builders in Kiel for failure to reach the contracted speed. The ship was renamed Schleswig and some time later, was under charter to the Blue Star Line of London as Yakima Star. In 1934 she was re-engined and lengthened; her two funnels were replaced by a single one, and she renamed Weser for Norddeutscher Lloyd, Bremen.
In October 1940 she was captured while attempting to run the British blockade by HMCS Prince Robert. The Weser was taken over by the Ministry of War Transport, handed over to Merchant Marine Ltd, Ottawa, and renamed Vancouver Island . This was to be her last name.
On October 15, 1941, Vancouver Island was torpedoed by German submarine U-588 under the command of Günther Krech. The ship sank in the North Atlantic west of Ireland. On 31 October, a lifeboat with the bodies of two officers from the ship was found by a British warship. Master Eric Lacey Roper, 64 crew members, eight gunners, and 32 passengers were lost. There was no mention of a mascot.
Günther Krech
Kapitänleutnant Günther Krech sank or destroyed 19 ships during World War II, mostly in the Atlantic and in Caribbean waters. U-588 was sunk by US aircraft on 20 July, 1943, in the Bay of Biscay. Krech was one of only five men to survive the sinking, but he spent several years in Allied captivity.