No marker, but same mourn­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - JOHN KELLY’S WASHINGTON Send your ques­tions to an­swer­man@wash­

Ben­jamin Greenup has long been re­mem­bered as the first D.C. fire­fighter to die in the line of duty, and An­swer Man’s re­cent trivia quiz said as much. But a re­tired fire­fighter’s re­search un­cov­ers some­thing dif­fer­ent.

The first District fire­fighter to die in the line of duty was killed in 1856, but who was he?

An­swer Man asks be­cause one of the ques­tions in his D.C. trivia quiz from a few weeks back asked read­ers what year the fire­fighter’s death took place. In the an­swer, he said the fire­fighter was Ben­jamin Greenup. Un­til about a year ago, that’s what any fire­fighter in­Wash­ing­ton would have told you. Greenup is hon­ored as such at the District’s fire train­ing academy at Blue Plains.

Ben­jamin Greenup was killed May 6, 1856. In those days, pumps were pow­ered by hand, not steam. The equip­ment wasn’t as heavy as later steam­pow­ered en­gines and so was pulled by the fire­men them­selves rather than by horses. Greenup, a mem­ber of the Columbia Fire Com­pany, was killed when the en­gine he was pulling down Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue on the way to a blaze col­lided with a lamp­post, crush­ing him un­der­neath the pumper’s wheels. Greenup was 24 and, ac­cord­ing to the in­scrip­tion on his mon­u­ment in Glen­wood Ceme­tery in North­east Washington, “A truer, no­bler, trustier heart, more lov­ing or more loyal, never beat within a hu­man breast.”

Greenup’s large grave marker at Glen­wood is carved with a de­tailed de­pic­tion of his death. For years it was be­lieved that he was the first fire­fighter to die while serv­ing the city. But about a year ago, re­tired D.C. fire­fighter Jimmy Lloyd came across a 1911 book by Washington Evening Star re­porter James Crog­gon. In it, Crog­gon men­tions a fire­fighter named John G. An­der­son who died two months be­fore Greenup.

The date was March 11, 1856. An­swer Man checked the Star from that day and there, un­der the head­line “De­plorable Ac­ci­dent,” is the sad tale. An­der­son was a mem­ber of theWestern Hose Com­pany, which was fight­ing a fire in a large house at 22nd and F streets NW. A wall started to crum­ble, there were shouts to pull back, but An­der­son couldn’t get away in time. He was struck by the bricks “and crushed and man­gled in the most ter­ri­ble man­ner.” An­der­son, a 38-yearold shoe­maker, left his widow and four small chil­dren des­ti­tute.

Why is Ben­jamin Greenup re­mem­bered to­day but John An­der­son isn’t? It­may have some­thing to do with where each vol­un­teered. James Em­brey, a re­tired D.C. fire­fighter and pres­i­dent of the Friend­ship Fire As­so­ci­a­tion, the or­ga­ni­za­tion that runs the District’s fire and EMS mu­seum on New Jersey Av­enue NW, said that An­der­son’s fire­house was in what was then a poor neigh­bor­hood: Ge­orge­town. Greenup came from a wealth­ier part of town: Capi­tol Hill.

“Later on, the Columbia fire­fight­ers erected a mon­u­ment to Greenup,” James said. “I think, be­cause of that, peo­ple just tended to be­lieve that he was the first to be killed.”

An­der­son was hon­ored at his fu­neral, how­ever. His wal­nut cof­fin was borne upon the new hose reel of theWestern Hose Com­pany, which had been “ taste­fully fit­ted up as a hearse for the oc­ca­sion,” wrote the Star.

An­der­son’s com­pany de­creed that its hose house and ap­pa­ra­tus be draped in mourn­ing for four months and that “we wear the usual badge of mourn­ing on the left arm for thirty days.”

That word­ing — “ the usual badge of mourn­ing” — sug­gests to An­swer Man that per­haps An­der­son wasn’t the first fire­fighter killed, ei­ther. So, too, does this line from a Star story be­fore the fu­neral: “as such a ca­su­alty has not oc­curred for a long time, there will doubt­less be a gen­eral turnout of the Fire Depart­ment.”

And there was. Among those march­ing to Holmead’s burial ground in Ge­orge­town were the Friend­ship Com­pany of Alexan­dria, the Vig­i­lant Fire Com­pany of Ge­orge­town, the Amer­i­can Hook and Lad­der Com­pany, and the North­ern Lib­er­ties Com­pany (An­der­son’s body was moved to Oak Hill in 1873, but there is no longer a marker.) As for the fact that nei­ther An­der­son nor Greenup died of burns, James Em­brey said that’s not un­usual. Lack­ing the mod­ern equip­ment of to­day’s smokechasers, fire­fight­ers then — all-vol­un­teer in the District un­til about 1870 — sel­dom ven­tured in­side burn­ing build­ings, in­stead tack­ling them from out­side.

As the events of 1856 at­test, that could still be plenty dan­ger­ous. And get this: The very pumper that killed Greenup is in stor­age, just wait­ing for its wheels to be tight­ened so it can go on dis­play.


The Ben­jamin GreenupMon­u­ment, the tomb­stone of a D.C. fire­fighter who died in 1856. He is buried in Glen­wood Ceme­tery in North­east. Greenup was a mem­ber of the Columbia Fire Co.

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