May 13th, 2012
The passing of Retired Lieutenant William Walsh on May 11, 2012 was a sad day for the Austin Fire Museum. Mr. Walsh was one of the first retired firefighters we interviewed when organizing the Austin Fire Museum almost 10 years ago. Mr. Walsh was already well into his 80′s and suffering from the symptoms of Alzheimer’s, but like many Alzheimer’s patients, if you asked the right question you could open a window into the past and a flood of information might follow. Although Mr. Walsh’s short term memory had deteriorated, he spoke of his firefighting days as they were yesterday.
As Mr. Walsh arrived at the Austin Fire Museum’s grand opening in 2005, he slowly walked through the truck bays of Central Fire Station #1 (where the museum is located) paused at one of the fire poles, and commented, “One fire, I slide down that pole so fast I landed right on top of Chief Dagger Dickerson. Man, was he hot about that!” Mr. Walsh also remarked that he’d rather fight a fire than eat a really good meal. Mr. Walsh was known as a maverick, often marching to the beat of his own drum. Mr. Walsh is usually pretty easy to spot in pictures because he’s the one wearing sneakers when the rest of the crew is wearing leather shoes. Mr. Walsh’s obituary can be seen here.
April 25th, 2012
The Austin Fire Museum’s annual San Jacinto Day open house will be from 11AM-5PM on Friday, April 27th. Explore over 150 years of AFD history in a matter of minutes (we’re a pretty small museum). Located at 401 E. 5th Street in downtown Austin, we are right next door to the Susanna Dickinson Museum and the O’Henry Museum.
February 27th, 2012
If you’re a fan of baseball, especially baseball history, you’ll enjoy the following pictures.
Imagine it’s October in the late 1920′s. You’re working at AFD Fire Station #3 at 3002 Guadalupe St. The only media entertainment you have is a radio. The Baseball World Series is about to start. In order to keep track of the game and make it a little more interesting you try and track down something to write in to keep score of the game. Up on a shelf are some fire log books from 1916 that have some blank pages remaining (when the Austin Fire Department became a paid fire department) . So you grab a pencil and a straight edge and proceed to draw some rows and columns. You check the morning newspaper for the line-ups, write them down, and verify the names when the announcers start the play-by-play. Hash marks keep track of runs, hits, errors, put outs, and more. You keep it up through the mid 1930′s, documenting every game, including Game 3 in 1932 in Chicago. The significance of that game? Babe Ruth’s alleged “called shot”.
Thirty years later, as the fire station is closing down, rather than throw the dusty old journals into a dumpster a fire fighter takes the logs home and puts them in a box under his bed. 45 years after that, the firefighter’s widow hears of an up and coming Austin Fire Museum and returns the journals to be archived.
July 10th, 2011
With 2011 being the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the American Civil War, it is appropriate to mention the Austin Fire Department’s involvement in the war between the states. Austin Hook and Ladder #1 was organized on September 25, 1857. By 1861, there were already over 100 volunteers amongst the ranks. According to Suzanne Scott, who in 2006 wrote a thesis on the history of the Volunteer Austin Fire Dept. (1857-1916), 75% of Hook and Ladder #1 members joined the Confederate Army, while a striking 25% of the members signed up with the Union troops. The Central Texas area had many German immigrants in the mid-1800s, and according to her research, they were sympathetic to the Union. In fact, when secession was put to a voter referendum in Texas, Travis County was one of the few Texas Counties that voted against separation with the North.
By 1861, Hook and Ladder #1 was the only Volunteer Fire Company that had been organized in Austin. Due to the breakout of the War, the next fire company organized, Washington Fire Company #1, was delayed until 1868. Currently, the oldest known relic of the Austin Fire Department resides in the Austin History Center and directly relates to the Civil War. The following picture is a copy of an original invitation to a “Grand Military Ball given by Austin Hook and Ladder Fire Co. No. 1 to the Tom Green Rifles at the Capitol on June 24, 1861″. The Tom Green Rifles were a local regiment that was in the 4th Texas Company B Infantry, which saw heavy casualties in 1862 at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill in Virginia. Third Lt. Robert J. Lambert, who is listed as a founding member of Hook and Ladder 1 was killed in the Gaines’ Mill battle. Read the rest of this entry »