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On Thursday, August 14th, discover the little-known world of pre-Civil War volunteer firefighters in Brooklyn, followed by our last beer garden of the season!
Before the Civil War, fighting fires in Brooklyn was a volunteer service. Budgets were cheap, equipment was slapdash, and water was pumped from the East River. Engine, Hose, Bucket, and Hook and Ladder Companies were pugnacious and territorial, and often the old-time firefighters not only fought fires but also each other. The Eastern District covered the villages of Williamsburgh and Bushwick, and as noted in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1866, “Eastern and Western District firemen are strangers to each other, as much as those of distant cities…”
The ritual and pageantry of the “laddies” was grand, and at the annual Firemen’s Parade the horses and steam engines were festooned with garlands and decorated with busts of George Washington. The men wore black trousers and red shirts, and the company foreman led the muster by shouting through a ceremonial “vamping trumpet.”
The Brooklyn Firefighting Collection at Brooklyn Historical Society sets ablaze the life of the volunteer firefighter in the old Eastern District, where in 1864 the firebell rang for a total of 70 fires. As registered in the badge rolls that year, the firemen of Victory Engine Company 13, at 166 Clymer Street, included boatbuilders, caulkers, printers, bookkeepers, oyster dealers, coopers... and maybe one or two librarians.
Tales from the Vault! Volunteers & Vamping Horns: Fighting Fires in the Old Eastern District
Thursday, August 14th
6pm Tales from the Vault!
6:30pm Beer Garden
FREE admission, $5 drink tickets, $2 food tickets
Beer courtesy of Brooklyn Brewery
Image credit: Brooklyn firemen, ca. 1870, v19126.96.36.199; Brooklyn Firefighting Collection, 1989.006; Brooklyn Historical Society.