Box 414’s Baltimore City Fire Museum

You expect to find helmets, lanterns and an old steamer in most fire museums, but a rusty gun, a charred bowling pin and a Playboy Bunny's costume make a trip to the Box 414 Association's City of Baltimore Fire Museum a special treat. Photo by Joseph Louderback The City of...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse.Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network:

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

You expect to find helmets, lanterns and an old steamer in most fire museums, but a rusty gun, a charred bowling pin and a Playboy Bunny's costume make a trip to the Box 414 Association's City of Baltimore Fire Museum a special treat.

9_01_box1.jpg
Photo by Joseph Louderback
The City of Baltimore Fire Museum is operated by the Box 414 Association in a 203-year-old fire station. The 117-foot-high bell and clock tower served as a firewatcher's perch when volunteers guarded the city as members of the Independent Fire Company.

Housed in the former quarters of Engine 6, which shared the old firehouse with Battalion Two before both moved into the nearby Oldtown Superstation, Box 414 is a fire buff club that also provides canteen service to Baltimore firefighters. Since 1979, the club has operated the museum at 414 N. Gay St. - its name recalling Box 414 as the first alarm box pulled for the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904.

"The box was located near Hopkins Place and German Street," said museum tour guide Walt Lemmon, a retired Baltimore City Fire Department lieutenant who joined the 56-year-old club when he hung up his career helmet last year. The 34-year veteran is the perfect host for visiting firefighters because he once served in the old firehouse.

Now designated a National Historic Landmark, the 203-year-old station boasts a 117-foot-high bell and clock tower that served as a firewatcher's perch when volunteers guarded the city as members of the Independent Fire Company.

Special treats inside the building include a working alarm gong and an old ticker-tape alarm system that notches out 4-1-4 on thin paper ribbon. If you prefer current events, a modern radio console just inside the front door monitors active Baltimore fire radio traffic.

Apparatus on display include a 1917 Ahrens Fox pumper, an 1848 Agnew hand-drawn pumper that required 12 men to operate and a 1913 Christie tractor attached to an 1898 steamer. Large cases house artifacts from the old days - a display gives visitors a look at the famous 1904 blaze that decimated two dozen blocks near today's Inner Harbor. Photos, a melted telephone and an explosives detonator used to level buildings to create a firebreak brings the scope of the conflagration home.

The museum serves as the final resting place for the helmets of 25 firefighters killed in the line of duty. Some dented, some charred, each helmet lists the deceased member's name along with the date and cause of death.

9_01_box2.jpg
Photo by Joseph Louderback
The Box 414 Association's name recalls Box 414 as the first alarm box pulled for the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. Gamewell Box 414 is a relic from the days before the alarm systems disappeared in the late 1980s.


9_01_box4.jpg
Photo by Joseph Louderback
Museum tour guide Walt Lemmon, a retired Baltimore City Fire Department lieutenant, was stationed at Engine 6 when it was an active firehouse. Today, it houses the fire museum, where Lemmon views one of 25 helmets that belonged to Baltimore firefighters who died in the line of duty.

"I was on the same run with Jimmy," Lemmon said, pointing to the leather helmet last worn by Fireman James Grahe, who was killed on Truck 5 in an accident caused by a drunk driver at North and Harford avenues in December 1967. John Killian's helmet enhances memories of his death in a basement fire in March 1985.

A charred .38 revolver belonging to Police Officer Edgar J. Rumph honors the lawman killed while attempting to rescue residents of the Beethoven Apartments in a February 1978 multi-alarm fire. Lemmon recalled, "He was trapped in an elevator and everything collapsed on him."

9_01_box3.jpg
Photo by Joseph Louderback
The museum exhibits historic apparatus and other artifacts that are part of Baltimore's fire history.

One quirky relic from the six-alarm 1969 fire at the Playboy Club on Light Street near Lombard is the hot pink "Bunny" costume and familiar "ears." "One guy rescued the flag too, but nobody knows what happened to that," Lemmon joked.

A dented Box 414 coffee jug sits atop one case and like everything on display it stirs a story.

"It was dug from the rubble after the collapse of the Tru-Fit clothing store, a blaze that killed five firefighters in 1955," Lemmon said. A burned bowling pin tumbled from the six-alarmer at the Forest Park Bowling Lanes. A red fire ax was rescued from the S.S. Washington, a ship that burned in Baltimore Harbor in the 1950s.

The fun of the Box 414 museum lies in its "something-for-everybody" appeal. There's old stuff, new stuff and unique mementos that get tour guides talking.

"Life-preservers from each of our old fireboats," Lemmon said, pointing skyward to a high wall display that's easy to miss. The large discolored discs bear the names Deluge, Cascade, Torrent and Cataract. Nearby, Gamewell Box 414 is a relic from the days before the alarm systems disappeared in the late 1980s.

Ed Schwartz, the museum curator and Box 414 president, said his group will continue to upgrade the old firehouse and seek new displays that spread the history of the Baltimore City Fire Department.

"If you look around at the equipment and frontispieces, you see a great heritage," he said. "To know where you're going, you have to know where you've been."

Currently, Box 414's biggest challenge is keeping the mobile canteen running. The familiar red-and-white truck averages 100 responses each year. "We're always looking for active members who can get the truck out," Lemon said. "That's one of the reasons I joined after I retired."

Membership in the Box 414 Association includes a monthly newsletter, meetings and a badge after one year's service. For information contact the association at 414 N. Gay St., Baltimore, MD 21202. Visits are by appointment, but the firehouse is usually open on Sunday from 1 to 4 P.M.


Joseph Louderback, a Firehouse® contributing editor, served as editor of the FDNY's Publications Unit and as a government affairs reporter. He is a 20-year member of the Milmont Fire Company in Milmont Park, PA, and conducts media relations programs for the fire service.

Loading