He stood 8 feet tall, a mountain of a man. On duty, he wore a hard leather firefighter's helmet as big as a vinegar barrel. It was said that a couple of small boys once found one of his abandoned fire boots and went sailing in it.
He could leap the East River in a single bound. He could swim across the Hudson in just two strokes. In a mood of merriment, he would pick up horsecars and carry them on his shoulders, horses a-dangle, from Chatham Square to Astor Place, or he would jump into the harbor and blow back approaching vessels with his mighty lungs. Angered, he would demolish whole streets by ripping up lampposts and paving stones for use as weapons against some opponent.
His enormous appetite regularly caused fluctuations in the oyster and beef and flour markets. There was customarily a 50-gallon keg of ale hung from his belt. It is believed that the mulberry trees disappeared from Mulberry Bend and the cherry trees from Cherry Hill because he was impatient with the picking process and simply uprooted the trees to get at the fruit.
Here was Big Mose, the burly firefighter who gave pre-Civil War New Yorkers a high-spirited folk hero of strength and courage and bravado to match their booming metropolis.
Mose was New York's Paul Bunyan, its Samson, its Achilles. He came from the rough-and-tumble working-class culture of the Bowery, where flamboyant young peacocks called Bowery B'hoys enviously chased after the day's most romantic public heroes - the fire laddies.
There were several thousand of these robust men, organized into dozens of neighborhood companies with evocative names like Black Joke, Dry Bones and Big Six, and they wore brightly colored uniforms and pulled gaudily decorated pumpers and lived breathtakingly exciting lives. Mose himself, for example, was once blown high into the air by a mighty explosion, and he twice circled Trinity Church and then hop-skipped across the Hudson and landed in Hoboken. Meanwhile, the fire laddies were all lustily competitive, and it was not unknown for a building to burn down while rival companies fought each other with brickbats and cleavers over the use of the nearest hydrant. Every Bowery B'hoy dreamed of one day earning a coveted spot on a squad.
Not surprisingly, the fictional Mose was based on a real-life fireman: Moses Humphrey was a large Irish printer who was employed by the New York Sun and otherwise ran with Engine Co. 40, and his reputation was that of the toughest man in the nation's toughest city.
The void left by the real Moses was quickly filled by the Mose of legend: Stories of the mighty fireman and his mighty deeds grew more spectacularly fanciful with each passing year. Then, in January 1848, the scribe Ned Buntline put the Mose myth on paper, issuing several of the most sensational Mose yarns in a 25-cent magazine that was so instantly a best seller that Buntline soon produced four more volumes.
Shortly, Big Mose made his stage debut, in a short play called "A Glance at New York," written and produced by Bowery theater man Benjamin Baker, and the locals roared in delight as they recognized one of their own - for the stage Mose was the real thing: Not only was Frank Chanfrau a true-blue fire laddie himself, he was the younger brother of Henry Chanfrau.
Dozens more Mose plays followed. "Mosaics," they were known as, all of them pretty much the same: Mose would thrash somebody or other, then gallop off to save some screaming innocent from a burning tenement. Audiences couldn't get enough of them. Chanfrau, probably one of the most energetic actors of all time, regularly gave several performances a night, first playing Mitchell's Olympic Theater on Broadway between Howard and Grand Sts., then moving to the Chatham on Chatham St., between Roosevelt and St. James, then racing over to Newark for a late show there. Eventually, Chanfrau went on the road, making Big Mose one of the antebellum nation's most famous figures and making himself a very wealthy man.
Big Mose occasionally still stormed about the stages of New York in the years following the Civil War, but, like the real Moses Humphrey, he eventually met his match, as audiences that had once flocked to the popular melodramas turned in the Gilded Age to the more sophisticated musical comedies of Ned Harrigan and Tony Hart.
And, like Humphrey, Big Mose also was said to have at last resettled in Hawaii.
There, the story goes, he married a princess, became a king himself and fathered 40 children. He headed the local fire department as well, and he happily lived out his days battling blazes worthy of such a fireman as himself - volcanoes.
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Thread: From Engine 40: Mose
08-15-2003, 09:51 PM #1
From Engine 40: MoseALL GAVE SOME BUT SOME GAVE ALL
NEVER FORGET 9-11-01
CAPT. Frank Callahan Ladder 35 *
LT. John Ginley Engine 40
FF. Bruce Gary Engine 40
FF. Jimmy Giberson Ladder 35
FF. Michael Otten Ladder 35 *
FF. Steve Mercado Engine 40 *
FF. Kevin Bracken Engine 40 *
FF. Vincent Morello Ladder 35
FF. Michael Roberts Ladder 35 *
FF. Michael Lynch Engine 40
FF. Michael Dauria Engine 40
"If my job was easy a cop would be doing it."
08-16-2003, 12:23 AM #2
- Join Date
- May 2002
- Now in Victoria, BC. I'm from beautiful Jasper Alberta in the heart of the Can. Rockies - will always be an Albertan at heart!
Cool! Thanks for sharing thatSeptember 11th - Never Forget
I respect firefighters and emergency workers worldwide. Thank you for what you do.
IACOJ CRUSTY CONVENTION CHAIR
RAY WAS HERE FIRST
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