Sliding down the Pole

I was just a kid on Chicago’s north side when my grammar school class toured the Chicago fire Department Engine 71’s firehouse at 6239 N California. Watching the fireman slide down the fire pole, we learned  that the fire pole was actually invented in Chicago some 71 years earlier. A few other cities claim that they had a fire pole first, but I shall stubbornly stick to this Chicago story unless proved otherwise.

Flash back to 1878 and a three story wooden frame firehouse at 313 Third Avenue (later renamed and renumbered to 909 South Plymouth Court) in Chicago.  Although long gone, it was then the busy quarters of Engine Company 21 organized in 1872 as the first black fire company in the Chicago fire Department. The ground floor containing the firefighting equipment and the horses, the floor above was for sleeping, and the top floor the hayloft used to store the winter supply of hay to feed the horses.

Until 1878, firefighters would come down from their sleeping quarters to their fire apparatus  either by a spiral staircase or through a slide chute. A spiral staircase was better than a regular wide staircase because it took up less space in the firehouse. Worse yet, the fire horses could at times try to climb the regular stairs to visit the firemen or get a treat! Just picture a firemen who would awake to either a hungry or playful horse that missed their human companions. It really happened!

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Being a Kid on a Miniature Train

If you were a kid, you may well have enjoyed a miniature train ride somewhere in the Chicago area. They were in amusement parks, zoos, and kiddieland. You might have ridden the “Hiawatha” at Hollywood Kiddieland at Devon and McCormick in Chicago’s far north side,  or the Kiddieland in Melrose Park at North Avenue and River Road. There was a train at Brookfield zoo, one in Adventureland in Addison.

 If you are really old like me, you may remember the train in Lincoln Park zoo or the two really iconic trains, the Chief and the Scout at Riverview amusement park at Belmont and Western.

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Dying in Style: Chicago’s Cadillac Fire Ambulances

Chicago Fire Commissioner Robert Quinn was opposed to switching from Cadillac ambulances to the newer boxy, modular EMT design apparently on the theory that “a Chicagoan would rather die in style than be saved in the back of a panel truck.” He thought people wanted to go out in style! 

Actually, Cadillac never made an ambulance, but rather suppling three major coach builders S&S,  Miller Meteor and Superior . The first Cadillac purchased by the Chicago fire Department was a modified 1940 limousine model which went into the service on January 25, 1943, assigned as an upgrade to Ambulance 1. Then between 1953 and 1973 most Cadillac ambulances were conversions from Miller Meteor of Ohio on incomplete Cadillac chassis from 1961.

Since 1928 Chicago fire Department has purchased over 178 ambulance vehicles, some 70 of those were Cadillacs. There were also three 1942 Packard’s converted by Henney in Freeport Illinois, ten 1946 Mercury’s and nine Pontiacs purchased 1970. There was just one 1941 Dodge purchased for Civil Defense between 1943 in 1947.. In 1973 the EMS systems act was written establishing federal guidelines for the newer design modular ambulances,  the department purchased over 70 of these  on Ford and Chevrolet chassis still in use today.

But the story of Chicago ambulances begins in 1889 with its first city ambulance, a horse driven police ambulance #1 quartered at the Armory police station. In the basement station where stalls for nine horses two teams assigned to the ambulance and two teams for the “blue wagon” a ninth horse was called a fast trotter for the commanding officer of the precinct captain Koch.

One ambulance team was always kept constantly in harness ready for “instant service”. The crew two police officers and a driver would wait for the electric gong. One horse team worked the day shift 7 AM to 6 PM the other team worked the night shift 6 PM to 7 AM.

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Hold a huge reunion for EVERYONE in your family tree

If somehow you could have every one of the relatives on your family tree come back to life for just one day, wouldn’t it be fun to  hold a huge family reunion for all of them?  

Here are some tips to plan your big event:

Because your tree has hundreds or even thousands of relatives, you are going to need a very large venue, be it a banquet hall or a large outdoor space. Check your ancestry or your familysearch tree and plan accordingly.

You will need to think about food, entertainment, table favors, photography, whether or not to have an open bar and more. Your oldest relatives probably were born in Europe or beyond so you might well have a language problem. Also be aware that everybody will be there including people you never liked. Who knows you may have a bank robber or a horse thief in your midst?

That brings up the seating arrangement:  you have many difficult choices here. Would you seat everybody by the year that were born?, or do you just mix it up and have Uncle Louie born in 1934 sit with your great great great aunt Tillie who was born in 1803? It certainly would make for interesting conversations. You might not want put the Germans and the Polish at the same table because they never got along back them.

Consider the wide variety of occupations of your relatives. How interesting would it be to see a politician next to a hairdresser next to a cabinetmaker next to a coal miner.. Picture Albert Johann the harness maker born in 1821 finding something to say to Uncle Bert born 1934 the car salesman still wearing his plaid suit.. Picture Emil the German barrel maker born in 1741 trying to make meaningful conversation with Molly born 1912  the exotic dancer who worked the 1933 worlds fair.

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