I’ve decided to write a blog post about Goliath, simply because while writing about the Baltimore Fire and searching for photos, I remembered the stories that my grandmother used to tell me about the positively enormous fire horse. Some of this will be a rehash of some of the things I wrote about in the last blog post, but I have been able to find more information and will subsequently post that here. I decided I didn’t want him tacked onto the end of another blog post as a post-script of sorts. He needed his own, because I simply feel that he and his fellow fire horses deserve some form of recognition. He got plenty while he lived but only because of a major injury caused by a catastrophic event. When he died he was given a hero’s funeral, but as is the case with so many things, he has been forgotten by time, so I decided that a little reminder was due. These animals were worked hard, and then retired and sold. Some were sadly sold to the glue factory and then destroyed. They were trained to pull heavy equipment and tolerate horrible conditions – smoke, ashes, flames, burns; they ran on cobblestones and concrete; they got nails and glass stuck in their horseshoes; they were taught to respond instantly to different sequences of fire bells. They did all this and more, bravely and without complaint, and yet I have never seen a memorial to Baltimore’s fire horses. Or its police horses for that matter. How many of them were injured, burned, suffered smoke inhalation? They are never mentioned, or if they were – they are nameless and forgotten now. Funny articles in the newspaper about the horses, their names and their sometimes hysterical personalities are sadly no more.
Engine 15 – 308 West Lombard Street – the back of the postcard indicates that this was taken in 1910. Goliath would have been retired by then but still present at the fire house. Two of those white/dapple gray horses are Decoration and Electioneer. The station was a warehouse until the Engine 15 moved in from the triangle plot bordered by Park, Liberty and Fayette Street in 1891. It was vacated in 1919. Rescue 1 has it home on the same block today, just a few doors down from where Engine 15 stood.
When the Hurst dry goods building exploded on the morning of February 7, 1904, the lead horse for Engine 15 was severely burned. The enormous, 1 ton, dapple grey Percheron, was named Goliath, probably for his size. Although it was a custom in Baltimore to name fire horses after prominent citizens, as a personal courtesy of sorts, the tradition wasn’t always followed. Always males, the horses had classical names like Shakespeare and Poe; Chief Horton’s horse was just plain Doc, and they had place names like Dumbarton. They were also given “personality names”: there was Ingomar The Barbarian, originally named Teddy, who belonged to Engine 11 and had to be hobbled and then chloroformed just to clip his mane, Turko The Wise, at Engine 6, who knew the difference between a bell for a drill and an actual alarm bell. Soldier the Gentle at Engine 7 loved to put his head out of the window of his stall so as to keep an eye on the passersby, which of course would earn him apples and cake.
Originally bred in France and imported to the US, percherons were heavy draft horses originally used as war horses. Intelligent, versatile, easy to work with, and willing to work in all types of conditions, these almost uniformly black or dapple grey horses made for perfect fire horses. They ranged in height from 16-19 hands and could weight as much as 2600 pounds (well over one ton). That’s about the same as a Mini Cooper or a Honda Civic today. At the turn of the century, all of the horses for the Baltimore department were bought in Baltimore at the cost of about $275.00 – $290.00 each.
Goliath was the lead horse of the three horse team, pulling the Hale Water Tower into position on Liberty Street. The other two percherons, named Decoration and Electioneer (this name is actually hysterical if you understand that voting districts used to revolve around fire houses and street gangs), had already been unhitched from the rig and were standing nearby, leaving Goliath still in position at the curb, and still hitched to the 65 foot, 5 ton tower. Brick and stone fell onto the stations’s engine sitting on German Street, crushing it and flames went everywhere, shooting out the front door of the business, right into the three horses standing on Liberty Street. All three animals were injured, along with the teams driver, Eugene Short, who either didn’t notice, or didn’t realize at the time that his burns were that bad. Goliath was seared from neck to flank because of his position at the curb (the lead horse always had the curb position to keep the engines or whatever they were hauling away from the curb and out of the gutter), but despite his horrible injuries, he quickly veered the tower away from the falling debris (the entire roof came off the building), saving the 4-5 firemen still on the tower’s wagon, the driver, and pushing Decoration and Electioneer out of the way at the same time. If he hadn’t reacted as he had, all would have been crushed. Now the only horse hitched to the tower, he strained to free the trapped fire apparatus and steer it through an obstacle course of falling, fiery, wood, brick, glass and rubble. Unable to maneuver forward, driver and horse worked against time to attempt the impossible, a u-turn in the tight confines of Liberty Street, in order to save the tower and get it away from the toppling building. As soon as horse, man and tower had cleared the corner at Liberty Street, what was left of the already crumbling Hurst building finally collapsed. Eugene had Goliath rushed immediately to the Fire Department’s vet on West Lexington Street.
Born in Pennsylvania around 1864, Short had worked as a coachman prior to his service with the fire department. Odds are he was used to working with the massive horses. In June 1901 he became a probationer and by October he was a pipeman. He would go on to become Chief of the 10th Battalion and the 11th Engine Company at Hollins and Monroe Street, and would retire from the department in 1927.
Goliath survived his injuries, although he spent 6 months under the vets care. He went back to being a fire horse, but became a favorite with children at parades. His burn scars would be visible for the rest of his life and he lived for another 9 years. When he was retired from service in 1906, a resolution was passed by the city council so that he would remain in the care of the City Fire Department to prevent him from being sold to a huckster, a heavy teamster or worse, destroyed. He was the only horse in Baltimore to be so honored by the Mayor and the City Council.
left – The resolution, passed by the city council and approved by the Mayor.
Middle and Right – Goliath’s Obituary
During Jubilee Week, in September of 1906, while Baltimore celebrated its re-birth from the ashes, 1400+ firemen paraded past city hall to the adulation of a huge crowd. All the units that had come from other parts of the state as well as out of state to assist the city during the fire were there in the parade. Festooned in china asters and roses and proudly wearing his scars was Goliath, followed by the crushed engine from his firehouse. Upon seeing him, the throng cheered wildly, and Goliath, apparently pleased with himself, it is said, pranced and danced for them.
He would stay at Engine 15 for the rest of his life – visited by tons of people old and young, who came by just to see the old fire horse and feed him candy. He became a bit of a celebrity. According to my grandmother, as much as he liked apples and carrots, the firemen tried desperately to discourage the candy. He apparently liked it, but it didn’t like him. When she told me that story, I thought only that the candy would rot his teeth. What did I know? I was only 7 or 8 . It mostly likely gave him bad gas. Huge horse? Bad gas? I just really wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the fire house. He would march in numerous parades, leading his last one in May of 1913. It was a “Workhorse Parade” – one of many that the city held before automobiles became the norm, with prizes given for “oldest horse”, “best team” and the like.
He died June 12, 1913, at the age of 20 and was buried on the grounds of the Stoneleigh Estate in Towson, in the woods on the property of Mrs. Frederick von Kapff and Miss Mary Leigh “Minnie” Brown. He had been in the fire service for 14 years. The Baltimore Sun dedicated six paragraphs to the old horse, which is more than they gave most prominent citizens at the time. Mr. Von Kapff was a farmer and was the president of the Maryland State Fair and Agricultural Association, and he dealt in light draft horses. The Baltimore Sun listed the property as belonging to Mrs. William van Kapp – in reality the name should have read Mrs. Frederick von Kapff. She was Annie Sharp Brown, Minnie Brown’s sister. Minnie never married and apparently loved animals, especially horses and was known to regularly attend all the horse shows. For a time there was an annual horse show held on the estate as well, so it makes sense that she would donate a piece of property for his grave. Goliath lies near the old stone stable, or where it used to be on the grounds. If I can pinpoint or get closer to the location, I will post some more information.
I’d honestly forgotten all about him until his picture popped up in a search for a picture of my great grandfather’s business. Now that I think about it, the station on Lombard Street was not that far from Wise Brothers – based on the descriptions and the stories she used to tell, my grandmother was most likely a frequent visitor. He is also now the subject of a beautifully illustrated children’s book.
Top left – Goliath outside of Engine 15 at 308 Lombard Street with Eugene Short.
Top right – Cover of the children’s book which features a beautiful illustration of Goliath and Eugene.
Bottom – A Hale Water Tower, not unlike the one Goliath was pulling.
Today, in digging the Nation Register of Historic Places and beginning to comb through over 100 pages of details about the construction of the community at Stoneleigh in the 20’s and the 30’s (literally pages and pages) I finally came across information about the laying out of the plots for the new homes that were to be built. It was done in sections, plots got divided, and so on, when suddenly on page 96 (yes I spent my Friday night reading specs on homes) – it details a small triagular plot at the corner of two roads that was to be “reserved”. No details given as to why. But a little weird considering that this area was shortly to become construction central. The NRHP never bothered to find out why and the puzzlement is still right there in the details. “Unknown.” The area itself, according to a current map of the area, is right across the street from Area 22 – the “pool” which as I understand, used to be the old pond on the estate. Which was probably near the stable because if you have horses and livestock and they need water, you’re going to build your stable/barn close to that body of water. It makes sense to me anyway.
I’ll give them an “unknown”. Could it be that a 1 ton percheron sleeps beneath that triangle, because Miss Minnie Brown, who so graciously gave a corner of her property, wanted to be sure that after all his labors, his rest would be undisturbed beneath those huge trees? I’d like to think so.
“Cheers And Praise For Firemen On Parade” September 14, 1906, The Baltimore Sun
“Details Of The Parade: Hon. Gallant Laddies Formed and Swung Along – The Route”, September 14, 1906, The Baltimore Sun.
Personal knowledge of Helen Margaret Miller DeVier (1898-1985) as told to Suzanne C. DeVier
Maryland Historical Society
The Fire Museum Of Maryland
“The Great Baltimore Fire” by Peter E. Petersen, pub. 2005
“Your Maryland” by Ric Cotton, pub. 2017.
“Goliath’s Last Alarm” June 13, 1913, The Baltimore Sun
“Two More Horse Heroes” June 15, 1913, The Baltimore Sun
“Horse: King For A Day” May 31, 1914, The Baltimore Sun
“Goliath: Hero of the Great Baltimore Fire” by Claudia Friddell, pub. 2010.
“Goliath” by Ric Cotton, WYPR, February 2, 2016
The Ordinances of the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore #27 – Resolution to provide for the retention by the city of the horse “Goliath” in recognition of his great services at the Great Fire February 7/8 1904.
United States Department of The Interior, National Park Service, Stoneleigh Historic District, Baltimore County (BA-2974), pg. 96.
“First Man On The Scene” by John Kahl, BCFD Retired, February 7, 1954, The Baltimore Sun
“Recalling The Great Fire” Feb 6, 1984, The Baltimore Sun
“Great Baltimore Fire” – Wikipedia
Sun archives: The Great Baltimore Fire of 1904
“Lost In The Great Fire” by Carl Schoettler, February 5, 2004, The Baltimore Sun
“The 1904 Fire and the Baltimore Standard”, by Bruce Goldfarb, Welcome to Baltimore Hon!
“Where The Nineteenth Century Lives On: At Stoneleigh House Almost Nothing Has Changed Since The 1870s”, November 1, 1953, The Baltimore Sun.
“All Vacancies Are Filled: Fire Commissioners Make A Number Of Promotions”, June 7, 1901, The Baltimore Sun.
“Firemen are Promoted”, October 23, 1901, The Baltimore Sun
The Baltimore County Public Library & it’s archived records of the Baltimore Sun
“Fire Department Horses and Their Peculiarities”, January 5, 1908, The Baltimore Sun