Isn't this bizarre? Barely a fortnight after responding to the historic January 9, 1912 fire which gutted a block-wide counting-house at 120 Broadway owned by the Equitable Life Assurance Company---a disaster which took six lives, including firefighter William Walsh---Chief John Kenlon was honored with a gala evening at the Astor Hotel---feted by 400 of his closest pals in the department. The Times reporter describes it as an appreciation dinner arraigned by friends who presented Kenlon with a 2 1/2-carat diamond ring---but readers get no guidence what triggered the timing for the event.
Decide for yourself, but I think it reads like a classic Hollywood script rewarding a job well done---although, according to the period news reports, Kenlon didn't actually do a good job. The reporter eludes to public conflict over this, with his good-natured chiding about "only" one-alarm fires, since Kenlon didn't personally respond to the first alarm at the Equitable building that morning---even though the call came from the professional equivalent of a Borgia's palace. Even more damning, from a right-thinking point of view, is he then failed for an hour to request that a high-power hydrant water supply be turned on to fight the fire. Then,he got caught lying about it to the public. Like semen stains on a navy-blue Gap dress---some things don't go away.
And such "facts" don't seem to change---like 89 years later blaming non-functioning radios for the massive fatality of uniformed services in the World Trade Center. These ostensible scapegoats serve with hidden utility that the standards of professional accountability can't match. But then even common sense has become the enemy of the common good.
The synchronicities between the Equitable bombing in 1912, and the World Trade bombing in 2001 are amazing. They are both off the same witches-brew template.
But the phallus wouldn't work these days.
January 24, 1912, New York Times,
"Chief Kenlon Dined; Phone at His Ear,"
With Now and Then a One-Alarm and Again a "Fire Out" Signal, He Gets An Hour Off.
His Boots and Auto Outside
Firemen and Others at Hotel Aster to Do Him Honor---Welcomed with Resounding Cheers.
Fire Chief Kenlon's big red automobile stood in front of the Hotel Astor for hours last night. Chief Kenlon's fire boots were on the front seat with the Chief's chauffeur. The Chief was equipped right there for a fire call while he enjoyed dinner with the greater part of the New York Fire Department inside the hotel.
It was the big appreciation dinner which the friends of Chief Kenton had arranged, and every one who is in the Who's Who of the fire world was there, from the Chief himself to the blue-shirted fireman who swings on the scaling ladder.
Every once in a while a little bell tinkled under the table and the chief reached for the telephone.
"Only a one alarm," he would say shortly after, or "The fire's out," and thus the chief took his hour off to play.
More than 400 were at the dinner. They were seated when Chief Kenlon, escorted by Deputy Chief Martin, Battalion Chief Crowley, R.H. Mainzer, and Dr. H.M. Archer, Honorary Surgeon of the Fire Department, entered the dining room.
Prolonged cheers greeted the chief. If he never knew before that he was popular with his men he found it out last night. It was one of the noisest dinners ever given, as the management of the Hotel Astor can testify, but the noise was decidely agreeable even to the outsiders.
Fire Chaplain McGean opened the dinner with prayer, and those few moments were practically the only quiet ones of the evening. Chief Kenlon himself made a speech, and so did Fire Commissioner Johnson and Police Commissioner Waldo.
Welcoming cheers and a rousing sendoff were also given to ex-Fire Chief Croker when he entered the room and when he left again to attend another dinner.
Patrick J. O'Beirne, the toastmaster, set things going by a stirring welcome to the guest of the evening. He said a few words to, about Battalion Chief Walsh, who lost his life in the recent Equtable fire, and then there was reverent silence.
Chief Kenlon said he was not much of a talker. Nevertheless he roamed all over ancient and mediaeval history in talking about fires of the past, and when he finished talking the consensus of opinion was that he was not only a speaker, but an orator.
"Shall I talk about fires?" he began.
"No," shouted a fireman, who was later to regret what he said, "for we've had enough fire already."
"No," replied the chief in characteristic retort, "you can't mean that, or else you are not a good fireman, for a good fireman never gets enough of fire."
He began with the fire in Alexandria, and traced other big fires, ranging to Chicago and Baltimore. "But New York--" said the chief, "she hasn't burned down yet."
"And she never will," came from many parts of the room.
"No, she won't," said the chief, "but there are plenty of magazine writers who are trying their hardest to burn her down. They say that Vesuvius won't be in it when New York starts burning.
"But I want to say New York has started burning within the llast fifty years at least 500,000 times, and was just as often extinguished."
Fire Commissioner Waldo said that he was celebrating his eigth anniversary as Police Commissioner.
"You mean months," said someone near him.
"No, I mean anniversaries," he repeated, for a Police Commissioner measures his anniversaries in months."
At the conclusion of the dinner the Chief was presented with a 2 1/2-carat diamond ring, and when he waved it aloft so that Mrs. Kenlon, who occupied a box, could see it, it was a little fire in itself.
The first call that required Chief Kenlon's attention came shortly after midnight when the dinner was over and he was shaking hands with his friends. The fire was in a seven-story loft building at 570 and 572 Grand Street. Deputy Chief Langford responded to the first alarm, and because of the proximity of tenement houses to the fire, turned in a second.
Kenlon jumped into his automobile and speeded to the blaze. He found that the fire had eaten up through the top three floors of the building, and had been prevented from spreading. It was under control and he sent no other alarm.
Four watchmen were asleep in the place when the fire started on the third floor. Policemen helped them out. Occupants of the tenements adjoining, at 568 Grand Street, were panic stricken because of the smoke which poured into their rooms, and they ran to the fire escapes. The firemen helped them down, though the tenement did not catch fire.
Fireman Phillip Nealy of Truck 11 had his hand cut by falling glss and was sent to Gouverneur Hospital.
Chief John Kenlon was famous for his driving.