Thursday, October 14, 2010
The Living History Company will present 19th century fireman Robert J. Wolf at 2 p.m. Sunday at Fort Walla Walla Museum, 755 Myra Road. Wolf is portrayed by Walla Fire Department Capt. Greg Van Donge. The performance is offered as a wrap-up to National Fire Prevention Week. Living History performances take place in the museum's 17-structure pioneer settlement or in the Grand Hall, as weather conditions determine.
After arriving in the region in 1883, Wolf became the first paid firefighter for the City of Walla Walla in 1888, when he was hired as a fire engine driver. He later became assistant chief. Prior to that time, volunteer fire companies, with names like Our Boys Hose Company No. 3 and Tiger Engine Company No. 1 handled the chores and did so competitively. In some communities, the company that reached the fire first was entitled to salvage rights.
A participant in fighting many of them, Wolf died in a large 1912 downtown fire. Two years later, a statue in his honor was erected on the site but later relocated near his grave in Mountain View Cemetery. A replica of that statue stands in Crawford Park at Fourth Avenue and Main Street, the site of another disastrous fire in which two city firefighters perished on Jan. 1, 1974.
Another statue erected in the city cemetery by Josephine "Dutch Jo" Wolfe is often thought to have depicted Assistant Chief Wolf. Dutch Jo, Walla Walla's well-known 19th century gentlemen's club madame and benefactor of firefighters, was no relation to Wolf.
Walla Walla's last horse-drawn fire engine, an American-LaFrance Company Metropolitan more than a century old, is in Exhibit Hall 5. The horses were trained to move into place in front of the engine so that harnesses stored above them could be dropped into place. The fire engine is housed behind the original doors of the city's old Rose Street Fire Station. The doors were spring-loaded for a quick getaway, though men were required to close them after the fire crew's return from action. Fire Station No. 1 was located adjacent to City Hall, where the Farmers Market parking lot area is now located. Fire Station No. 1's brass poles are also displayed on the wall in Exhibit Hall 5.
Museum hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Admission is free to members and children under 6, $3 for children ages 6-12, $6 for seniors 62 and older and students and $7 general admission. Membership includes free admission to more than 40 Living History performances and other benefits, beginning at $25. For more information, contact Fort Walla Walla Museum at 509-525-7703 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Online see fortwallawallamuseum.org.