A Hero Fireman

By the 1850s, Green-Wood was the place for burials of New York City residents. The great heroes of that era were firemen–the Firemen’s Monument had been established at Green-Wood in 1848.

We recently came across a full-page ad by American Antiques of Oxford, Maryland, in Maine Antique Digest, for a “Rare and Important New York City Fire Memorial Plaque.” It is a beauty, a great piece of Americana:

The memorial plaque to Fireman Robert S. Wright.

Note all of the fireman-related imagery on this–the fire truck, the hooks and ladders, and other fire equipment. And this piece has wonderful artistic details–an eagle at its top:

The painted eagle that tops the memorial to Fireman Wright.

And a shield and crossed flags at the bottom:

This design is very-well rendered.

But the real virtue of this piece is the etched and engraved silver over bronze central shield:

The silver shield that bears the text in tribute to Fireman Wright.

Here is how it reads:

A Tribute to the Memory of Robert S. Wright

Who died from injuries received on the 15th of May 1852

while in the discharge of his duties as a member of

American Hose Co. No. 19

Given the date and the popularity of Green-Wood as a final resting place for hero firemen of the time, we thought that Wright might be at Green-Wood. And it turned out that our suspicions were confirmed: he is interred in section 95/96, lot 1057 (one of the earliest Green-Wood lots sold). We would love to add this piece to our Historic Fund Collections. However, at an asking price of $19,500, it is unfortunately well beyond our budget.

Here is Fireman Wright’s Green-Wood gravestone:

Robert S. Wright's gravestone.

And a closeup of the inscription:

Fireman Robert Speir Wright's inscription on his gravestone.

Strangely, there is nothing on this gravestone that alerts a passerby that Wright was a fireman or that he died, tragically, in the line of duty.

According to Green-Wood’s records, Fireman Wright died on June 26, 1852. Cause of death was listed as “casualty”–a broad term of the time. The fire had occurred on May 15, so Wright had held on for over a month before succumbing. Further, according to our records, he was 21 years and 9 months old when he died. Green-Wood’s records also inform us that he was a native New Yorker and that his home was at 108 11th Street in Manhattan.

On December 1, 2009, I blogged about another heroic fireman, Andrew C. Schenck, who also is interred at Green-Wood. He has a spectacular monument with all sorts of fire imagery.

Fireman Andrew C. Schenck's monument at Green-Wood. Schenck was killed in the line of duty in 1854, just two years after Fireman Robert S. Wright died.

To read the earlier post on Fireman Schenck, click here.

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