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John Kelly's Washington: Signs of Smoke but No Fire Horse Monument Yet

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By John Kelly
Sunday, July 26, 2009

Answer Man would like to report that he found the lost monument that he wrote about last week, the one to Tom, Washington's last fire horse.

He would like to report that, but he can't. The whereabouts of the marker -- dedicated on June 25, 1937, at a ceremony near an old folks' home at Blue Plains -- are still unknown. But he heard from all sorts of people offering tips for locating it, and he learned more about some of the people connected to Tom.

Bob Teates was at the 1937 ceremony in honor of Tom, the last D.C. horse that pulled a steamer in the days before motorized equipment. His father, Capt. N.O. Teates, was a D.C. fireman, and he took Bob, then 9, and Bob's schoolmate Doris Davidson to the event.

"I'm in that picture," Bob told Answer Man. "At the railing around the headstone with the kids? That's me in a sailor hat."

Bob is 81 and lives in Florida. He has only the vaguest recollection of where the monument was in relation to the buildings that were up then.

Answer Man also spoke with Jim Ostmann and his sister, Eleanor Barton. Their grandfather was a D.C. fireman named Thomas Buckley. His connection? Tom was named after him.

"He spoiled me rotten," Eleanor said of her grandfather. Tom was one of the horses in Buckley's station, No. 8 Engine, on North Carolina Avenue SE. Eleanor remembers asking her grandmother whether the horses made the firehouse smell. "And she said no, because the horses never did any of their business in the firehouse. They had one fireman who would take them in the back alley, and he would whistle and they'd all do their business."

Tom Buckley died in the 1940s and was buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery. Eleanor has no idea where his namesake was buried. (The other horses in the final trio? They were Barney and Gene, named after firefighters Robert "Barney" Hayes and Gene Trainor.)

Some readers suggested that Answer Man and Lt. T. "Cosgrove" Jones, the D.C. firefighter obsessed with finding Tom's grave, consult aerial photographs from the era. Other recommended poring over maps prepared in connection with the construction of I-295. Answer Man wonders whether Angelo J. Bargagni still has family in the area. He's the D.C. firefighter who was called Tom's "closest human friend." Bargagni kept an eye on Tom after the horse's retirement. Could Bargagni, who after retiring from the District led the Bethesda fire department, have rescued the marker?

These are all avenues Answer Man will explore.

Meanwhile, here's a photo of the monument itself. You'll note that it is not a very large or distinctive monument and thus, if we are being honest, the chances of finding it are slim.

Ferry Cross the Potomac

Two weeks ago in this space, Answer Man wrote about the ferries that once plied the Potomac. He wrote that regular ferry service ended in the early 20th century. Not so, said Dorothy Sundstrom.

During the summer of 1942, she took a ferry regularly to Fort Washington, where the Adjutant General's Officer Candidate School was located. "It left at 7 a.m. and returned around 5 p.m.," Dorothy wrote. "The captain was often drunk, so we sometimes were stuck on a sandbar. . . . It was an hour's ride, each way. We could watch the Pentagon being built as we sailed by."

Fredericksburg's Anthea Poole lived in Alexandria as a little girl. "I remember riding down with my Mom to pick up my Dad from the ferry in Alexandria," she wrote. "He worked in the Naval Research Lab; it must've been around the early 1960s. He took the ferry to work every day."

Motorists can still commute between Loudoun and Montgomery counties aboard the Gen. Jubal A. Early, which crosses the Potomac at White's Ferry.

Have a question about the Washington area? Write answerman@washpost.com.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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