JOHN W. KELLY JR. was chief of Camden's Electrical Bureau in the 1910s and 1920s. He came to Camden in the 1890s, and was in the city's employ as Chief by 1914, remaining in that position through at least the summer of 1926.
As Chief of the Electrical Bureau, his duties included installation and maintenance of the fire alarm call boxes through out the city, a critically important task in a time where telephones were an expensive luxury for many homeowners and small businesses. He also had the task of installing maintaining traffic signals.
By January of 1928, John W. Kelly Jr. was succeeded by James A. Howell, who held the post as late as 1947.
|Philadelphia Inquirer - December 19, 1911|
CAMDEN POST-TELEGRAM - May 10, 1914
VIEW CHIEF’S REMAINS
Not since the memorable funeral of Chief of Police Foster ten years ago, has there been such a genuine public tribute paid an official of Camden as was in evidence last night at the bier of the lamented Fire Chief Worthington, and today at his funeral. It is hard to estimate the number of persons in a crowd, but from 7 until 9 o’clock last night there was a steady stream of men, women and children, two abreast, who passed from the main entrance, through the center corridor and beneath the illuminated rotunda, where the body lay, and thence out by the west corridor. There was never a stop, and it is estimated that at least 10,000 persons were there, perhaps more.
There could not have been a more ideal location for the repose of the casket containing the honored dead, and the great array of beautiful flowers than beneath the rotunda. It seemed to be a sacred shrine in itself where the citizenry dropped a tear for the lamented departed. The effulgence of the soft lights from above specially installed by Electrical Chief Kelly but lent to the scene and as the dark garbed escort of firemen, the active pall bearers, stood, on guard, the scene was unusually impressive.
Chief Worthington, aside from the pallor that comes to the dead, looked as he did in life, for the thread had been snapped so quickly that it was while he was in his full vigor that the vital spark had taken its flight. There were some marks on his face that indicated the intense though momentary suffering through which he passed on his fateful plunge from the roof of the burning building to his quick death, and the passing crowd remarked this. But withal there was that calmness and repose feature which seemed to indicate that the gallant leader of Camden's fire fighters but lay sleeping rather than that his soul had taken its eternal flight.
Public grief may be a mere ephemeral emotion, born of the moment and only to be succeeded by the acclaim of the newly arisen public idol, but last night's encomiums seemed to come from hearts that overflowed with genuine and permanent sorrow over the untimely passing of so excellent a public servant. Many tear-suffused eyes indicated this, many expressions of grief, of sorrow, of condolence of those left showed this. The sentiment in evidence everywhere can only be likened to the sweetness of the wonderful flowers whose odor spread thorough all the corridors and in all the rooms of the great marble building.
High in the clock tower of the City Hall the bell began tolling at 6:30 o'clock. At half-minute intervals its doleful strains went forth on the cold blustery east wind which had succeeded at day of spring sunshine. The bell and the screeching wind seemed to combine as a knell indicating the passing grief of the city. It was the preliminaries to the marching of the funeral cortege from the stricken Chief's home on Penn Street to the resting place at the Court House.
There were forty policemen in dress uniform with Chief Gravenor at their head. There were twenty-six fire heads from Philadelphia, with Chief William Murphy in the van, a tribute in itself of more than passing moment. There was the caisson on which was the black draped casket containing the body of he who all honored. There was the little red car in which Chief Worthington was wont to speed through the city at every alarm and there was his helmet and coat. There was Acting Chief Stockton and forty of the men who fought flames under the direction of he who lay so still. There as the family in cabs with curtains drawn, the members of City Council and the active pall bearers- Daniel Leach, Peter B. Carter, James White, William Patterson, Elmer Burkett, Samuel Harring.
When the cortege reached the Court House the Camden boys took up their position on the inside beneath rotunda while the Philadelphia visitors made an imposing array on the granite steps outside. And then came the public in its steady and unending stream.
Later the Philadelphia delegation was escorted to the Board of Freeholders room where tribute was paid to the dead and where a mingling of the two cities took place. Besides Chief Murphy the visitors included Battalion Chiefs William T. Barrett and George P. McConaghy, Captains L. F. Bunting, William Lindsey; H. Dinlocker, J. Higginson, J. E. Talbot, D. Campbell, T. O'Brien, F. Hughes, E. Basenfelder; H. Hutt, William McCusker, G. Rheim, R. Wilsey, J. Webb, H. Goers, H. Haines, Insurance Patrol Captain Joseph H. Shermer William Hickman, William Rodgers, John Wyatt, David Phillip, John Clyde, H. Wilkinson.
President of City Council James E. Hewitt spoke of the work Chief Worthington had already accomplished, of his plans, of his value and worth to Camden. Chief Murphy responded in a fitting way and this incident in itself was one to be remembered.
An affecting sight was witnessed by the handful of spectators, among them being other firemen, city and county officials and policemen who remained after the big doors on Sixth Street had been closed. The last to view the Chief's remains were a delegation of about twenty firemen. Solemnly the men passed by the bier and gazed upon the features of their departed brother.
As the last of the line approached Deputy Chief John A. Stockton was seen. He stopped and with his cap laid across his breast be looked down into the casket. For almost a minute Chief Stockton stood as though glued to the spot. Then he glanced about him and the sympathetic look upon his face thrilled all.
He heaved a sigh and perhaps the teardrops refused to come, but Chief Stockton, as the lines upon his face showed, was struggling with the inner man. His emotions were tugging at his heart, but a fire laddie cannot give way to his feelings although his brother superior officer and dear friend had answered his last alarm.
The floral pieces surrounding the bier bespoke the love, admiration and respect the donors held for the dead chief. One design particularly beautiful was a mammoth loving cup made of blossoms, f1owers and roses. This was the token sent by members of City Council and other city officials.
Another was the design sent by the Electrical Bureau through Chief Kelly. The original fire box, No. 134, which was pulled on the night of the fire by Chief Worthington was enshrouded by roses, carnations and lilies.
A maltese cross standing several feet high and bearing the initials of the organization was the tribute sent by the Firemen's Mutual Benevolent Association. Chief Worthington was president of this association.
The Camden police sent a large shield of flowers and Council members offered a vacant chair of roses. The New Jersey Auto Supply Company, No. 2 Engine Company and No. 1 Truck sent beautiful broken circles and a wreath was the offering from the employees of the Victor Talking Machine Company.
A broken circle from member of the Sixth Ward Republican Club and a wreath from his friends in the sixth precinct of the Second Ward were other beautiful pieces. West Collingswood and Collingswood firemen sent two beautiful floral circles and from the Loyal Order Legion a wreath was received.
Other offerings were from the Camden Liquor Dealers league, a beautiful circle from No. 6 Engine Company, in which house Chief Worthington was captain previous to his elevation to the office of chief; sprays from the Bethany M.E. Church, Ladies Auxiliary of the Loyal Order of Moose; a wreath from the pupils of the eighth grade Sewell school, and a spray from North Baptist Church. There also were designs from members of the family and friends, all of which bespoke the great love held for the departed fire chief.
The impressive services of the P.E. Church marked the last sad rites this afternoon at St. Paul’s Church. The guard of honor and city officials left Fire Headquarters at 1:20 and proceeded to the Worthington home and escorted the remains to the church, where services were conducted by the rector, Rev. R.E. Brestell, and Rev. H.O. Jones, rector of St. Stephen’s P.E. Church. Interment was made at Arlington.
The honorary pallbearers were Mayor Ellis, Hon. David Baird, Frank F. Patterson, John W. Bell, General John A. Mather, Melbourne F. Middleton Jr., Harry R. Reed, Arthur L. Jones, Robert Gordon, David Jester, George Schneider, William Mills, J.O. Grear, William Hall, George L. Bender, and James E. Hewitt.
|Camden Courier-Post - June 19, 1933|
A False Alarm of Long Ago
THERE were two alarms of fire Saturday evening, one at Fourth and Hamilton streets at 8:29 o'clock, and another at the West Jersey Ferry, an hour later. People in the vicinity of the first-named place turned out to look at the machines propelled at lightning speed by snorting equines, and wondered what it was all about; and some of them thought the wide-awake fire boys were beside themselves, as they asked, for the particular house, in the neighborhood of box 24 upon which, with steam up, their apparatus was able to put on, the water. The firemen and people were quietly informed by a party that drove away in a barouche that it was a designed deception.
Under date of October 6, 1879, that was the introduction to a two-column story under a display headline. But, it was, a single line-"False Alarms." Readers of the period must have been as much mystified as were the firemen and citizens mentioned in the article, for it was not until more than half a column had been devoted to that incident that the public was let into the great secret. It was a test of the first fire alarm system introduced into Camden.
Interest in that incident is revived by the city commissioners last week entering into a contract with that same concern to install in the new City Hall a system for somewhat more than $51,000. That first "system" cost the city $2000 but it was a big sum then and just about 10 times more space was devoted to it in the old Post than in the Courier-Post last Thursday week.
Paid Department 10 Years Old
Camden's paid fire department in 1879 was just 10 years old. It already was winning approval of even the recalcitrants, who had asserted back in 1869, that the old volunteer companies would certainly be missed; that the "professionals" would not have as much interest in putting out a fire as the boys who ran with the Perseverance, the Weccacoe and other organizations, usually bitter rivals. Not infrequently the volunteers battled over hooking up their hose while the fire burned, a event by no means outgrown since that occasionally happens even now, as files of the newspapers prove.
But on that Saturday night 54 years ago, it developed that those who drove away in the mysterious barouche were J. W. Morgan, Crawford Miller and F. P. Pfeiffer; fire commissioners of city council, along with R. S. Bender and Thomas Beatty. They were but carrying out orders to see that the system worked and it was John T. Bottomley who issued those orders. He was Camden's big mill owner but more to the purpose in that particular incident, president of city Council. He had approved the fire alarm system but did not intend putting his O. K. on that $2000 bill until he had seen it in practical operation.
So unknown to the firemen, and the citizens as well, it was determined to test that system by way of turning in the alarms. So an alarm was pulled at 8.29 and "Bart" Bonsall, son of Henry L. Bonsall, publisher of the Post, narrates, in just 15 seconds flat the bell was sounded at No.1 Engine House at Fourth and Pine Streets. In two minutes hose cart No. 1 went bounding out with Driver George Hunt at the reins, followed by Ben Cavanaugh and his faithful nag "Jim" with cart No. 2. Then came Jake Kellum and William Davies with the engine No. 2 drawn by "Dolly" in 2.45. After that was engine No.1 driven by Edmund Shaw and the horse "Alec," coming along in 3 minutes and 5 seconds. It was explained Shaw was held up by the sandy roadway at Fourth and Line.
Anyhow, it must have been a great sight for the old-time families who then resided along the Middle Ward Streets as the racing steeds bounded over Fourth Street, then into Third over a mighty bumpy roadway.
But they arrived and vainly sought the blaze. It was while they were hunting that the barouche came along and the commissioners let them into the great secret. "Bart" doesn't relate what the firemen said about the false alarm, but, like as not the heat of their expressions was a good substitution for the fire they failed to find.
The system was one of those nineday wonders that had the town on its toes. Everybody listened for the alarms in those days, for when they were sent in the bells in the fire houses pealed the number of the box. The strokes could be heard surprisingly far. Since there were but 11 boxes it was not long before many knew just where the fire was located and made a bee line for the scene. Old volunteers, particularly, never quite lost their interest in fires and, whenever they heard the alarm, hot footed it to the scene of excitement.
That was all right when Camden was little more than a village, but as the community grew it became a serious proposition, since the racing citizens often interfered with the firemen. Thus about 30 years ago the fire bells were silenced. Now none know of an alarm coming in save the various houses and the Courier-Post which has a wire attached from headquarters bringing in the alarms so that reporters and cameramen may get on the scene quickly as possible.
Ordinarily, little thought is given to the need for instant and accurate sounding of an alarm made possible through the expert work of City Electrician Jim Howell and his aides. If it were not for that perfection and the speed with which friend reach the scene the losses would he large. And the insurance companies would be around with a "pink slip" as they were some 20 years ago. That meant a 25 percent addition to fire rates. Camden's motorized department plus the work of City Electrician John W. Kelly soon rid the city of that "slip."
That system of long ago didn't include the cops. Now it takes in both departments, as it has done since the days of Chief Samuel Dodd, back in the early 90's.
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