researching the events of this tragic fire some very strange and
unusual and ghostly events had surfaced. All of the
details have been documented by newspaper clippings and personal
encounters from members of the present fire fighting force.
story starts on the morning of March 16, 1906 when Fireman William
Hillman is attending Roll Call and is physically upset,
his Foreman says to him, "Bill what's wrong?"
I have one of my bad feelings today. We are going to have
a bad fire and some of us boys are going to get hurt."
Captain said he tried all day to talk Hillman out of his
feelings but could not. He said, to him "Bill where
is the fire going to be at?"
says "We are going to get the Armory on fire and some so us
are not going to return."
Note: in 1906 Camden firemen were paid $600.00 a year and
worked a straight 24 hour shift for twenty or more days before
having a few days off. Each Member was allowed to go home
for 1 hour a day for lunch or dinner, many of the firemen were
in walking distance to their homes.).
the afternoon of March 16, 1906 Fireman Jobes
Co. 1 had left the Station to go to his home and have dinner
with his family. About the same time Fireman George
Shields left Ladder
Co. 2 Station to walk
a half of block to his home at 525 Kaighns
Avenue which was just down the street from Ladder 2
Note: Fireman Shields was a veteran fireman coming on the
department in the 1890's, his parents presented him with a shiny
ID Tag with his name and fire company No. and his address on the
ID Tag. These were similar to what Civil War soldiers
carried to identify themselves if they were killed in
battle. Shields had this ID Tag with him at all times. We
feel that he may have had this ID Tag pinned to the inside of
his fireman's uniform coat.)
had just arrived at his home and hung his coat in the closet near the
kitchen and had just set down to dinner with his wife and
children when he heard the bells from Engine
Co. 8 clanging as they were leaving the station just up the
street from his house. He knew that Ladder
Co. 2 would be
following them in a few more moments. He apparently raced
from the table and grabbed his coat from the closet and out the
front door as Ladder
Co. 2 slowed which
enabled him to jump on the side of the truck next to Hillman.
And off they went into eternity.
Note: When Shields grabbed his coat from the closet his ID
Tag apparently fell from his uniform coat onto the floor of the
closet, falling into a crack in the floor. There it would
remain for almost 90 years.)
at the same time Fireman Jobes, from Engine
Co. 1 was told of the
blaze and he to left the dinner table and his family and
returned to Engine
Co. 1's quarters,
picking up his leather helmet and rubber coat and boots and
preceded to walk the 8 or 10 blocks to the fire. The fire was
located at Box 174, on the corner of 4th
Streets at the Sixth Regiment Armory building. Hillman's
prediction was coming true.
Jobes arrived at the fire members of his Company and members of Ladder
Co. 2 with Hillman and
Shields were stretching a 2-1/2 inch line through the front door
of this heavily involved building, which at one time was the
home of the New Jersey National Guard's Sixth Regiment and now
housed a huge bowling alley, pool hall and many shops.
Surrounding the building were many rows of two and three story
Jobes, Hillman and
Shields along with eight other firemen were
advancing the line into the blazing building, hoping to cut the
spread of the fire off before it reached the homes, a worker
yelled at them, "Boys don't go in there, the roof is going
to fall in and you will be killed" but to no avail.
men were in about 50 feet with the charged line working when the
roof came crashing in onto the second floor, which was housing
the pool hall section with heavy slate pool tables, sending the
tables and the floor crashing down to the first floor trapping
all eleven firemen. Eight firemen were able to dig themselves
free, many with cuts, burns and broken bones. Finding the
hose line they were able to follow it to the outside where they
were rushed by police and civilians to the nearby Camden
Hospital. It would be many hours later before they were
able to work there way in and recover the bodies of the three
City of Camden went into mourning and thousands of Camden
residents paid their respects to these three gallant firemen. The
firemen were all poor, only making about 11 cents an hour. A
fund drive was setup to raise money for the families. As
it was found out later only Jobes and
Shields had headstones on
would be almost 90 years later when this tragedy would come to
light. An off duty Camden Fire Chief found a postcard at a
local flea market. The postcard had three photos of
firemen with their names under the photos of Jobes,
Shields, and Hillman, "Heroes of the Armory Fire, Camden N.J. March 16,
Chief brought this unusual post card into Fire Headquarters
one day and showed it to Chief Joseph Marini, who was also a
Fire Buff and knew quite a lot of the history of the Camden Fire
Department. Chief Marini had not heard of this fire and
did not know that we had lost three firemen at the same time.
The postcard was placed into his desk drawer where it sat for a
few more years.
house where fireman George Shields lived was now run down and
vacant along with the rest of the homes on this block.
Numerous fires had occurred in a few of these homes and on one
afternoon, Engine Co. 8
and Shields former unit, Ladder
Co. 2 were dispatched
to the 525 Kaighns
Avenue for a report of an vacant house fire. As the
Companies arrived they found heavy fire showing which was soon
knocked down and brought under control. As members of Ladder
Co. 2 were overhauling
and shoveling debris out, one of the members of Ladder
Co. 2 spotted a shiny
object on the floor. He picked it up and placed it in his
pocket. When they returned to Ladder
Co. 2's quarters he
showed the shiny object to his Captain. He said, that he
found it on the closet floor of the burned out dwelling they had
they cleaned the object up they found that it was an ID Tag.
On the tag was written "525 Kaighns
W. Shields, Camden Fire Dept. Camden
N.J." They though it was quite unusual for a fireman to
find another fireman's ID Tag in a burned out home. They
preceded to Fire Headquarters with the ID Tag to show Fire Chief
Joseph Marini to ask him if he had ever heard of this fireman.
Marini said that the name sounded familiar and as he opened his
desk drawer, there sitting in front of him was the old 1906
postcard with the three firemen's photos on it, and the middle
picture was a fireman by the name of Shields. It would be
amazing that these two events would come together but still no
one ever heard of the fire or these men.
the same time a committee was now working on a book to mark the
125th Anniversary of the Camden Fire Department. Chief
Marini gave the postcard and the ID Tag to the committee to
research. This is how the "Mystery of the
Three Gallant Firemen" came to light.
was later found out that Shields did lose his ID Tag on the
night he was killed. Was this a hidden message telling his
brother firemen "Don't forget about us"? How strange
is it that a brother fire fighter from his same Company, Ladder
Co. 2 would find this
hidden message almost 90 years later.
took another 10 years of in-depth research, over many hours of
looking into microfilm of 1906 newspapers to find out more
information about the fire, where it was found out that fireman Hillman
did predict the Armory fire and his death. It took over
three more years to find out the location of the three
fireman of their burial sites. Evergreen Cemetery, at the
southwest corner of Mt. Ephraim Avenue and Ferry
Avenue, where Shields and Hillman are buried was under very
depressed conditions and had been badly vandalized.
was found out the Shields did have a headstone and so did Jobes,
who is buried at Harleigh Cemetery not far from the grave of
Walt Whitman, but fireman Hillman
had lay buried in a cold
unmarked grave for over 100 years.
it the ghost of these men, especially fireman Shields who left
his hidden message with his lost ID Tag for his brother firemen
to find to bring this story to an end?
fund was started and a beautiful headstone was purchased. On the
headstone is a picture of fireman Hillman
along with an original
photo of the 1906 Horsedrawn Ladder
Co. 2. Hillman
standing next to Shields in this picture which is now embedded
into this headstone.
May 20, 2006 the tears from heaven started to pour down as
brother firemen lined up at the opening ceremony on this 100
year Anniversary for the dedication of Hillman's headstone.
Fire Chief Marini saluted firemen Hillman's
grave, the sun came
out, the rain clouds were no longer in the sky and a beautiful
sunny day was now upon us. As if firemen Jobes,
Hillman were saying Thank You. All of us from the Camden Fire
Department are saying, Rest In Peace Brothers for your Gallant
Sacrifice. This story has reached its Happy Ending.