Tuesday History: Our poor, helpless, dumb friends

ASHEVILLE'S FORMER FIRE CREW: In 1892 Asheville's Hook & Ladder Co. posed in front of City Hall. Identified members include: William A. Frady (driver), Alfred S. Barnard (mayor, in street clothes), George E. Brown (right of the mayor), Theodore H. Brown (next to George) and Silas G. Barnard (white hat). Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, North Carolina

Over the last two weeks, we’ve looked at an article concerning the Catholic Hill School fire that took the lives of seven children on Friday, Nov. 16, 1917. Five days later, Asheville resident Theo F. Davidson, thinking about threats posed by fire, wrote a letter to The Asheville Citizen, expressing his concerns for the safety of Asheville’s horse population.

Below is his letter, titled “Safeguard Against Fires.” It was featured in The Asheville Citizen’s section, “Voice of the People.” Thanks as always to the Pack Memorial Library’s Special Collections, North Carolina Room for its assistance.

On Nov. 21, 1917, Davidson wrote:

The constant recurrence in our community of tragedies resulting from fires demands that our municipal authorities take immediate drastic efforts to prevent them in [the] future. The destruction within the last week of the Catholic Hill school and the building on South Biltmore avenue last night, with their inevitable harrowing features of destruction, suffering and death, can no longer be ignored in a Christian community. Deeply as we deplore the loss of human life, there is that in our natures which makes the suffering and tortures of our poor helpless dumb servants and friends, the horses, particularly painful; we have subjected them to our uses, deprive[d] them of the liberty of action, are dependent upon them for many of our necessities and comforts, and yet we never for a moment seem to be willing to consider any provision for the safety of these poor, dumb, patient friends. I think within the last three years we have burned up, under most horrible circumstances, at least 150, perhaps more, of these defenseless animals, and yet, we seem utterly unable or unwilling to learn anything from experience, or to sacrifice a cent to prevent these great horrors.

HORSING AROUND: A man and his horse stand before the Vance Monument, circa 1910.  Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, North Carolina
HORSING AROUND: A man and his horse stand before the Vance Monument, circa 1910. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, North Carolina

They can be absolutely prevented. Let our city commissioners at once, by proper ordinances or rules, require every living stable, or building in which animals are confined, to provide an opening from each stall to the outside of the building; forbid the storing of inflammable matter, except in some fireproof apartment, disconnected with the structure and stalls in which the animals are confined.

In rebuilding the Catholic Hill school, and in all future school buildings, prohibit more than two stories — far better [that] there should be only one story. It is not difficult in Asheville to secure the necessary space for structures of this sort.

Every element of common sense, every principle of humanity, decency and Christianity call upon us to take some drastic action in this respect.

I have discussed the matter in a general way with two of the members of our city commission, and am delighted, though not surprised, to find their entire accord with my feelings on the subject.

I would suggest that a carefully considered ordinance be prepared, putting these suggestions into emphatic and drastic shape, to take effect not later than the first of April of next. We may anticipate some opposition to this policy from those who will be immediately affected by it in the beginning, although taking into consideration the numerous losses these have suffered within the last year, it would seem their own sense of security and ultimate profit would induce them to approve of it. But that this community almost en masse will rally around the commission and support it in this merciful reform, I have not the slightest doubt.

Theo F. Davidson


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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One thought on “Tuesday History: Our poor, helpless, dumb friends

  1. Deplorable Infidel

    OMG, in the top 1892 City Hall photo, there is absolutely NO DIVERSITY shown in the assembly of firefighters. HOW did this picture make it out of the files without persecution or punishment?

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