Wednesday, August 9, 2017


                           YOUNG  AUGUST  KIRCHOFF

                                                      Norman V. Kelly


August ‘Auggie’ Kirchoff lived in Peoria, Illinois way back in 1888, over on Sanford Street.  Auggie’s mother died when he was two-years old, followed by his father when Auggie was almost thirteen.  Times were always tough for the young man, but he often thanked God for his sisters who looked after him.  But…throughout it all Auggie had a dream and that dream was to be a fireman.  Most of his waking hours were spent down at the neighborhood fire station where he ran errands and listened to the firemen talk of fires they had battled.


Of course being a young, eager fella, Auggie pestered the chief to allow him to join the department.  Always, he was told that he was too young, but the young man was never discouraged.  He washed the equipment, shined what he was told to shine, and talked of the days when he too would join his heroes.


Finally just around Christmas of 1888 August Kirchoff was allowed to join the engine house just down the block from his home.  He had turned seventeen by then, and the chief was convinced that already Auggie had learned as much about being a fireman that he possibly could.  He lacked experience, of course, but the chief had no intention of allowing his young friend to get in over his head.  Naturally, when the fire bell rang, Auggie was like the horses that pulled the fire equipment, ‘Wild and rarin’ to go.”


It was early that first winter as a fireman that Auggie came down with some illness that left the young man weak and almost helpless.  He was under the care of a physician, but in 1888 medicine still had a long way to go, so all his friends and family could do was hope and pray. It was not until early April 1888 that the young patient began to perk up and eagerly returned to his dream of being a fireman.


It was around that time that the city suffered a rash of mysterious barn fires

that popped up around the city.  At first they were confined to the lower end of Peoria, then the downtown area itself.  Officials were pretty certain the fires were the work of an arsonist or maybe a gang of them.  Farmers often slept in their barns hoping to catch the culprits but the fires only increased in number.


The local newspapers often referred to the arsonists as “Incendiary Fiends.” 

On one Thursday evening three fires were battled, causing the death of two of Mrs. Kinsella’s cows. Folks in the city were outraged.  “Only last week she was offered $110.00 for the two,” the paper reported. The next day the Peoria Weekly Transcript reported that E.A. Furries had had a raging fire in his barn resulting in the death of eight of his prized cows.  The editor called on the officials of the city police and fire department to put an end to these atrocities.


                          AUGGIE  BECOMES  AN EXTRA  HAND


Actually it was amidst all this turmoil and fear that August Kirchoff really became a fireman for the City of Peoria.  Auggie went out on most of these fires and did a very good job.  The chief said publicly “Auggie was a good man when it came to moving quickly.”


April 17, 1888, the men were recovering from the strenuous activity, by cleaning equipment and playing checkers.  The first call came in around nine and soon the boys were racing off to a red glow in the sky not far from their station. Had the incendiary fiend struck again?  They pulled up to the City Brewery where the malt house was fully engulfed in roaring flames.  Soon every firehouse in Peoria had been alerted and Hook and Ladder companies responded in a clang of bells and snorting horses.


Peoria had some modern equipment in the form of steamer pumps and soon the entire area appeared to be surrounded by every fireman and piece of equipment the city could muster. The low, dark clouds reflected with red from the fire that was now threatening the entire block down there on Water Street. Flames leaped from the mash building to other buildings and soon threatened the homes around the brewery.  The brave firemen battled the flames first giving up on one structure then racing to defend another threatened building. Embers flew every which way as the breeze off the river turned into almost gale force.


Flames were everywhere, and choking black smoke threatened to stop the brave firemen in their tracks.  Young Auggie fought shoulder to shoulder with his comrades over near the malt house surrounded by acrid smoke.

Without warning the huge chimney off to the right exploded sending hot steel, bricks and debris down upon the fire fighters. Screams of warning were too late for the boys of Central Fire Station, The Holly Hose Company and the men of Hose Number Five. Among the five severally Injured, young Auggie Kirchoff died of his injuries.


The people of Peoria along with Auggie’s fellow firefighters mourned the loss of their young brave comrade. Auggie died doing what he said would be his life’s work.  Sadly he was precisely correct.


Editor’s Note:  Norm is the author of eight books on Peoria’s bawdy and exciting history.


Next Month:  Norm will bring us another story lost in Peoria’s past.











No comments:

Post a Comment