Firemen Stage 4th of July Water Exhibitions!

Week#57: The 4th of July, Firefighters and Water were an early combination in Greendale.

History records and explains past events, while folklore preserves what people widely remember.

History and Folklore!

The pictures of Greendale’s Fourth of July Celebrations in the 1940’s show crowds, fire fighters, and water everywhere. The Fire Department would stage ‘exhibitions’ with other fire departments, other firemen and later the policemen. Sandi Schultz Hochburger (a childhood resident living on Acorn Court) recalls how she “would get soaking wet” while watching the friendly jousting. “Then I had to go home, change clothes and walk back down to the Village.”

One game featured a tug of war with each side trying to drag the other past a water blasting fire hose marking the winner’s line. Another had the two teams with fire hoses pushing a beer barrel suspended on a line toward the other side. And then there was a contest that I can’t explain. There is a wooden structure that looks like an outhouse in the picture. Around the shack there is a lot of water and wet firemen. I’m not sure what the contest was. Maybe the shack was on fire.

Unfortunately, these water games ended sometime in the mid to late 50’s. Kathleen Hart (Kendellen) found a reference to the ending of the water games in her father’s written account titled ‘Early Greendale 1938’. In it Jim Kendellen wrote that the Milwaukee Fire Chief, Edward E. Wischer (1945-1959) “suggested that the fights be discontinued as it was too dangerous that a man could be blinded or injured permanently”. Too bad. They looked like great fun, especially for the firemen and the kids.

But the Fourth of July celebrations included much more than these water exhibitions. The Village before expansion () was a small area, everyone knew everyone else, and it was much like a family picnic would be today. The Recreation Committee in the Village planned the festivities with the help of other village organizations. The days’ events in 1939 included:

  • 10:00 A.M.  Parade with children decorated vehicles and organization floats
  • 10:30 A.M.  Competitive events for children with prizes of refreshment tickets
  • 12:00 A.M.  Picnic lunch and relaxation 
  •   1:30 P.M.  Boys softball, men’s horseshoe tournament, men’s competitive games 
  •   2:30 P.M.  Men’s softball, women’s horseshoe tournament, women’s competitive events
  •   4:00 P.M.  Firemen’s exhibition
  •   4:45 P.M.  Dedication of Flagpole

Of special note is the last event of the day. Alonzo Hauser had finished the flagpole base and it was dedicated on that day, July 4th 1939. Also of interest was the parade route. The children and floats assembled in from of the mercantile building on Broad Street, and marched up Northway to the picnic grounds south of Apricot Court. That seems to be the area where is today.

But did you know?

This 4th of July, 2012 the temperature might reach 100 degress. So what was it like in 1938? The temperature on the 4th of July 1938 was 82 degrees. Two days later on July 6th the temperature was 89 degrees.

People, Past & Present!

So who were those firemen getting soaked in the early years. They were volunteers. In the fall of 1938 the Greendale Fire Department was formed, but it was an all volunteer department. There were two shifts, day and night, with officers, drivers and firemen on each shift. Warren Hale was the first Fire Chief. The government purchased a fire truck that fall and the volunteers were trained on its proper use. The first three full time firemen were not hired until May 3rd, 1965. They were James Strange, Leonard Filut, and William Schleichert.

Greendale Trivia Question and Answer:

– The Greendale Fire Department used water for ‘exhibitions’ or games on the 4th of July, and to put out fires as needed!  

Week#57 Question – Does anyone know when the water ‘exhibitions’ put on by the Fire Department ended? Does anyone have more recent pictures of these water games and the individuals involved?

** Week #57 contributors Sally Chadwick, Kathleen Hart, Jim Kendellen, Greendale Historical Society, Greendale Review July 1, 1939, Sandi Schultz Hochburger.


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