Saturday, March 28, 2009

Mystery Photo: Rescue Squad of Protection Engine Co.

This photograph is from a set of three taken by the famous documentary photographer and Hastings resident Lewis Hine. The photograph above shows a masked fireman from the rescue squad of Protection Engine Company No. 1 carrying a boy down a staircase. It is a striking photograph and has always reminded me, for some reason, of a Norman Rockwell painting.

You can see the companion photographs below, one showing two masked firemen working on a piece of machinery, and the other showing the rescue squad with their truck and equipment. The firemen in the lower photograph are, from left to right, Frederick Koster, James Doran, William Wright, Dennis Sweeny, and George Dale. The photographs were donated to the society in 1990 by Denis Sweeny’s family.

The photographs are stamped on the back with Lewis Hine’s name, and we can take a guess that they were taken in the mid-1930s. The rescue squad was formed in 1933. The Historical Society owns a small but important collection of Lewis Hine photographs, all taken in the village for projects ranging from a local business directory to the high school yearbook. (For more on this collection, see the online article by Frederic Perrier.)

But who are the boys in the photograph? Where were these photographs taken and why? For a magazine or newspaper article on some daring rescue the firemen had performed? One theory is that they were taken during a training exercise. But then, why document a training exercise? And what is the flaky stuff on the central boy’s face? We’d love to know!

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