By Walter H. Marx
One of the most striking monuments in Forest Hills Cemetery is the Firemen’s Memorial across from the City of Roxbury’s Civil War Memorial near the Walk Hill gate.
When the cemetery was not yet a decade old, in December, 1857, the City of Boston purchased a huge lot in the City of Roxbury’s new municipal cemetery for the burial of comrades who fell in the line of duty or who wished to be buried there. For more than half a century it was only a burial lot amid talk of some monument, but in 1909 the delay resulted in something special.
On a lofty granite base prepared by White & Sons of Quincy was sculpted by John Wilson a larger-than-life fireman in bronze, attired for service but in a moment of contemplation. On each side of the pedestal were set bronze plaques, 3 ft. by 4 ft., depicting the life of a fireman in the spirit of a renowned set of Currier & Ives prints. Shown in vivid bas-relief were horse-powered equipment and men en route to their duty. The plaque on the rear of the statue pictures a nineteenth century pumper as it would have looked between fires in the firehouse with no horses, men, or background.
The memorial was dedicated in grand style on June 14, 1909. On that day, set aside in all the state for past firemen, the memorial was dedicated in a ceremony partially presided over by John F. Fitzgerald, grandfather of John F. Kennedy and former mayor of Boston. Nathaniel Taylor of the Boston Globe gave the speech and the unveiling was performed by two daughters of Capt. McLean of Engine 46.
The plaque at the rear of the Firemen’s Memorial was stolen a year ago and recovered through a pleasant set of circumstances. A chance photograph of the plaque taken for the Historical Society last spring was given to the cemetery staff. The staff used it to publicize the loss in word and picture in fire-buff magazines. A potential buyer, who had seen the plaque at a New Hampshire flea market, happened to consult the magazine before making his purchase and notified the cemetery staff.
The flea market owner returned the plaque to its rightful place, gratis, under no obligation to do so, and told how he had obtained the piece. Investigation continues, but on Firemen’s Memorial Day on June 10, as Boston firemen remembered fallen comrades, the thanksgiving was more profound than ever before.
June 14, 1990