Statement of John H. Ellwood

Dublin Core


8.5" x 14",


Ellwood discusses the night of the Osborne fire, the waste found between the floorboard. Ellwood’s sour relationship with Meyers’ is conversed about, along with the suspision of who is behind seeting the fires.




MS020, 1/1

Document Item Type Metadata


Statement of John H. Elwood
Made at Danbury, Conn.
Friday Jan 16-1891
I am a foreman for Beckerle & Co., Hat Company, and live at no 14 Baeufort [sp.] Ave. At about 1:30 am on the morning of Dec 21 I was awakened out of a sounds sleep by hearing the alarm sounded by Engine whistle, and pulling on my pants rushed out. I saw a small fire over at sheds back of [New] & Beebes on Maple Ave. which is just a few steps away from my house. I had been at the Osborn fire where I had remained until 12 midnight when I went home. When I ran out I saw an Engine in the Maple Ave crossing. I saw the flames on side of shed and also working up on inside. I could see this through the cracks in boards where they had warped. When I got there, I saw two R.R. men running to shed to help put out fire, one if the R.R. men I believe is named Jennings, an Engineer. I heard him say, where has that ladder gone. There was one laying up against this building a moment ago, but it is now gone. I then started to look for the ladder, and saw flames bursting out further down the shed. The flames were such as would be made by oil, giving out a heavy black smoke. I picked up a [page break]

[Ellwood Page 2]
stick and pried off one of the boards and saw oil waste packed in tight between the boards. I pulled out some extinguished and afterwards gave the waste to Serg’t Waggoner. Quite a quantity of oil was in the waste for it got onto my hands when I took it up. I have been informed that these two R.R. men saw at the time they discovered the fire two men running across the lots on the other side of the R.R. track towards Main St and away from the fire. When I first arrived at the fire there were but a very few at fire, perhaps eight or 10 there. I do not remember who they were. I worked at this fire as many can tell you. I did my best to help extinguish it, although I am not now a member of the Fire dep’t. The fire spread very rapidly but under control in about one hour and a half. I am almost positive that fire was set.
You ask me for my opinion of the Fire Dep’t in general and of Morris Meyers. I may give it as you think in a bias manner. I will try not to do so, but give it just as fair as I can, and as the majority of manufacturers in this city would do.
Morris Meyers in the first place is not the man for the place as Chief Engineer of the Dep’t. he has no energy, no ambition, no head, where he might be able to cope with [page break]

[Elwood Page 3]
a small fire, he is incapable to manage one of any magnitude. through his own fault, we have suffered the losses that we have of late. At a fire, instead of going at it from above, he will go at it from below and drive it to the roof. his intentions are good enough but he fails to act at important moments. he has not the respect of his men, he has not the respect of the majority of the citizens. I am at present a member of the “Fire Police,” our duty is that of stretching the “Fire line” and looking after exposed property in danger of theft at fires. No pay is attached to this duty[.] On Feby 1-1889[,] Kohanza and Humane Company’s and Hook and Ladder Co.’s disbanded; up to this time two men only got paid in the Dep’t, one the driver at $800.00 and the other $700.00. I was a member of Kohanza #2 and I with the rest would not accept a place on the paid dep’t on account of the very small salary. We were willing to work without pay, but when they put the salary at $25 and $50, we looked at it more as an insult than anything else. It put us under restraint and did not let us act as freely as we had been used to, if the salary was of decent amount we would not have any objections. I was acting Chief previous to Feb 1-1889 and Meyers was appointed on June 15-1889. At that time the council stood 6 Democrats
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[Elwood Page 4]
2 Republicans, Alderman 3 Democrats and 1 Republican, at the time that Meyers was appointed there were four applicants, Morris Meyers- -P.J. Fisher—Frank Gallagher—John H. Ellwood. They all were in the race until Meyers was elected, and it was only after four meetings that he was elected[.] At the final ballot, Meyers got 7 votes, Fisher got 2 votes and I got 3 votes. I had a petition signed by all the leading manufacturers in the city, which was presented at the time, but I stood no show partly because I was a Republican and partly because of the dirty work done by Meyers. I was put before the last meeting a sure winner and Meyers seeing this went to some of the members he was not sure of, and told them I was out of the race and got them pledged [to him].
Up to this time I was a good friend of Meyers and in fact was so for a month after. The cause of our falling out was this. One morning about a month after the election there was a small fire. I was running that day with Kohanza#2 and we were the first at the fire. It has been the regular custom for years past in the Dep’t, in “taking up” to have the “first come” “first go,” but Meyers who was near me (I standing near a hydrant with my foreman) ordered two other companies to “take up” and I said to our foreman, “what [page break]

[Elwood Page 5]
[“]is the matter with our going home.” Meyers then turned upon me and gave me the worst setting out I ever got in my life. he threatened me in every way, that he would have me arrested and locked up. I kept my temper and I am always thankful that I did, for if I had not, instead of having one eye he would not have any now. Since that time we have only spoken once, and that was at the Osborn fire, when he came to me and said “I understand you found some waste.” I said “I did and gave it to Sergt Waggoner.” Meyers always had a grudge against me for when he was appointed Chief I held the badge and keys to fire alarm system and instead of turning them over to him, I turned them over to the “Fire Committee,” as I had no official notice from the Board.
I spoke to him about the remark laid to him that there would be Hell for him (Meyers, before he got through being Chief). I never made any such remark to him and did not see him that night after the appointment was made. Meyers would lie to accomplish his ends. If I remember right Meyers joined the Dep’t in 1870 a year or two after he came here. I think he came from London, England. I worked at the Reed fire until it was under control, when I went home. I have been in the [page break]

[Elwood Page 6]
department since 1877. I am candid when I say that I do not think that any member of the present dep’t or any member of Kohanza Social Club would engage in anything like the business that has been going on. I confess I am puzzled as to who to lay it to.
The real feeling is, as is well known, between Old and New Dep’t.
Morris Meyers, out of complement, was appointed on the Committee at the Isinge Benefit for Jan 30th, I am free to confess that I do not like Morris Meyers and I do not think there is any love lost between us. The Department would be far better were they to reorganize, put a man at the head that men could look up to and respect. I would give my time to get at the bottom of this matter. I know quite well Howard Stevens and know that he has been the suspected one, but I feel confident that he is not engaged in this business. he is a poor innocent devil, his only trouble is he talks and imagines that he is tougher than he is. I do not think that he would have the sand to work up to the pitch of setting a fire. I know Edward Lobdell quite well. He is not so much a friend of Stevens as he is of Stevens’ wife. Lobdell is a member of the Kohanza Social Club. I feel confident that he is not engaged in [page break]

[Elwood Page 7]
this business nor that he knows who is doing it. I do not know who to blame for it, but think that the cause is universal dislike to Meyers. If any person is ever found who is engaged in this business, I will be greatly surprised if it is not found to be some worthless bum here in the city. I will aid you in any manner that you may see fit, anytime that you may wish to call upon me.




“Statement of John H. Ellwood.” Pinkerton Detective Agency Danbury Fires Investigation Collection, MS020. WCSU Archives, 9 July 2019. Accessed on the Web: 23 Sep. 2019.


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