Cat that fueled firefighters’ superstition

Cat that fueled firefighters’ superstition

Dan Cherry | The Daily Telegram

One hundred years ago, on January 30, 1923, Adrian firefighters responded to a fire at the Adrian Knitting Co.

Their attempt to put out the fire was thwarted by a black cat, it was suggested.

The alarm for the fire on Michigan Avenue came in around 3:00 pm that day. The firefighters got on their trucks and went through town to put out the company’s fire.

On the way, however, one of the department’s two kittens, a coal-black cat, apparently curled up inside the snake coil. When the fire trucks passed the library, the kitten woke up and jumped from the truck onto the sidewalk, right in front of the next unit.

The truck missed the kitten, who scrambled for the sidewalk and back to the station. However, the firemen on their way to the fire in that follow-up truck called it a sign of bad luck. They then thought about the call and the knitting company’s fate, which apparently started in one of the shredding machines.

Upon their arrival, the firemen parked on the hill near the knitting company and the business president, Ladd Lewis Jr. meet. The fire melted the sprinkler system’s nozzle seals, making it necessary for the Adrian Fire Department to take over.

While the firemen were fighting the fire, a movement on the hill caught the eyes of two of them. The follow-up fire truck that the kitten had dodged a few minutes before rolled down the hill. It was parked at the corner of Allis Street and Michigan Avenue, next to a fire hydrant, with its parking brake on for safety. However, the truck rolled west on the side of the road, jumped a ditch and overturned a pile of coal at the Acme Preserve Co.

When the $300 million fire was extinguished, the wayward truck was investigated. The front of the truck was planted in the coal pile, the rear wheels hanging over the ditch. One of the rear springs was broken, two fenders were bent and the rear gangway was twisted out of shape. Its hose supply had to be unloaded to lighten the truck so it could be towed out of position.

Fire Chief Harry Whitney said the truck would be out of service for a short time until a new rear spring could be ordered. His men, apparently in denial in superstition, practically said the black kitten’s presence was clearly partly responsible for the accident. The parking brake lever, which is designed to hold the weight of the truck, was also found to be broken. Everyone who saw the truck before the accident said it was in good shape.

Despite the firefighters’ beliefs, all is forgiven because the department’s coal-black kitten was back at the station 100 years ago today, awake and present for his customary 9 a.m. feeding.

Dan Cherry is a Lenawee County historian.

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