Rescue Hose Company wants to fill museum

PAT FRIDGEN
Ray Mowen seeks donations of anything related to the Rescue Hose Company for its museum. He has a program from the first Minstrel Show, held Feb. 19-21, 1929. The costume was worn by Paul Foust years ago, and the table holds pictures of cast members from back when black and white was the only option for developing film.

It's not spring but it's time for some serious housecleaning. Neglected storage areas may contain just the thing you no longer need but Greencastle Rescue Hose Co. No. 1 would love to have.

Ray Mowen, chairman of the HOCO Fire Museum committee, has put out a call for memorabilia to complete its collection of fire-related materials, especially as they pertain to Greencastle. The museum, in the fire hall at 407 S. Washington St., contains a wealth of historical items dating back to 1825. Even earlier than that, if you count the 1741 hand pumper which served the community in the earliest days. That engine was purchased in 1838 from the city of Baltimore.

The artifacts are carefully organized and documented, and tended dutifully by the committee, especially Mowen. He has assistance from his son Keith Mowen, Todd Roland, Steve Seylar and Craig Myers.

The group mission is "to preserve and present the related history of the Rescue Hose Co. No. 1 of Greencastle."

In addition to fire protection materials, they want anything connected with the Minstrel Show, which will celebrate its 75th performance next March. The museum has many programs, costumes and photos, but would like to fill in some gaps. They want programs from 1935 and 1936, audio and video recordings, any other programs, costumes, joke sheets and photos that can be found. The pictures may be of groups, individuals, audiences, backstage, practices and so on.

"We know the stuff's out there," said Mowen. "It's just a matter of people going through their closets and attics."

He'll take anything to join the bell which used to hang at borough hall when it was the engine house, the hose dryer from the second floor of that 1888 building, or the accessories used by Kathleen White Grosh, who was in the first show and attended every one until she died. "She was quite the lady," he recalled as he held up her bold striped purse and hat with a bird attached.

He noted that occasionally someone brings in something never seen before, such as a photo of the 1930 Seagrave pumper in front of the former fire house on South Carlisle Street. The pumper is now parked near the modern engines, but this particular photo showed an electric siren on the front which is no longer there.

Mowen will accept the items on a permanent basis or on loan. If necessary, the committee will purchase the materials.

The museum has been in place since 1999, when the RHC moved into the former South Antrim Elementary School. It is in the old boiler room, though extended and modernized.

The RHC is special to Mowen because at least one member of his immediate family has been a part of the crew since 1929, when his father, always called Sambo, joined. Mowen, 73, signed on in 1955. His wife Barbara, sons Keith and Ray Jr., daughter Cindy Bachtell, and their families are also volunteers with the RHC.

And it's hard to separate a Mowen from the Minstrel Show. Sambo started performing in 1933. The legacy began then and up to six Mowens have been onstage every year since. Today Mowen is in the chorus, though his dad and brother Frank spent years as end men. He said he is better suited to singing.

The Minstrel Show has been a popular fixture in Greencastle, though it went through significant changes over the decades. No shows were given from 1956 to 1962, because of the advent of television and fewer volunteers or members in the audience. It came back in 1963, the last year to use characters in blackface. The entertainers then switched to the hobo theme, "and it's been going great guns ever since," Mowen said. Especially after the 9/11 attacks, he saw interest take off, both from volunteers and in attendance. And for the 75th show, he hopes all past participants and many new ones will join the cast.

Because so many people have been involved for so many years, Mowen is sure that interesting memorabilia is packed away in boxes and crates. He welcomes any donations. And because the fire company has been established since 1896, even outlasting Rescue Fire Co. No. 2, there are likely fire-related items in unusual places. A borough employee recently stumbled upon a leather hose coupling, so what else could be out there? Any finds may be reported to Mowen at 597-7304 or brought to the museum.