Title: Firefighter
Birthdate: September 18, 1883
Death Date: January 24, 1918
Plot Location: Section 25, Lot 141

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James had the same name as both his father and grandfather and was living with them, his mother, and three siblings in County Donegal when Ireland’s 1901 census was taken. Two older siblings had moved out and two others didn’t survive infancy.

When he was 20, James left his father’s farm for New York City, arriving October 6, 1903. After a few years of settling in on his own, he was able to see the country when he  joined the Army at Fort McDowell in San Francisco in 1908, and was discharged at Fort Sam Houston, Texas in 1911. He married Irish-born Elizabeth Crawford four months later in Philadelphia, and she presented him with a son, also named James, in 1912. The new father listed his occupation as a laborer when he applied for citizenship a year later. He found steady work when he was appointed to the Fire Department in January, 1916, but lost his life just two years later. 

A fire consumed the George Brooks Public School in the overnight hours of January 23, 1918. Located at 57th and Haverford Avenue, it was just two weeks after the Edward Heston Public School burned, which was only a few blocks north. Arson was suspected and rumors swirled that it was the work of a German sympathizer angered by an order to remove German propaganda from school textbooks. (The country was at war with Germany since April 6, 1917.)

James and two others were crushed to death by a falling wall, and the iron fence surrounding the schoolyard prevented them from escaping in time. In what was apparently a standard procedure at the time when first responders lost their lives, the city’s Civil Service Commission exempted their widows from having to take a civil service exam if they wished to seek work. A newspaper story at the time reported that 80 widows were currently employed as “cleaners” at police and fire stations in order to support themselves.

It’s not known what Elizabeth did, but at the time of her husband’s death she was pregnant with their second child. Tragedy followed in August when she miscarried and died, leaving her six-year-old son an orphan. Records show her sister immigrated with her so it is possible she raised her nephew. Elizabeth was buried next to her husband in Section 25.

Japanese maple tree in front of a monument at Mount Moriah Cemetery

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