Statue, fountain are rededicated in Slatington
Mike Kercsmar from West End Fire Company, Palmerton, with his Dalmatian, Tiller, led the parade of firemen. Tiller was to have the honor of taking a drink of water from the fountain. At the original dedication a horse had that honor.
The rededication of the Firemen's Drinking Fountain/Statue in Slatington was to celebrate its 100th anniversary. The ceremony was held Saturday, Sept. 11 on Main Street where the statue stood proud except for a year during which it was recovering from an accident with a hit and run driver.
A restoration committee was quickly formed and in July 1980 a crowd of 1,500 people gratefully watched the rededication.
Members of that restoration committee as well as speakers were asked to be seated near the lectern. The firemen of Hose Co. No. 1 and other firemen who joined the celebration marched down the street and took up positions in front of the statue.
Mike Kercsmar, a 2nd lieutenant from West End Fire Company, Palmerton brought his Dalmatian, Tiller, to participate in the ceremony. They led the march of the firemen.
The "Star Spangled Banner" was played by the Northern Lehigh Community band, and Lee Vogel, president of Hose Co. No. 1, welcomed people to the ceremony.
An invocation was given by the Rev. David Johnson of United Presbyterian Church. He thanked God for the firemen who serve - those who give unselfishly to their community.
"Bless, protect and strengthen them," he said.
Rep. Julie Harhart said the residents enjoy their unique statue. It is a memorial to firemen everywhere. She thanked Hose Co. No. 1 for providing many years of service to its community. She had a proclamation from herself and the House of Representatives.
The original dedication was April 10, 1910. The statue was of a fireman holding a child and indicated service, vigilance and humanity. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.
She also presented a citation from Senator David Argall and the state Senate. She said Argall is familiar with the area and the statue.
A third citation was from Congressman Charles Dent. Lee Vogel accepted the citations.
Marc and Liz Grammes added to the citations with ones from the mayor of Slatington, Walter Niedermeyer; county commissioners; County Executive Don Cunningham; Governor Ed. Rendell and President Barack Obama. It was "quite an honor" to receive one from the president of the United States regardless of political beliefs, said Grammes.
He thanked George Kern for getting the citation from the president. Kern accepted all the citations.
Grammes said he grew up on Chestnut Street and when he was 5 he hiked to the fountain and took a drink and then stood and watched a parade. Monuments are usually for the dead but this one is for the living which makes it unique.
"What would it be like to talk with this man or woman?" he asked. "Does he remember the four-county parade, Halloween parades, soap-box derbies or tragic fires?"
He (the fireman of the statue) may ask, "Will you carry this child for me, carry my lamp to show the way for those who are lost?"
Grammes said firemen not only save lives but property and recalled a fire on Chestnut Street.
"I know what it is like rolling out of bed when you really don't want to," he said.
A 9/11 prayer service in 2001 was held in front of the statue.
Then on a personal note he said his son was coming home from Afghanistan where he served as a Navy medic. He told of the son saving a life after an IED explosion
"We had a light burning all those years and today it went out." He is in California and will be home shortly.
Bob Stettner and George Kern presented a plaque on behalf of the 100th anniversary committee.
Dave Altrichter, a local historian, dressed the part of a reenactor as he told about the history of the statue. His helmet was from 1885, one of the first pieces of protective gear.
He said in 1909 the drinking fountain was ordered replacing a watering trough that was farther up the street. A fireman statue was added to the top.
An injunction was brought to stop it being erected because of horse droppings from those who stopped to drink. The judge dismissed the case, but because of that delay it was dedicated the year after a Vigilant Fire Company monument to firemen in Union Cemetery. That one is also of a fireman holding a child.
Altrichter said two other communities have identical statues but Slatington's is the only one in the heart of the community where it serves as the center of many celebrations.
"It is not dedicated to a single individual but to the care of a child. It saw changes and has seen firemen respond to a siren. It witnessed many fires," he said.
To protect it after the 1979 accident the curb line was moved out and poles connected by a chain were added at the new curb line.
George Kern, one of the organizers of the celebration, said, "A lot of people helped raise money to put the statue back up (in 1980). It's a symbol of service. It's the town's VIP and will always be here."