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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

John Hobart Jansen - First Waukegan Fireman to Die in Line of Duty

John Hobart Jansen (1861 - 1908) was the first member of the Waukegan Fire Department to die in the line of duty.

The son of Prussian immigrants, John was born near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and worked on his family's farm. When he was about 23 years old, he left the farm to work as a lineman for the Milwaukee phone company, and two years later became a fireman with the Milwaukee Fire Department as a "truckman" on hook and ladder #2.

In 1892, John married Jenny Van Arnam. About 1902, John and Jenny and their four children moved to Waukegan. John took a job as the manager of the the Chicago Telephone Company's Waukegan branch. While working for the phone company, he also volunteered as a fireman for the Waukegan Fire Department.

Waukegan Fire Department Time Log Book, with last
listing for "Jansen" on April 19, 1908, LCDM.
At 11 p.m. on April 22, 1908, while heading from his job at the phone company, Jansen heard the alarm for a fire at the North Shore Electric Company. Instead of continuing home, Jansen turned around to assist his fellow firemen.

When the firemen arrived at the plant on Spring Street they found that "the belt on the big fly wheel was burning, that the interior of the plant had caught fire, and that the fly wheel was running wild."

Jansen was "aiding in bringing more hose to the firemen fighting the flames" when the drive wheel burst. "Jansen was picked up bodily by a huge fragment and carried through both walls of the Waukegan Ice Company building where his body was picked up bleeding and terribly mangled." He was rushed toward the Jane McAlister Hospital on North Avenue, but died en route.

Damaged buildings on Spring Street in Waukegan after fire in which
Fireman John Hobart Jansen was struck down about 11:30 p.m., April 22, 1908.
Image courtesy private collection.
Also killed was merchant policeman, Joseph Paddock (1879 - 1908). Paddock had been "standing with his back up against the wall of the Phil Sheridan saloon when one of the monstrous spokes of the giant wheel came crashing through both walls of the Waukegan Ice Company plant and felled him."

According to the papers, scores of locals gathered to watch the fire even though they were warned of the danger. "Fragments of the flying iron and steel filled the air and littered the ground."

On Saturday, April 25, the funeral service for Jansen was held at his residence on North Avenue. The house was packed with mourners, including family, friends, members of the Waukegan Fire Department and other area fire departments, mayor and city councilmen, and Odd Fellows. The city had never seen such a large procession, despite the downpour of rain.

Fireman John H. Jansen, circa 1889.
In 1908, efforts were made to raise funds to create a monument to Jansen, but it would take nearly 100 years before a memorial was made. On a sunny day in May 2005, the Waukegan Fire Department honored John Hobart Jansen with a memorial plaque.

Jansen memorial plaque dedication, May 2005
Fireman's Park on Dover Street, Waukegan.
Photo courtesy of Thomas Jansen.

Special thanks to Thomas and Kenneth Jansen for generously sharing the family's history and research. 


Charlotte Mercer said...

Thank you for posting this, Diana. The only other Waukegan fireman to die in the line of duty, that I know of, was my father-in-law, Franklin W. Mercer, who was killed on December 29th, of 1985. It was originally believed that Lt. Mercer was the first, and only, Waukegan fireman to die in the line of duty. I think this belief is what brought to light the fact that it was, in fact, John Jansen, who was the first to succumb. Although it can be argued that Mr. Jansen was not officially on duty the night he died, I think it's safe to say that his death is even more heroic for the fact that he volunteered to fight the blaze along with his comrades that night.

Many blessings,
Charlotte Mercer

Diana Dretske said...

Thank you for sharing this. Always good to hear more stories and to honor heroism.