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Along with a Little History
By Conshystuff & Jack Coll
Conshystuff couldn’t help but notice the nearly 100 year old photograph of the Washies Sirens on the “You Know You’re From Old Conshohocken When” site. The photograph was posted by Dawn Marie Cinaglia and she pointed out her grandfather Edward Cavanaugh playing the piano.
A number of questions appeared under the photograph pertaining to the people and place of the photograph. Well we here at Conshystuff happen to know the answers to some of those questions.
The musicians in the photo from left include Alan Carter, Chick McCarter holding the banjo, I can tell you that Chick never played the banjo, he was the Washies Sirens singer and had a tremendous voice even in his 80’s, Mike Nally, Ed Cavanaugh on the piano and Henry Sauter. This photo was taken on the third floor ballroom of the Washington Fire Company in 1929.
The Washies Sirens were an extremely talented band back in the 1920’s and 1930’s and would play at all the Washington Fire Company Block Parties held in front of the firehouse on Friday and Saturday nights. Washington Fire Company held block parties three weekends out of four all summer long and the Washies Sirens would provide the music with Chick McCarter singing thru a megaphone. The Sirens would also play banquets, parties, weddings and social events.
The Washies would hold dances and get-togethers on Friday and Saturday nights throughout the winter on the third floor in the ballroom at the firehouse and played at a good portion of the Washies banquets over the years.
In 1929 the Washies Sirens were hired to entertain at the Volpe Binns Veterans of Foreign Post No. 882 Annual Banquet, the banquet was held on the third floor of the fire company. (The Washies Sirens are seen in the photograph at that banquet) The Volpe Binns Post was named after Alex Volpe and John Binns. John Binns was employed at the Lee Tire and Rubber Company and Alex Volpe worked for the Alan Wood Steel Company when World War One broke out. Both young men were killed in action, Volpe was in charge of a machine gun and just as he had relocated it he was hit four times with bullets and never recovered, he died on July 18, 1918, he was 23 years old.
Binns was an outstanding athlete having played on a number of Conshohocken’s early professional football teams. At Mont Faucon, with the Germans shelling the American Forces on two sides, Binns was struck by a machine gun bullet that instantly killed him on November 4, 1918 just one week prior to the signing of the Armistice, Binns was killed on his twenty-eighth birthday.
The Volpe Binns VFW Post was short-lived as they chartered in 1922 and disbanded in 1930. Chick McCarter who was the vocalist with the Washies Sirens was a close friend of mine. I met Chick late in his life, he was in his late 70’s but man he had a lifetime of stories to tell me, and a number of them included the Washies Sirens.
The story I enjoyed most and repeat most often involves the members of the Washies Sirens, (Sometimes spelled “Washy Sirens). Members of the band included over the years Bill Magee, Henry Sauter, Mike Nally, Ed Cavanaugh, Chris Baily and Walt Pope.
So in Chick’s words, taken from the book titled “Tales of Conshohocken & Beyond” written by Jack and Brian Coll his story went something like this:
Chick would often retell the story of a cold February night back in the 1920’s and the Washies Sirens were playing a high class affair, “I tell you we had ‘em dancing until 2:30 a.m.” said Chick. “It was a first-class event and the band was all dressed up in tuxedos, when the event was finished and everyone had left the firehouse the band was left to clean-up the room and pack up our equipment. Within a half hour the fire alarm rang and without missing a beat the seven firemen did what firemen do, they responded to the call, only we were all wearing black tuxedos.”
They jumped on a fire truck and sped to the scene of the fire at Third Avenue and Maple Street, two of the firefighters sat in the front of the truck while the other five hung off the back of the truck as firefighters did back then. (Today no firefighters ride the back of the trucks like they did in the old days) Upon arrival Siren member Ed Cavanaugh hooked a fire-hose onto the first hydrant with McCarter holding the nozzle. Cavanaugh opened the plug and water shot 50 feet into the air thanks to a bad connection. Soaked and freezing the Sirens still managed to douse the blaze to the applause of neighbors who had managed to brave the cold to watch the firefighters at work.
The following day according to McCarter’s recollection, the headline in a local newspaper read, “MILLION DOLLAR FIRE COMPANY PUTS OUT FIRE,” referring to the tuxedos the firemen were wearing while fighting the fire.(If I recall properly it was a garage fire)
By 1927 a few of the Sirens while remaining in the group began another combo called “The Singing Serenaders,” who performed at a number of locations in town including the P.O.S. of A. Hall and the Knights of Columbus Hall.
My late friend John “Chick” McCarter passed away on March 3, 1989. He was a member of the Washington Fire Company for 67 years and was the Grand Marshall when the Washington Fire Company held the dedication to their new firehouse in 1984. Chick was a co-founder of the Conshohocken Sports Hall of Fame and was himself inducted into the Conshohocken Sports Hall of Fame and the Summit Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1984.
Chick was a member of the Washies Sirens throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s and continued to sing well into his 80’s.
I hope that clears up a few of the questions that were asked by members of the ‘You Know You’re From Old Conshohocken When”
For more than a few weeks we here at Conshystuff.com have been working on a “History Of A House” spotlighting John “Chick” McCarter and his father Thomas “Chick” McCarter, stay tuned, many of you might find this one interesting!
Photographs include members of the Washies Sirens on the third floor stage at the Washington Fire House in 1929.
A photograph of the Washies Sirens posing from left included Bill Magee, Henry Sauter, Mike Nally, Ed Cavanaugh, Chris Baily, Walt Pope and John “Chick” McCarter in the drum-head. This photo was taken in York, Pennsylvania in 1925.
A photograph taken in the mid 1980’s on the third floor stage of the Washington Fire Company, a drum set and piano were covered up on the stage, Brian and Jackie Coll can be seen in the photograph. This photo was taken when the fire company was moving from the old firehouse to the new Elm Street firehouse.
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