Historical Reminiscing with Robert B. Hitchings

A Faithful Mascot Named Jocko at Fire Station #12

Copyright. All rights reserved.


Fire Station #12

Aside from heroically battling fires and rescuing people in dangerous situations, Norfolk firefighters have throughout the decades performed many acts of kindness, and, unfortunately, many go unnoticed. When the Fire department was first started, many fire stations had mascots usually consisting of a dog, often a Dalmatian or just an old mutt, that wandered into the fire station. Many old timers remembered when these dogs sat up in the driver's seats with their faithful drivers. Firemen loved these pets and this is a story of one such mascot, a monkey named Jocko.

There is an old fire station that is located on W. Little Creek Road, a block away from Hampton Blvd. I have a family connection with Fire Station #12. My great uncle Capt. William Hunter Knight (1891-1982) was a fireman and later became captain at this firehouse. He was a born raconteur for he loved to talk about old Norfolk and the different fires he had to put out in his life time. His father, William Henry knight, had been a volunteer firemen long before the city of Norfolk took over the fire department in 1871.

This two-story brick firehouse was designed in the “American Square” style with some Craftsman features and is by now almost 100 years old, being built around 1921 when the land was part of old Norfolk County. Today it is now on the National Register of Historical Places.

In 1923 Norfolk annexed 30 miles of land making Norfolk a much larger city. This was called the “Great Annexation” taking in military installations, small suburbs and plenty of farm land that stretched all the way to Ocean View.

In June 2018 the City of Norfolk sold #12 Fire Station and it is now a restaurant called Razzo which has a wonderful Italian cuisine .

As a young man I was mesmerized by Uncle Hunter’s escapades in putting out fires. On September 17, 1943, Fire Station #12 was the first fire station to respond to the Naval Base explosion. Uncle Hunter said that when he and his men got to the site there was a large hanger ablaze. A 300 pound department charger detonated. Many folks died and over 200 were injured. The firemen first had to pick up body parts in brown paper bags, which was not a pretty sight.

Fire Station #12 also responded when an airplane accidentally dropped a bomb in the back yard Victory garden in a neighbor on Glendale Avenue in the Glenwood section of Norfolk. No one was injured. The bomb was not live.

Uncle Hunter was a dog lover and before he retired from the Fire Department the men gave him a small Chihuahua. Oh, how he loved that dog.

In 1936 Fire Station #12 was the first in Norfolk to have a Red Cross First Aid Road Station and many walk-ins stopped by. He remembered when a little girl and her mother brought in a small injured dog named Whitey, a fluffy white terrier who had a broken leg. He remembered that firemen Capt. J. T Pearce, David Halstead and Capt. C. E. Thomas took the little dog into the back to set its leg. They were well-trained men and set the dog’s leg with splints and the fracture was taped. Afterwards the firemen took Whitney to the local veterinarian for an x-ray. The veterinarian told the firemen he had never seen a leg set better than that one. Whitney stayed with the firemen to heal and was the most pampered dog at station #12.

But there is another story about another mascot, a pet monkey named Jocko, who came to live at Fire Station #12. Jocko arrived at the station around 1922. Where the monkey came from, no one knew. A fireman by the name of Bud Haas (1884-1950) had found Jocko wondering around downtown Norfolk. Knowing his landlady would not allow pets, especially a monkey, he introduced Jocko to the members of Fire Station #12 and Jocko became their mascot. Not only did Jocko become a favorite at Station# 12 but was also a favorite in the neighborhood. Everyone loved Jocko.

One day in April 1923 Jocko went missing. A policemen picked him up near the downtown area. He was quickly taken to the police headquarters along with a runaway nanny goat. In those days it was a police duty to pick up lost strays and bring them to the police station. The word went out about the lost monkey. Within a few hours it was soon discovered that Jocko belonged to Bud Haas at the fire station #12. My Uncle Hunter had just started his apprenticeship there when Jocko the monkey arrived.

The poor nanny goat was never claimed and she spent her time eating and sleeping at the police station. Oh, have times changed!

In June 1924 Jocko was not feeling well and on June 15, 1924, Jocko died in his sleep. All the firemen were deeply moved by Jocko’s passing and quickly went to work and made a nice wooden coffin. That day there wasn't a dry eye at Station #12. The news of Jocko’s passing spread rapidly throughout all the fire stations and the whole community of Titustown. Many individuals came by to give their condolences. A few firemen went to a monument company in Norfolk and ordered a special tombstone for Jocko. They were determined that Jocko would not be forgotten. Although Jocko was buried the same day he died, his funeral wasn’t held until 7 days later on June 21st. It was an unusual service because never before in the history of Norfolk had a monkey been buried with such pomp. All the men of station #12 were present, along with many mourners from the area. One neighbor brought Jocko a bouquet of flowers and placed it on his grave. As the Virginian-Pilot writer said that day, “There were real mourners at his funeral.” One fireman said, “Jocko was a remarkable little monkey, having some good qualities that many humans lack. Whenever a fireman from the company was off on vacation and returned to work, Jocko was the first to welcome him back home with a nice handshake.” Jocko earned his keep by keeping the mice, rats and even cats away.

There have been many mascots over the years at Fire Station #12 but none quite like Jocko. Somewhere on the firehouse grounds is a small tombstone that reads, “Here sleeps Jocko, mascot of Engine Co. No. 12, who died June 15, 1924?”

 

* * * * * * * * *

Robert B. Hitchings is a seventh generation Norfolk resident, graduating with an Associate's Degree in Biology from Old Dominion University and BA in history from Virginia Wesleyan University. During his studies he was awarded a scholarship at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, England, and he was an exchange student at Brooks-Westminster College, Oxford, England. From 1999-2014 he worked as head of the Sargeant Memorial History Room at Norfolk Public Library, and since then has headed the Wallace History Room at Chesapeake Public Library. He is also the President of the Norfolk County Historical Society, and for six years was a columnist for The Virginian-Pilot. Robert may be reached at nchs.wallaceroom@gmail.com