I remember Oscar, though I didn't recall his name until I read this story. Also the City Hall Auditorium featured pro wrestling out of Saint Joe on a regular basis in the 1950's. Remember Nick The Bruiser!
This story is one of many from the section entitled "Old Time Tales" from the fine 1981 historical work developed by the RSVP. This celebration of 150 years of our past is available from our Livingston County Library website.
PETS OF THE PAST by Margaret Oliver
In the past, members of the Chillicothe Fire Department have adopted a pet to add a bit of extra interest to while away the long hours of inactivity. With the burning of the City Hall in 1925 nearly fifty pigeons, pets of the city employees, lost a happy home. During the fire, the pigeons were seen to fly over the burning building for some time, seemingly reluctant to fly away to find a new home.
The pigeon gets its name from the Normans and belongs to the dove family. It has been used for centuries as a passenger to deliver messages during periods of stress; it is a symbol of peace. Pigeons in flocks of great numbers can also become a nuisance. At one time a “shoot out” took place in Chillicothe to rid the Courthouse roof of too many of them. But the pigeons of the City Hall employees, before 1925, were pets, fed and cared for by the City Firemen.
When Walter Forbis was fireman from 1937-1952 the alligator was the pet of the employees. Many groups of school children were taken to view the animal so unusual in this locality. Robert Frith, a Chillicothe lawyer for many years, had practiced law in Florida for a year following his graduation from law school.
When he returned to Chillicothe, his home, he brought “Oscar’, the alligator with him and gave it to the Fire Department. This was in the late twenties and Oscar lived until after Mr. Forbis resigned in 1957. Its home was a big tank built especially for him and his eating habits, which were a bit unusual. He died at his Chillicothe firehouse home.
“Bosco” the squirrel, another pet of the Fire Department, had the run of the station and knew no other home having lived there since it was a tiny animal. He became a pet to all visitors; was the subject of an article in the Constitution News Press, and finally was turned loose in a corn field by Mr. Forbis.
From 1947-1979, when Merle Hatfield was Fire Chief, “Gypsy”, a black and white Dalmation dog, was the mascot of the department. A Dalmation is sometimes called a “coach dog”. Perhaps that is why he liked to accompany the Chief on every run and sit up in the driver’s seat beside him. When a call came in for a fire, it was “Gypsy’s” signal to hop to his position. Gypsy died in 1970 and is buried on the City Hall lawn; a tomb stone marks his grave.
Joe Rinehart, Fire Chief since 1979, says he has fifteen pets, all employees of the fire department.