-call it benevolence, charity, or simply showing kindness and goodwill towards those less fortunate; this is a true account of our MFD firefighters brotherly-love in action.
The name John Connor has been pretty much forgotten, but if you were on the Memphis Fire Department in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s you knew who he was. Sometime about 1904, a 9-year-old lad named John Connor wandered into Fire Station 4 on North Main Street. The old 4’s was where the Cook Convention Center is today. John stayed for good, and the firefighters took care of him, as John was developmentally handicapped. John took meals with the firefighters and slept in a hose rack padded with straw.
John grew up with the fire department. In later years he was given a uniform, a badge, a hat, and a bed. Each day he made the daily rounds, walking and riding the streetcars (for free). He would stop at Bry’s, the Gridiron, and the Little Tea Room and have a bite to eat. They never charged him for the meals. Then on many days, it was off to the Tennessee Brewery for a freshly made beer. John would always stop by Headquarters and Fire Station 2, where the men were always supportive of him. After all, he was the fire department’s adopted son.
In the 1920’s every intersection downtown had a traffic cop directing traffic. On one occasion the officer at Main and Madison, the busiest business corner in Memphis, stepped away for just a moment. John, wearing his fire department uniform took the officer’s position and within minutes had traffic thoroughly tied up for blocks. For that, his uniform and badge were taken away, again. On one occasion, while wearing his uniform he was on the scene of a small rubbish fire and he was yelling “Second Alarm, Second Alarm”! Fire Commissioner Joseph P. Boyle, who did not know John, overheard him calling and the Commissioner turned in a 2nd alarm on a trash can fire. His uniform was again taken away.
In 1949 he was baptized a Catholic and attended regular daily mass at St Mary’s. In 1963 when Fire Station 4 was closed and torn down, John was relocated to Fire Station 3 at 200 Linden at Third St. Captain J. E. “Ed” Benson and the firefighters there took care of John. They shaved him, helped him bathe, and washed his clothes. When Station 3 was abandoned, Engine 3 moved to new Station 8 on Mississippi north of Georgia. John was notorious for chasing the station men with a butcher knife and hurling those white ceramic coffee cups if you displeased him, as this was one of his ways of playing. He gave love and was given love by the members of the MFD. On payday, the Battalion Chief would take John around to the fire stations where he was given small change for his personal needs. John was quite a character, so much of one I really don’t want to mention all his antics, much of it fire station humor and is sometimes better not to mention in print.
When John died November 8, 1979 all his funeral expenses were paid for by the members of the Memphis Fire Department. He is buried at Calvary Cemetery. We think he was around 84 years old. Fire Station 8 still has a name plate above the bed where he slept, and the station has a display case with many of his belongings.