Arthur P. "Smokestack" Hardy, who was perhaps Baltimore's oldest and most passionate fire buff, died of cancer Monday at the Veterans Hospital in Hampton, Va. He was 94.
Mr. Hardy, who took his nickname from the smokestacks atop the boilers of old-fashioned horse-drawn fire engines, always claimed his interest in firefighting began when he was 3 years old during the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904.
"That's all he ever talked about from 1904 on -- the fire department," said a sister, Katharine Little of Baltimore. "It didn't make any difference whether it was dinnertime or 3 a.m. When he heard the fire alarm, he'd go running."
Not content with watching fires and sharing in the excitement of men, engines, ladders and hoses, Mr. Hardy became an auxiliary firefighter.
In 1949, he founded the SHC Club -- short for Smith, Hardy and Carter -- an organization of black fire buffs. Mr. Hardy was the SHC's last surviving founding member.
Delmar Davis, a friend for more than 50 years and also an auxiliary firefighter and member of SHC, said, "We were among the first blacks in the city Fire Department when we took training in 1952. Arthur loved the department, and he turned that interest into a worldwide one. He communicated with fire buffs all over the world. Everyone knew who Smokestack was."
As an auxiliary firefighter, Mr. Hardy had been assigned to Engine Company 8 and Engine 13, from which he retired several years ago.
"He was a very fatherly man who was always very good to the firemen," said Capt. Patrick J. Flynn, who retired in 1992 after 42 years as the department's public information officer. "He was also interested in black firefighters and personally knew every black fire chief in the country."
Mr. Hardy studiously followed the careers of black firefighters in more than 500 cities.
"He was an icon," said Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, the city's Fire Department spokesman. "And to think he saw the department go from horse-drawn firefighting equipment to motorized vehicles."
Mr. Hardy jammed his McCulloh Street residence with more than seven decades of museum-quality fire memorabilia, including call boxes, hoses, photographs, signs, models of fire engines, lanterns, buckets, bells, prints, an alarm gong, helmets, calendars, badges, correspondence and patches from departments all over the nation.
A Seventh-day Adventist, Mr. Hardy, a tenor, played the piano and mandolin at the Berea Temple, which he had attended as a member for 75 years.
Born and raised in West Baltimore, he attended city schools and worked for Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. and as a janitor at the Johns Hopkins University.
"He served in the Army during World War II for six months and nine days until he was discharged in 1943 because he was overage," said Mrs. Little.
Services will be held at 7 p.m. today at the Berea Temple, Madison Avenue and Robert Street.
He is survived by a brother, Thomas Hardy, and another sister, Pauline Perkins, both of Baltimore.