Lutherville-based museum to explore ins and outs of the Great Fire of 1904 in Baltimore

On a cold, blustery day in February 1904, an otherwise quiet morning turned to chaos as a raging fire broke out in downtown Baltimore. Two days later, when it was finally over, the fire had consumed 70 blocks of the city, destroying more than 1,500 buildings and temporarily putting 35,000 people out of work. The damage total from the blaze would equate to $17 billion in today’s economy.

Are you among the many in our community who haven’t heard about this important piece of local history? Learn more about this turning point for the city of Baltimore, as well as the bravery of the firefighters and citizens who fought the blaze, at the Fire Museum of Maryland’s “Great 1904 Fire Seminar” on Sunday, Feb. 11, from 1 to 4 p.m., at 1301 York Road. The lively interactive afternoon will include an account of the Great Fire from historian Wayne Schaumburg. Retired Baltimore City Fire Chief William Goodwin will speak about how firefighting techniques continue to evolve.

“This seminar will explore how the Baltimore City Fire Department responded to the worst fire in city history, and how firefighting has adapted to meet the needs of the 21st century,” said William Roulett, education director at the museum.

The museum has two pieces of equipment that were used in fighting the Great Fire. Visitors will see a Great Fire movie, plus have chance to explore the museum’s extensive exhibit of historic photos, newspaper accounts and assorted memorabilia from the catastrophic event.

“It’s fascinating to study the old photos, noted Amy Landsman, rentals and membership director for the museum. “You can clearly see the Inner Harbor, the Shot Tower and other landmarks, but they are surrounded by complete devastation.”

In the museum’s working fire alarm office, museum Director Steve Heaver will demonstrate how the 1904 alarm was transmitted. “It’s an eye-opening look at how cities handled emergency communication systems long before the days when everyone had a phone in their pocket,” Landsman said.

The seminar is for visitors age 16 and older. Admission includes snacks by Towson Delly North and a cash bar featuring locally crafted beer from Brew House No. 16. Artist Lisa Marie Penn of Jaybird’s Feather painting will have original, fire-themed artwork for sale. Tickets are $15 for members, $22 for the general public, and are available by calling 410-321-7500. Seating is limited.

Founded in 1971, the Fire Museum of Maryland is one of the largest of its kind in the country. The museum preserves rare and historic pieces of apparatus and showcases artifacts, including hoses, helmets, badges and buckets, plus fire-themed artwork and toys.

After the seminar, the next major public event coming to the museum will be Family Safety Day, to be held on Saturday, March 3. Admission to Family Safety Day is free. Find more information online at, or call 410-321-7500. You can also follow the Fire Museum of Maryland on Facebook.

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