Labor Day – Sixty Years Ago – 1956

Marblehead’s Gerry 5 Hosts their first muster. Muster 1956  crowds

I can’t believe I am writing about Labor Day already, it seems like summer just started. Marblehead hosted a big day in town on September 1, 1956. It was the first time the Gerry 5 Association hosted a muster in town. It was held at Green Street (Reynold’s) Playground. I probably was not in attendance for that one, but I do remember many musters at the playground. They would roll out the brown paper and we would stand towards the end of it so we could get sprayed with the water.

On that Saturday in 1956 an estimated 10, 000 people lined the streets of Marblehead to watch the muster parade sponsored by the Gerry 5. I loved those parades, marching bands, old cars, hand-tubs, bagpipes and the fife and drums. I know my grandmother always liked to see the one from Greenwich, CT, for some reason it was her favorite. I think she lived there for a time after she was married. There were prizes for the winners in the parade competition. That year St. Mary’s Annunciation of Cambridge, MA won first prize of $100, the Scarlet Lancer’s of Chelsea, MA won second prize of $50 and the Tanner’s of Peabody won $35 for third place. . Also competing were St. Jean Baptist, all girls drum and bugle corps from Lynn, MA, Neptune Fife and Drum Corps of Newburyport, Ould Newbury Fife and Drum Corps, and the Oko’s Fife and Drum of Marblehead.

Muster parade 1956

After the parade it was down to the playground to watch the 17 Hand-tubs set up for the muster. Muster competitions originated when two hand tubs would complete against each other to settle the argument of which crew was the best. The first formal muster was held in Bath, ME on July 4, 1849. Originally, the winning hand tub was the one which pumped the highest stream of water, but measuring was difficult and disputes were numerous, probably because of all the beer drinking. The rules were changed to the current format of pumping a stream of water the longest horizontal distance. To be eligible to compete an engine must have been built prior to January 1, 1896 and must have worked at least one fire. Muster competitions are governed by the New England States Veteran Fireman’s League which was founded in Boston in November 1890. For tournament purposes, hand operated fire engines come in five sizes or classes. Class “A” engines have a piston size greater than 7 inches in diameter, Class “B” have a piston size between 4.5 and 7 inches and Class “C” tubs have pistons less than 4.5 inches.

Muster 1956

The Gerry #5 engine, built by Hunneman & Co of Boston was delivered to Marblehead on July 1, 1845 and named after native Elbridge Gerry. It is a Class “B” engine. The Okommkamesit of Marblehead, or the “Oko” as is it called is considered a Class “A” engine. In 1956 a third Marblehead Hand-tub, the Citizen No. 1, a Class “A” tub, made its debut, marking the first time three local tubs had entered a muster. The Citizen was owned by Arthur Jannell of Front Street and was pumped by the Market Square Associates of Marblehead and any winnings would be donated to the polio fund.

The results in Class “B” were:

              First $200           The Gerry                                                        192 feet 9 ½ inches

               Second $100      The Tiger of Newmarket, NH                      192 feet 7 ¾ inches

               Third     $50        Androscoggin No. 2 of Topsham, ME      191 feet 3 ½ inches

               Fourth   $25        Hancock Tub of Ashburnham, MA           190 feet 2 ¼ inches

The results for Class “A” were:

               First $200           The Oko’s                                                        216 feet 11 inches

               Second $100      Protection No. 1 of Newbury, MA            209 feet 10 ½ inches

               Third $50            Citizen No. 1 of Marblehead                       203 feet 2 ¾ inches

               Fourth $25          Neptune of Newburyport                           197 feet ½ inch

This year also held a miniature tub competition with the Gerry, Jr. manned by foreman Larry Doliber, Robin Symonds, Bobby Bohanon and Ray Kearns pumping 41 feet 6 inches, giving them first place for $5. Second place went to the Oko’s Jr. which pumped 39 feet manned by Jack Hinch earning them $5. Third place of $5 went to the Yankee pumped by Dickie Hinch with a 33 feet 8 inch stream.

miniature tubs 1956 muster


The afternoon ended when Gerry foreman, Donald Bartlett and Oko’s foreman Gerry Rubino were tossed in the water tank by their respective crewman. A traditional move when hometown hand tubs win a muster. If you have never been to a muster you really should get out to see one and maybe even help them pump the engines.

Muster 1956  2


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