High above downtown Washington, D.C. in the heart of the Glenwood Cemetery, the striking marble tribute to Benjamin Grenup may be the capital’s most macabre piece of statuary. A vividly detailed bas-relief carving immortalizes the tragic image of an out of control fire engine crushing a wailing public servant, his arm outstretched in a vain plea for relief.
The 24-year-old Grenup was tragically killed in 1856 as the Columbia Fire Company galloped down Pennsylvania Avenue in response to an out-of-control blaze. When their engine collided with a lamp post, young Benjamin was thrown to the ground directly underneath his vehicle’s thundering axles.
Two years later Grenup’s colleagues had collected a princely sum of $4,000 and commissioned sculptor Charles Rousseau to immortalize the slain firefighter. An inscription notes that “a truer, nobler, trustier [sic] heart, more loving or more loyal, never beat within a human breast.” And while the bas relief depiction may not exactly show Grenup resting in peace, at least it ensures that his sacrifice will not be forgotten.
To this day District Engine Company #3 (the modern incarnation of the Columbia brigade) keeps the flame alive by sending their rookies on an annual pilgrimage to the Grenup shrine. Somewhere along the line they also installed three (non-functional) red fire taps ringing the memorial.
Far from D.C.’s only firefighting point of interest, Grenup is joined in the afterlife by the monument to “Bush the old fire dog” a few miles away in Georgetown.
Know Before You Go
Grenup's triangular plot of land is right next to the cottage at the center of the cemetery.