The Iredell Count Public Library has released a new film on DVD titled, “The Gaither Family Statesville Firemen’s Parade August 24-27, 1931.” as the first of its Heritage Film Series. The DVD was made from old 16 mm film taken by Statesville native Clyde Erasmus Gaither, Sr. (9/7/1890 – 7/1/1966) and includes the Firemen’s Parade that took place in Statesville in 1931. Other scenes on the film include footage of Atlantic City, New Jersey; Linville Falls; Jamestown; and Chimney Rock, N.C; all filmed in the early 1930’s. Mr. Gaither was the son of Charles Robey and Minnie Pritchard Gaither and attended city schools and Professor J.H. Hill’s Academy. He was the first man in Statesville to own a movie camera and the first to have a natural gas furnace. Mr. Gaither founded the Gaither Sheet Metal Company on Depot Hill in 1909 and later co-owed the firm with his son, Clyde Gaither Jr. of 707 North Center Street. His daughters, Jane G. Lewis and Lee Ellen Drum, provided the information on the films.
Fear of fire dominated the thoughts of Statesville’s early residents and the city endured several catastrophic fires. In the early days houses were built with the kitchen area in a separate building to keep cooking fires from burning down the house. If you go through Statesville now you see alleys between buildings that were designed to separate the buildings in case of fire. The 44th Annual Meeting of the N.C. State Firemen’s Association brought over 1,200 visiting firemen and their families to Statesville for a four-day meeting that climaxed with a Firemen’s parade competition and dance ball. Some of the events were filmed by Clyde Gaither Sr. in Statesville, N.C. on Wednesday, August 26, 1931. The newspaper gave the Firemen’s meeting front page coverage and said Statesville was in gala attire with sirens shrieking when the first firemen began to arrive. The city’s homes and businesses were decorated and there were U.S flags flying and welcome signs hanging to greet the firemen. The meeting opened on Tuesday, August 24th at 10:30 am at the Court House with firemen representing 152 towns in N.C. present. Speakers at the opening ceremony included Fire Association President R.C. Whitley of New Bern, Mayor E.R. Rankin of Statesville, and Mr. John G. Lewis speaking on behalf of the local firemen.
On Wednesday a memorial service was held at the Playhouse Theatre with the Greensboro firemen’s band in full uniform playing in front of the court house. The parade began at 3 pm on Wednesday, Aug.26, moving out from N. Center Street near the old tobacco warehouse to Mulberry St. and then onto Broad St. Mr. Latta Johnson was director of the parade and Sheriff G.C. Kimball the chief marshal. Thousands of Iredell County citizens lined the streets to watch as State and local police on motorcycles led the way followed by two bands, the entire membership of the local cavalry troop on horseback, firemen in uniform from around the state, and floats representing local businesses. The Statesville fire department made a unique float out of the old hook and ladder wagon, decorating it in honor of the late John A. Walker who had served as a fireman for over 43 years and was instrumental in getting the city to purchase the hook and ladder machine.
Parade prize winners were Fraley’s Statesville Flour Mill, and Nash Furniture Company. The best dressed fire company award went to the Charlotte Fire Department, second was Greensboro, and third went to the Rutherfordton Fire Dept. On Thursday morning, August 27, firemen’s reel races were held on South Meeting Street. Kannapolis established two new world’s records, lowering the former 100 yard reel races from 16 2.5 seconds to 16 1.5 seconds, and lowering the former grab reel race record from 16 seconds flat to 15 4.5 seconds. East Spencer No. 2 won 2nd place in the 100 yard reel race and East Spencer No. 1, former world’s champion, won 2nd place in the grab reel race at a time of 16 1.5 seconds. The foot race was won by a man named Ketchum, of Kannapolis, who ran the 100 yard dash in 10 seconds flat. Nine departments participated in the truck races which were followed by a Bathing Beauty Contest, a Street Dance on Broad Street between Center and Meeting, and the Firemen’s Ball at the local Machine Gun Troop Armory at 9 p.m. The convention was a huge success with N.C. Firemen’s Association Vice President Frank Shaw of Greensboro saying, “This was the best attended convention that we have had, (with) more fire chiefs present than ever.”
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Film a reminder of 1931 convention” on March 10, 2010