Cover of the book "Firebelle Lillie"

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Firebelle Lillie: The Life and Times of Lillie Coit of San Francisco

By Helen Holdredge, 1967

One of the more popular books in our collection, this book tells the story of Lillie Hitchcock-Coit, who became the mascot of San Francisco’s Knickerbocker Fire Company during the latter half of the 1800’s.

About Lillie Hitchcock-Coit

One afternoon in 1858, the Knickerbocker Fire Company had a short staff on the ropes as it raced to a fire on Telegraph Hill. Because of the shortage of man power, the engine was falling behind two other companies. 15-year-old Lillie Hitchcock, on her way home from school, saw the plight of the Knickerbocker and tossing her books to the ground, ran to a vacant place on the rope. She began to pull, at the same time yelling to the crowd: “Come on, you men! Everybody pull and we’ll beat ‘em!”

Everybody did come and pull and Knickerbocker No. 5 went up the hill and got first water on the fire. From that time on, she caught the volunteer spirit and her father had a hard time keeping his daughter from dashing away every time an alarm was sounded. There never was a parade in which Lillie was not seen atop Knickerbocker No. 5, surrounded by flags and flowers. She was the patroness of all the firemen of her city, rushing to the scene of action. Lillie often said she loved courage in a uniform.

As Lillie became older, she gave up following the engine, but the tie that bound her to the company was as strong as ever, visiting company members when they were ill and sending flowers upon their deaths.

Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill was built and named in her memory.

Source:  Frederick J. Bowlen, Battalion Chief, San Francisco Fire Department as published on The Virtual Museum of San Francisco. http://www.sfmuseum.net/hist1/h-coit.html

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