Where’s there’s Smoke, there’s Tom and Jack


Not all the ghosts of Keene are human. People often talk of a beloved pet, usually a cat or dog, that they sense are still loyal companions long after the pet has died. Soft footpads, almost silent meows, and doors that are mysteriously pushed open are considered signs of a pet spirit. There have also been reports of dog’s barking, awakening their families to danger, only this is the eternal vigilance of a dogs long dead still protecting their loved ones.

Tom and Jack however weren’t pets, but they did belong to the entire city of Keene.

They were a beautiful set of gray horses, used to pull a fire engine, and saved lives and property with their well trained strength. The fire horse had to be a very special horse. Strong to pull the engine, swift as speed was of the essence with a fire, and also brave, as most horses will shy and run away from fire and smoke. Tom and Jack were the pride of the Keene Fire Department for their beauty and sense of duty. Photographs of the horses proudly marching in parades can be found in historic records from the time.

Fire, while a danger today, was especially frightening before the advent of smoke alarms and fire sprinkler systems. It was only the watchful eye of a neighbor or sheer luck if a fire was discovered at night. The amount of work to put out a fire, without modern equipment, often meant every citizen had to pitch in when needed. Early residents of Keene were required to own a certain number of leather buckets, to be used in case of fire. Fire fighting was a concern for all, not just the professional fire fighter.

A tour of Keene today shows how important the horse was to daily life before the advent of cars. There are many barns inside the city, some are just attached to homes and serve now as garages for cars. Some Keene barns have been converted into apartments or homes. At one time, Keene was full of horses, conveniently located for their owners when needed.

Horses naturally avoid fire, and many a horse making loud whinnies of panic warned humans that a fire had started at night. This is perhaps why when horses were still fairly common in Keene no one mentions the ghosts of Jack and Tom. Jack and Tom served Keene as some of the last fire horses, as the horse power came to mean a motor and not an animal. 1920 was the last year fire horses were used officially used in Keene.

Today though Jack and Tom may still be protecting the citizens of Keene. People have reported awakening to the sound a panicked horse or horses, and then smelling smoke and knowing there was a fire. Keene doesn’t have many horses close to downtown, but reports of mysterious noises of horses awakening owners to the danger of a night fire persist. Of course, people aren’t sure what the sound was, only they often are quickly reminded of horses by what happens next.

One fire survivor reports what happened to him “I awoke to this loud screeching sound. I had no clue what it was, but could tell my house was filling with smoke. I got up quickly and awoke my family and we ran out of the house. We then looked up and I saw, in the smoke, the shape of two horses. Gray horses, gray like the smoke and fire. It was just the heads and front legs and then the shapes slowly disappeared as the flames grew.”

The family survived, despite not having their smoke alarms working, but the home was a complete loss. Other people report seeing the shape of two horses in smoke from other fires, sometimes even a simple backyard bon fire or leaf burning. It seems Jack and Tom can not resist a fire of any type. The description is always of seeing the shape, and more than one person noticing the resemblance to horses, before it quickly dissipates.

If you awake in the night to the sound or horses, pay attention and don’t roll back to sleep. Tom and Jack might be trying to tell you something. Also, please make sure your smoke detectors are working, because to depend on ghostly intervention for fire protection is foolish indeed.


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