The Darktown Hook and Ladder Corps: Going to the Front
Drawn by King & Murphy American
Publisher Currier & Ives American
Not on view
The late nineteenth-century Darktown prints by Currier & Ives depict racist stereotypes that are offensive and disturbing. The Metropolitan Museum of Art preserves such works to shed light on their historical context and to enable the study and evaluation of racism.
This print depicts caricatured Black (African American) figures. A team of eight firefighters (dressed in red shirts, blue pants, and boots; five of them are wearing fire helmets) urge a white horse to pull a long hook-and-ladder wagon along a dirt road as they head towards a fire. The chief, blowing a fire horn, leads the company as he tugs the horse's bridle. Another man holding a pike, runs alongside the horse's head to encourage it forward. In the central foreground, a fireman pulls a chain attached to the wagon, while another sprints alongside as he pushes a front wheel. On top of the hook-and-ladder wagon are four men: the driver holding the horse's reins with his left hand, while his right hand holds an ax above his head; a shouting man standing on the ladder as he holds a pike; another steers the rear end of the vehicle; and, a fourth man balances precariously at the end of a ladder as he blows a horn. The wagon is being followed by a Black boy, also dressed in a red shirt and blue pants. At the lower left, two young Black girls (one in a red plaid dress, the other in a red polka dot dress) stand beside the road and wave to the firemen. In the distant right background, a lone white house is sited on the crest of a low hill. The title is imprinted in the bottom margin below the image.
Nathaniel Currier (1813–1888), whose successful New York-based lithography firm began in 1835, produced thousands of prints in various sizes that together create a vivid panorama of mid-to-late nineteenth century American life and its history. People eagerly acquired such lithographs featuring picturesque scenery, rural and city views, ships, railroads, portraits, hunting and fishing scenes, domestic life and numerous other subjects, as an inexpensive way to decorate their homes or business establishments. As the firm expanded, Nathaniel included his younger brother Charles in the business. In 1857, James Merritt Ives (1824–1895), the firm's accountant since 1852 and Charles's brother-in-law, was made a business partner. Subsequently renamed Currier & Ives, the firm continued via their successors until 1907.