Reluctant historian to share tales of Wrigleyville firehouse in Long Grove

Karen Kruse stands outside the Chicago Fire Department house for Engine 78, which has watched over Wrigley Field for 99 years. Kruse, a Schaumburg resident, is coming to Long Grove to speak about the station's history. (Lake Zurich Suntimes)

Karen Kruse stands outside the Chicago Fire Department house for Engine 78, which has watched over Wrigley Field for 99 years. Kruse, a Schaumburg resident, is coming to Long Grove to speak about the station’s history. (Lake Zurich Suntimes)

A Chicago Firehouse By: Karen Kruse

Lakezurich.suntimes.com

“I hated history,” the writer of a book about a piece of Chicago history said. “So I made sure that what went into the book was interesting.”

Karen Kruse, author of “A Chicago Firehouse: Stories of Wrigleyville’s Engine 78,” will speak Oct. 5 for the Long Grove Historical Society about 99 years of tales surrounding the firehouse and 180 years of history in the neighborhood that became the home of the Chicago Cubs.

The daughter of a man who spent 14 of his 30 firefighting years with Engine 78, Kruse said her creation came from the love she developed as a girl for her father’s career.

“This was a man’s world,” she said of the bygone days of firefighting. “I remember when I would go to visit him, and I’d see him riding by on the back steps (of a fire truck). This was before (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) shut that type of thing down.

“He would wave to me as he raced off to a call. That’s how a little girl falls in love with firefighting.”

“A Chicago Firehouse” is a 128-page history of life at 1052 W. Waveland Ave., since the existing building arose in 1915 to protect the year-old baseball stadium across the street. First printed in 2001 by Arcadia Publishing, the book has earned Kruse speaking invitations from libraries and historical societies around the Chicago area.

The Schaumburg resident does not tell many people that she hates history. She had to immerse herself in it to learn the tales of the workplace and home in which Capt. Robert F. Kruse served almost half of his career.

What is now the Lakeview “neighborhood” began as an independent municipality in the 1830s, when Joseph Sheffield bought two parcels of land on opposite sides of the street that now bears his name.

Chicago annexed the community in 1889 and built its first firefighting station, a frame structure with a single bay for a team of horses, on Clark Street. By 1915, much had changed in the rapidly growing area; the city set up eight new fire stations that year, including one across the street from the new stadium.

What is now the home of Engine 78 and Ambulance 6 is functionally archaic by today’s standards. It still contains just one bay, and was built without room for eating or sleeping.

But at the time of its construction, the station defined the state of that art; it never had a hay loft, because at that time Chicago was leading the nation in the switch from horsepower to motorized vehicles.

The angled brickwork helped it earn Chicago landmark status.

Kruse never found records of any major fires at Wrigley Field, she said. In fact, her father was involved in what may have been the worst.

She tells the story of May 28, 1961, when she was 3, and her mother turned the Cubs game on in the afternoon while ironing. Her mother was looking down at her work when suddenly announcer Jack Brickhouse started yelling about a commotion in the stands.

“She looked up at the TV and there was my father, putting out a hot dog stand,” she said. “When he was done, 20,000 people gave him a round of applause.”

Famous for the lovable losers that use it now, Wrigley has been the site of a few NFL Championship Games. When Mike Ditka was a Chicago Bears tight end, he would stop at the firehouse on his way to the field and eat breakfast with the crew.

Kruse was able to track down Iron Mike and scored a foreword for her book.

“My phone rang, and there was Da Coach,” she recalled.

About half of the book’s sales come from devoted Cubs fans, Kruse said. Most area suburbs are split evenly between Cubs and White Sox followers, but she prefers finding a heavily North Side crowd, she said.

“I get a lot of comments like, ‘Well, we’re Sox fans, so we don’t care,’” Kruse said.

Other sales come from the firefighting community. Even though it was a man’s world when she grew up, Kruse fell in love with it — and learning its history was her way of connecting more closely with the man who waved at her as he raced by.

“It’s been the ride of a lifetime,” she said.”

Karen Kruse stands outside the Chicago Fire Department house for Engine 78, which has watched over Wrigley Field for 99 years. Kruse, a Schaumburg resident, is coming to Long Grove to speak about the station's history (Lake Zurich Suntimes)

Karen Kruse stands outside the Chicago Fire Department house for Engine 78, which has watched over Wrigley Field for 99 years. Kruse, a Schaumburg resident, is coming to Long Grove to speak about the station’s history (Lake Zurich Suntimes)

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