In the Kakaako Fire Station last month, Fire Chief Attilio Leonardi stood in the hose tower where fire hoses were washed, hung and dried after every use.

Are they haunted?

City officials evaluate uncovering
remains to build a museum
and headquarters

HFD plans for new headquarters and complex

By Rosemarie Bernardo

A shrill cry awoke the sleeping firefighters at the new Kakaako Fire Station. John Clark rushed to the captain's quarters and shook him as he lay screaming.

The captain awoke dazed and said a ghost "was sitting on his chest choking him," said Clark, now a deputy fire chief.

Apparitions. Screen doors creaking open by themselves on windless nights. Those are some of the experiences of those once stationed at the historic Kakaako Fire Station on South Street and the newer station on Queen Street, which opened in the mid-1970s.

Fire Chief Attilio Leonardi, who was stationed at the historic fire station during the early 1970s, declined to say whether he had seen any unusual sightings, but said, "I can verify it's a haunted station."

Some people think the station, built in 1929, is haunted because it is near a graveyard where 1,000 bodies were buried during a smallpox epidemic in the mid-1850s, Clark said.

City officials are revisiting the issue of possibly uncovering the remains that may be on the station property as they move forward with plans to build a permanent headquarters and museum for the Honolulu Fire Department.

Some firefighters shared their unusual experiences at the two fire stations.

Capt. Jack Dennis of the new Kakaako Fire Station recalled how a firefighter's dog suddenly became frightened while inside the structure in the late 1970s.

"I never see one dog like that. All his hairs stood and everything," said Dennis, adding other firefighters soon followed the dog out of the fire station.

Another firefighter refused to walk up to the dorm area on the second floor unless he was accompanied by another, Clark said. "No matter how tired he was, he wouldn't go up by himself," he said.

Ti leaves and Hawaiian salt were placed in the corners of the firefighters' living quarters to ward off evil spirits and purify the area, Clark said. After a formal blessing took place, no disturbances occurred during Clark's stay at the station, he said.

Though ghost stories of the Kakaako Fire Stations have thrived, it has not prompted firefighters to request a transfer to another station. "I think everyone accepts that's part of station life," Clark said.

Some of the new firefighters do not believe the stories veterans have told about the old and new buildings.

Firefighter Douglas Bennett, who has been stationed at the new Kakaako Fire Station for four years, said, "I have to see it to believe it."

"I kinda go with a karma approach. If you're a good person, you shouldn't have to worry about bad stuff."

No records indicate whether the Honuakaha Smallpox Cemetery extended to the Kakaako Fire Station site on Queen Street.

Some firefighters have experienced unusual activity at the historic Kakaako Fire Station. The historic Kakaako Fire Station contains many items of interest. Chief Attilio Leonardi pointed to a 1935 Seagrave pumper recently that went to Pearl Harbor during the 1941 attack. Bullet holes are still visible on its hood.

City planners are developing a burial mitigation plan to handle possible remains uncovered by workers during the headquarters and museum construction.

The plan includes the placement of remains in an existing hollow tile cement vault next to Honuakaha Affordable Housing building on Queen Street or constructing another vault. The vault and a memorial park were built behind the Honuakaha building to place remains discovered during the construction of the housing complex and to honor the smallpox victims.

In 1980, the old Kakaako Fire Station was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

According to a report compiled by AM Partners and the city Department of Design and Construction, "archaeological records revealed the buildings were constructed over a portion of a cemetery for victims of the smallpox epidemic between 1853 and 1854."

More than 1,000 bodies were buried in shallow graves at the Honuakaha Smallpox Cemetery, located near a hospital, based on the report. Though there is no record of burials being encountered during the construction of the Fire Department's maintenance building behind the fire station, this structure rests directly over a part of the cemetery.

According to the report, "Bodies were packed close; in the later stages of the epidemic graves were dug just wide enough to admit the corpse lying on its side. In many places the sandy earth had settled, with promise of even more sinking to come with the rainy season and graves averaged only three feet deep."

The report further stated that even though burials were known on the parcel, there was a lack of concern by private entities to obtain the land by the Monarchy and the Provisional Government to sell the land. At that time, the burials did not deter people from using the land.

"Assumedly, any burials present prior to the construction of the old fire station, ladder truck station, and maintenance shop were subsequently disturbed by the erection of these buildings," according to the report.

Kai Markell, Burial Sites Program director of the state Historic Preservation Division, said, "I suspect there may be remains on that parcel. But how many, we don't know."

Markell wants a predigging process to take place before construction starts to determine whether any remains exist on the parcel. More information is needed about the land and project, he said.

"It's hard ... the fire station headquarters is needed and the city has been sensitive to the native Hawaiian burial issue. On the other hand, you have such a tragic cemetery where people died in droves. At what point do we want to reopen that?"

Leonardi said the Honolulu Fire Department has been working closely with the Oahu Burial Council to ensure procedures are done correctly if any remains are found.

"The major concern is that (the remains) are handled with respect and buried properly," Leonardi said.

E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2002 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --