“I saw a white dog walking down Elm Street near the Square,” she said. “I think it was a bulldog, but I didn’t get a very good look, however it looked pretty well-fed, so I knew it had an owner somewhere.” She fidgeted as she told me the story of her strange encounter.
“You are going to think I’m crazy,” she whispered, “but I’m not!” I assured her that I wouldn’t think her crazy, at least no crazier than I am, and encouraged her to finish the tale.
“The dog wasn’t on a leash,” she told me, “and I worried that it would get hit by a car — you know when the new school year starts those college kids drive like maniacs. I glanced up and down the street to find the owner. When I didn’t see anyone, I turned to dash across the street to try to corral the dog. But it had vanished! There wasn’t anywhere for it to go! Was it a ghost dog?” I couldn’t rightly answer that question, but maybe.
People around Denton often share stories of the unusual with me. Each weekend, I give Ghosts of Denton Haunted History Tours around downtown and I’m always asking people to share their tales. They are glad to oblige.
This woman was the third person this summer to tell me of seeing a white dog walking on Elm Street — a dog that vanished into thin air. However, she was the first to mention that it was a bulldog. This put me in mind of the story of Snooky, a large, white, female bulldog who was a mascot for the Denton Fire Department about eighty years ago.
In 2013, I first heard about Snooky the Fire Dog from Chuck Howell, who was acting Captain at the fire station the day I visited the Denton Firefighter’s Museum. He showed me the tombstone that had been on Snooky’s grave. It’s now on display at the museum, located at the Central Fire Station at 332 E. Hickory. Here is the gist what he told me:
Everyone around the Courthouse Square loved Snooky. According to the Fire Marshall of the time, Eugene Cook, she “had more sense than any dog I ever saw.” Snooky went to every single fire with the firemen at the Central Fire Station (then located on McKinney Street). Snooky supervised. Fire Marshal Cook said that when the “regular” phone rang at the fire station, Snooky didn’t react at all. When the fire phone jangled, that dog jumped on the truck, raring to go.
When not “on duty,” Snooky was in the habit of walking south on Elm Street to the Courthouse Square each day. She made the rounds of the different restaurants, where the cooks always had juicy tidbits for her and evidently spoiled her rotten. She was a regular at the American Cafe and Ray’s Cafe on the Square. I have found no pictures of the dog but I’m betting that, with all that snacking, she was “pleasingly plump.”
In the wee hours of the morning, during the summertime, Snooky loved to follow the ice wagons around the Square. At that time the Mahan Ice Company still made deliveries using horse-drawn wagons. Don’t ask me why she followed the wagons. Maybe the horses left interesting smells in their wake? At any rate, that habit led to her demise.
One summer day in 1937, as Snooky pattered along behind the ice wagon, she strayed into the lane of traffic. The driver of the oncoming vehicle never saw her until he hit her. Badly wounded, Snooky managed to drag herself back to the fire station. Although a veterinarian was summoned, his ministrations could not save the dog.
So distraught were the firemen, that they decided to give Snooky a special send-off, just as they would have done for a member of their own family. They constructed a dog-size coffin and lined it with velvet. They put the casket on the running board of the hook and ladder truck to drive Snooky, one last time, around the Courthouse Square she loved so much.
The Chaplain of the Fire Department, Bill Vivereite, preached a sermon for Snooky as mourners gathered round her grave at the southwest corner of the Fire Station. They included uniformed firemen, city employees, and other friends of Snooky.
When Chief Howell told me the story, I said, “Wait a minute. What did y’all do with the dog when you moved the fire station to this location? Where is Snooky now?”
He winced and whispered, “Probably still in a flowerbed at the old station.”
Snooky’s bones might be pushing up weeds at the old fire station, but evidently her spirit is a little restless. If you see her, don’t panic. She’s just wandering around looking for juicy tidbits.