Firefighters are known for their courage and tolerance. They pretty much have to have both if they’re going to risk their lives to keep others safe — and live so closely with co-workers while doing it.
They also tend to be fairly level-headed. If you’re looking for a place where people talk about spirits and otherworldly phenomena, you wouldn’t expect a fire station to be the place.
All of which makes the occurrences at Lawrence Fire Station No. 1, 746 Kentucky St., even more unusual.
In the 1980s, Robert Babcock was assigned to Station No. 1. In addition to his regular firefighting duties, he had been given a special assignment involving graphic design, work he completed in a basement office under the east staircase, in “a creepy part of the building.”
“There were times when I’d be up all night, and the elevator would just open on its own — and it would be one o’clock in the morning,” he says.
But this isn’t the kind of stuff a firefighter talks about. What would people think?
Instead, Babcock chalked it up to “mechanical vagaries … just an elevator thing.”
In 2009, he was again assigned downtown. He no longer had an office in the basement, but there were still parts of the station that unnerved him.
“There’s this area on the stairs going into the hose tower,” he says. “I’d noticed it time and again. I’d pass this point and just hurry to get out of it.”
The area was so disturbing that Babcock decided he would get an outside perspective: his wife, Michelle.
“She’s the sensitive one,” he says. “I can be pretty useless when it comes to stuff like this, but not Michelle — she can feel stuff like this.”
A few days before her husband’s retirement, Michelle came down to the station for a visit.
“I didn’t tell her anything at all about the area,” Babcock says, “but the minute we got to the stairwell, she said, ‘This place is haunted.’”
Babcock then started up the stairs, toward the point that had always troubled him.
“I turned around, and she was still at the bottom of the steps. She didn’t follow me. She stood there and said, ‘There’s something there, and it’s not good. It’s not human, and it has red glowing eyes!’”
“I don’t like (anything) that’s not human,” Michelle says, “and that thing did not seem human!”
Michelle Babcock has her own perspective on why something may be lurking around Station No. 1: “There’s a lot of activity at fire stations … and some people just don’t want to give up; they have unfinished business.”
And on that point, there is no doubt. The area around Station No. 1 has seen a lot of activity over the years.
Early Lawrencians frequented the Market House Building, which was located on the property and was the place for farm produce. Other commodities such as coal, hay and wood were also weighed and sold there.
The city purchased a section of the land in 1865, and later the Market House Building, and it became home to many municipal functions such as the police department, the fire department and a justice of the peace. It was also the site of the city’s overflow jail.
This structure was razed in 1950 to make room for the existing building. Before housing Senior Services, the east wing was home to the police department and included holding cells on the second floor and a pistol range and armory in the basement.
Capt. Allen Johnson, who has been with the fire department since 1974, has never experienced anything unusual at Station No. 1, but whenever he is in the building’s dormitory, he thinks about one of the firefighters who died there years ago.
“When I came on, I was told of a firefighter that was sent up to buff the floors in the dorm area. When he didn’t come down, they found him dead, slumped across the bed,” he says. “They think he had a heart attack.
“That’s always in the back of my mind when I’m up there alone and the old boiler is cracking and popping.”
Could any of this history explain the inexplicable experiences of two other firefighters at Station No. 1? Neither man wanted to give his name, and both only agreed to speak on condition of anonymity.
Both incidents happened at night, while the men should have been asleep in the dorm.
“It was so freaky,” the first firefighter says. “I went to bed, lay down and fell asleep. I woke up, and floating above me was a black, cloud-like figure with red eyes. I tried to scream, but I couldn’t. And I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed.
“Finally I was able to scream, and I woke everyone up … and they all made fun of me.”
If that wasn’t eerie enough, the firefighter saw a similar incident happen with his co-worker sometime later. “I could see the black cloud right across from me. I saw him try to yell and reach up to grab at something.”
The second man describes this experience: “I was asleep — but it doesn’t seem like I was sleeping because this didn’t feel like a dream — but I was laying on my side and I heard something like newspapers rustling behind me. It got my attention, so I rolled over to see what it was, and this black thing came up next to me and hovered above me. It started quivering, and I watched it. I tried to grab it but couldn’t, and I couldn’t get sounds to come out.”
Instead of a cloud, he saw something that was more “the shape of an old arrowhead and about 1 to 2 feet long.”
Whatever it was, it had red eyes.
“It was so real it kinda bothered me,” he said. “I guess I was asleep; it just doesn’t seem like a dream.”
Nothing like this experience with the mysterious, red-eyed floating creature had ever happened to either firefighter before, or has occurred since.
The firefighters don’t have to worry about convincing the Babcocks that something creepy happened at Station No. 1.
“There are a lot of people who say ‘I don’t feel anything, I don’t see anything,’ but I think it has a lot to do with the person and their ability,” Robert says, “if they’re open to it.”
Another individual who keeps an open mind about the existence of supernatural beings is Fire Chief Mark Bradford.
“I’ve heard the stories about Station One,” he says, “but I’ve never experienced anything unusual down there.”
But that doesn’t mean he isn’t willing to consider others’ experiences.
“I’ve always kept an open mind when it comes to things like extraterrestrials,” he says. “I’m not one to say they don’t exist.”