Man and Dog Perish Fighting Fire; Buried Together (1880)

On the second and final overcast morning of my Wilmington trip I returned to Oakdale Cemetery armed with a map in hopes of locating Capt. William Ellerbrock’s grave. (His surname is sometimes spelled Ellerbrook but his marker and cemetery records list the former.)

What makes this grave particularly of interest to me is the tragic story of how Ellerbrock and his dog Boss were buried together, making them as inseparable in death as they had been in life.

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“Faithful Unto Death”

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Ellerbrock’s unusual burial arrangements rank him among the more “famous” burials at Oakdale and because of that accounts of the fateful night differ. The basic elements of the story are the same which suggest that at least those details are facts and not embellishment for better storytelling.

Ellerbrock was born in Hamburg, Germany around 1856 and by the time of his death at age 24 had lived in Wilmington between seven and eight years. While living and working with his uncle, riverboat captain L.T. Lemmerman, he became the captain of his own riverboat and volunteered with the Howard Relief Fire Company. Ellerbrock was a devoted firefighter and was usually accompanied on land and water by his Newfoundland, “Boss.”

After midnight on April 11 a fire erupted in a storefront at the corner of Front and Dock Streets and Ellerbrock was among the volunteers who answered the fire alarm.

The Charlotte Democrat 16 April 1880
The Charlotte Democrat 16 April 1880

According to some versions a bystander was charged with keeping Boss away from the inferno but upon hearing Ellerbrock’s cries, escaped and rushed into the burning building. His heroic gesture was for all for naught, as the captain was either pinned beneath a rafter or in the process of being burned alive.

When the two bodies were recovered Boss allegedly held a shred of Ellerbrock’s clothing in his mouth, evidence that he’d tried to pull the captain to safety.

From the April 13, 1880 issue of The Morning Star: “The faithful dog was placed in a box and buried beside his unfortunate master, to whom he had clung in death as in life with all the instincts of a devoted friend.”

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To the rear of Ellerbrock’s inscription there is a relief depicting a sleeping dog underneath the inscription, “Faithful Unto Death.”

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Meet Esther. Most cemeteries don’t allow dogs so Oakdale was a rare treat for both of us.

The following isn’t related directly to this grave but I find it very appropriate.

“Histories are more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends…” -Alexander Pope

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