World's Largest Working Fire Hydrant
In 1999, to promote the re-release of the animated 101 Dalmatians, Walt Disney's Home Video division built the World's Largest Fire Hydrant at Disney Land in Anaheim, CA. For reasons that are lost to time, the Fire Museum of Texas in Beaumont -- a 1920s-era fire station where vintage trucks, historic nozzles and fire bells are exhibited -- was chosen by Disney to be the permanent home of its towering fireplug.
The promotional monolith was dedicated in a media ceremony with much fanfare on March 9, 1999. The fire museum marching band kicked off with the movie's signature song, "Cruella De Vil," while 101 Texas firefighters danced around the hydrant, climaxing as it sprayed firefighters with water and confetti. They shielded themselves with Dalmatian-spotted umbrellas. Then the firefighter families headed off to a complimentary screening of the film.
While the hydrant may occasionally serve as a nexus for civic events, its Dalmatian spots (copyrighted by Disney) seemed in danger of becoming ciphers, misinterpreted by future generations as salt air corrosion, public art about racial harmony, or an ill-conceived ad for a dot com-era Gateway store. Fortunately, the museum has maintained the spots and acknowledges their provenance. At the same time, they've re-imagined the once sandy lot as the C.A. "Pete" Shelton Plaza, "dedicated to retired, deceased, and fallen firefighters."
Even though the hydrant stands 24 feet tall, weighs 4,500 pounds, and can blast 1,500 gallons of water a minute, its reign as the World's Largest was brief. In July 2001, on Canada Day, the town of Elm Creek, Manitoba unveiled a 29.5-foot-tall fire hydrant built over a period of seven months by volunteer firefighters. Five months earlier, an artist named "Blue Sky" used his favorite parking lot in Columbia, South Carolina to unveil a 39-foot-tall steel fire hydrant, which has stood as the World's Largest ever since.
Belatedly acknowledging its fireplug's third-place status by size, Beaumont in 2013 adroitly rebranded its claim to fame. It is now the World's Largest Working Fire Hydrant.