Webmaster's Review of Angels Too Soon
Jay Shefsky and company at WTTW have put together a compelling and fairly comprehensive documentary in Angels Too Soon. The hour-long program tells the story of Our Lady of the Angels school fire using narration and interviews with survivors, firefighters and authors of the book "To Sleep With The Angels." They did a great job of digging up old film and photos to go along with the narration and interviews.
Using news footage shot the day of the fire, as well as archival footage and family photos from victims and survivors, they manage to tell the story without sensationalism. Through interviews with survivors, now in middle age, we get a glimpse inside the school on December 1, 1958, through the eyes of young children who escaped death by mere seconds. Some were burned and hospitalized for months; others had only minor injuries. All came away with scars on their memories of childhood.
Besides interviews with survivors from five of the six north wing classrooms, they interview firemen, family members, and others. Even fourty four years after the fire, some become choked with emotion talking about it.
The program touches on the major aspects of this story, including the funerals afterward; the Coroner's Inquest; the questioning of the nuns' judgement in asking their students to sit at their desks and pray; the grandfathered fire safety codes that allowed the school to remain unsafe while new schools were required to conform to current fire safety codes; the young student who confessed to setting the fire but later recanted his confession; the lack of animosity toward the Catholic Church afterwards; and the positive after-effects of the fire on school safety nationwide.
This is a story that was largely unknown before the book "To Sleep With The Angels," by David Cowan and John Kuenster, was published, and with this documentary, WTTW has taken a big step toward bringing the story to more people. I very much hope they will make it available to a nation-wide audience.
If you live in the viewing area of WTTW, Chicago's channel 11, be sure to watch this excellent program on February 6, 2003, at 8 pm (CST). It's a story you will not soon forget.