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Our Lady of the Angels (OLA) School Fire, December 1, 1958

Personal Experiences with Our Lady of the Angels School Fire

If you have a personal experience, recollection or opinion about the December 1, 1958 Our Lady of the Angels school fire, whether you were present at the fire or not, you can relate it here. Any story or information is welcome as long as it relates to Our Lady of the Angels school fire.
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Posted by: peg On: 1/7/2019 ID: 684
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No After n/a
I was recently researching on ancestry.com and found my moms sister grace everman and her husband bart who on 1940 census records show them working and living at the convent of Olga. I remember pictures of her working in an institutional type kitchen..and made some awesome chocolate chip cookies.It shows her as bei g the dietitian and bart as something to do w the roof 'tinner'? it also list of course the nuns that were present at the convent in 1940. if anyone does remeber grace everman please let me know. bless u all for being here today to share your stories.


Posted by: Don Kuss On: 12/5/2018 ID: 683
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before Norwood Park-NW side of Chicago
I am in the process of reading the book TO SLEEP WITH THE ANGELS. It is just absolute horror but I want to get through it because my church RIVER CITY COMMUNITY CHURCH is located at 3709 W. Grand Ave. Our adopted school is Cameron Elementary at 1234 N. Monticello. The kids come to our church after school for tutoring. The kids from OLA lived all around where our church is located. The thought of what happened 60 years ago has made me fall in love with our young people from the community who now live in those homes or apartments that these angels from 1958 lived in, it made me fall in love with these kids all over again. It's a different community now and guns and drugs are the major form of danger now. Hopefully we can save many as those folks outside the school and inside did 60 years ago. Also, I was wondering after the fire were there any families that relocated to the Norwood Park area. If you did please get in touch with me-Donald Kuss on Facebook.


Posted by: Jayne Kranc On: 12/3/2018 ID: 682
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before Edgewater nrighborhood
When I worked for ABC Great States, later Plitt Theaters, I got involved with the Theater Historical Society and wrote a paper about the Iroquois Theater fire. That got me started on researching fires that led to changed in fire codes which led me to OLA, which shook me to the core. I've never been able to get past the way the tragedy made me feel, especially at this time of year. I never finished my book on fires that changed fire codes, but I did write a fictional story that was based on a family affected by the OLA fire. If anyone would be willing to read it to check the facts for me, please let me know.
jaynekranc@yahoo.com


Posted by: Rosalie (Guzzo) (Lutzka) O’Brien On: 12/2/2018 ID: 681
Enrolled on 12/1/58? Present on 12/1/58? Injured? Age Grade Classroom Teacher
Yes Yes 13 8 209 Sr. Davidis
It’s taken me 60 years to put my thoughts in writing. I’m writing this after going to the 60th Anniversary mass. I do love seeing my friends and classmates of OLA.
I was in 8th grade Sr. Davidis room on the day of the fire. I thank our beloved nun who did a great job trying to keep us calm in a horrible situation. She told us to open the windows to get the attention of the other classes across the courtyard. I got out like my classmates through the back window. Father Joe and Sam Tortorice helped me get on the small ladder that they put on a small canopy below our window. My twin brother Frank and I were very fortunate to escape with no physical injuries. Many of my friends were not as fortunate. One in particular was my friend Nancy Pilas who I saw before entering my classroom after lunch. I told her I would see her after school. She was in the room next door to mine room 211 that lost 25 students. Nancy was one of them. I unlike Nancy was able to
continue on with my life. Got married and had two children. Lost my first husband after forty years of marriage.
Went to many OLA reunions and was fortunate to marry again to a former classmate Bill
O’Brien. He was the love of my life. Unfortunately he passed away after almost two years of marriage. I treasure all my family and many friends and know as our faith tells us we will be reunited with those we have lost living this life.


Posted by: Marianne Kwiatkowski On: 12/1/2018 ID: 680
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before Milwaukee WI
My thoughts and prayers are with the OLA community on this milestone anniversary. Those who were lost and those who survived are not forgotten.


Posted by: Gail Telchuk-Turnes On: 12/1/2018 ID: 679
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before Keystone and Augusta Blvd.
I doubt there was any area near OLA that wasn’t affected by the fire. Several people in my neighborhood lost a child in that tragedy. It was something we all knew about, but no one ever talked about.
My brother was supposed to go to OLA. Fortunately my parents hadn’t registered him in time. As a result he ended up at St. Francis of Assisi for that school year. My parents were blessed to have him with them for a few more years. He was taken from us in a fiery car accident. Life is ironic.
In those days we didn’t play by the houses of those who had lost their children. As if that would spare them from remembering their loss. I doubt it did. Nothing could. Instead in my mind it must have been a constant reminder. Almost a forced exile from life itself. A mark on the door post saying here is where no children play, no joy heard.
I myself would have welcomed the laughter of a child, to remind myself of the joy I had, even if the time I held that life near to me was just a memory.
To those parents, many who have since passed from this life to the next, my you experience the joy and peace of an eternity with those you loved so dearly.
Though out my life my father would tell me of that day, never forgetting what he saw. He came home without a coat that night, having laid it on the body of a boy who was taken way to soon. So many lives were changed that day in ways that are so different to put into words.


Posted by: Patricia Turner On: 11/30/2018 ID: 678
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No
I was a nine year old fourth grader in a newly built school on Chicago's Southside when this terrible tragedy took place. Even now, it is something that brings sadness each year at this time. I read every horribly sad accounting of this story as it unfolded in the Chicago American (our evening newspaper), and also on T.V. I was hardly able to sleep at night and would spend time even in my practically brand new classroom wondering how safe my surroundings were. I had always been frightened of fire so the knowledge of what those children, their families and the school community were experiencing made this tragedy that much more real...yet I kept reading. As an adult, I became an elementary teacher. I found that too often students took planned fire drills for granted. There was too much talking and playing and very little regard for the serious purpose of the drill. These children had never heard of or experienced an actual school fire. I always took this opportunity to recount to my students the tragedy that took place on December 1st, 1958, and why it was important to be quiet and follow the rules and directions of those that were giving them without fail. It was always a sobering history lesson for my seventh graders and served as an effective deterrent to foolishness, and a clearer understanding of why the fire drills were important. I still feel much empathy for those who suffered such losses at Our Lady of the Angels on that fateful day and for the survivors who were left with probably the most horrible remembrances of their lives.


Posted by: Mark On: 11/18/2018 ID: 677
Enrolled on 12/1/58? Present on 12/1/58? Injured? Age Grade Classroom Teacher
Yes Yes 8 3
As I was looking at the 60th anniversary memorials, i remembered an experience 28 years ago. When my daughter was in first grade in 1990 at Lowrie Elementary in Elgin, IL i was going to attend a parent teacher conference. As soon as I entered the building I froze. Lowrie was very similar to OLA. Not only my memories of OLA but, more importantly, for my daughters safety I was very uncomfortable. My wife reassured me that my daughters room was next to the fire escape. A few years later the school district wanted to close Lowrie. I related my experience about a neighborhood anchor closing and how it affected the neighborhood. With other input and information the district decided to keep the school open. A couple of years later a multi-million dollar addition was added.

For many years I repressed most of my memories about the fire. I thought I was in the second grade when the fire occurred. With help I remembered what grade is was in then.


Posted by: Deacon Dan Lupo On: 11/17/2018 ID: 676
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No
This is an update to my original post: ID: 244. My post was picked up by John Kuenster and published in "Remembrances of the Angels" p. 165.

I will turn 60 on Dec. 1 2018. I was born on the day the OLA fire took place. My aunt Joanie (JoanAnn on the tombstone) Chiappetta, perished that day. My two uncles, Robert and Arthur, survived (they are both now deceased. Before he passed, my uncle Robert published "The Immaculate Deception" - his account of what he claims was a coverup in the aftermath of the fire.)

As I look back on my life since my post here 13 years ago, I can't help but wonder in amazement at how God has worked in my life, ever since my aunt first appeared to me announcing God's love and mercy.

Having studying a bit of theology since my last post, I realize now that a human being cannot become an angel, and thus my earlier claim that my aunt was my guardian angel does not square theologically. However, my study of angels and especially of guardian angels revealed this: angels can take human form if that's the best way to enact their help and protection.

All of us have heard stories in which someone is stuck in their car on the side of the road and out of nowhere someone appears, helps change a tire, and then disappears, with no tire tracks or other evidence of his ever appearing. This aligns with how a guardian angel would provide help.

In my case, I believe my guardian angel took on the appearance of my Aunt Joanie to get my attention; Joanie's appearance made me take note and to connect her physical appearance with the metaphysical reality her presence represented.

God through my guardian angel and through Aunt Joanie was letting me know that God heard my prayer, and her appearance not only represented God's presence but announced the Good News of His love and mercy.

Since my last post here, these things have happened to me:

- A wonderful priest read my post and reached out to me, sharing that my post helped him realize healing from his own difficulties through the intercession of another OLA victim.

- In prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, I asked Jesus to help me understand who his mother was. He answered that I should go ask her. I thought this meant pray the rosary. I did, but was interrupted by a female voice (I was alone at the time) that said: "Shh, don't pray to me, but in my "yes," find yours." This was during the time that I was discerning for the permanent diaconate, and Mary's surrender, her obedience, her yes is the essence of diaconal ministry - deacons bear Christ into the world to those at the fringes (the ill, homeless, prisoner, dying, immigrant...) to those who cannot, will not, have not met Christ.

- At a healing retreat at a Benedictine monastery I received a "slaying in the Spirit" wherein someone prayed over me and I fell to the ground in an ecstasy of grace - this happened two days in a row. Weeks later, I prayed over 3 people in a prayer service, and they each fell to the ground overwhelmed by an ecstasy of grace. Just last week I prayed over someone, and she reported this week that symptoms of her deteriorating spine have abated.

- At that same monastery I meet a person who wrote a memoir about the evil of Nazi Germany as it impacted her husband, a soldier in Hitler's army; the author suffered from a demonic presence throughout the writing of the book. Later on I gave that book to another woman whose German-born husband recognized in the book the evils of his own Nazi upbringing. He received healing from his own struggles with darkness.

- At that same monastery I met a person who also wrote a book - a fictional account of the Crusades. He asked me to read the book to validate the Christian/Catholic references in the book, as he was not a Christian. Just recently he wrote me that he was in the RCIA program studying/forming to become Catholic...his research done to write his book and our subsequent conversations convinced him to pursue Catholicism.

- I served with Pope Francis at Christmas Eve Mass at St. Peter's in 2017. I did not pursue this, but it dropped in my lap, through circumstances put into motion by my wife's diagnosis of cancer in May of 2017.

- I received a vision of the resurrecting Christ while serving at mass in the tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, while on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In addition to the vision, I heard a locution of the sound of "ruah" as Jesus came to life.

I share all this not to draw attention to myself, but to point to the God of the Universe whose grace permeates our world. My Aunt Joanne appeared to me to open my eyes to this fact: God yearns to share His love and mercy with us. He calls us to turn to Him, so He might reveal to us the gifts He has waiting for us. In all the tragedy of this world, He is present. In all the glory of this world, He is present. In every human life created in this world - from womb to tomb - He is present.

In all the good and bad, the turmoil and triumph, the sad and sublime - God is the constant, beckoning us to Himself.

Our lives are not our own, but are gifts from God; we are to discern as best we can the plan He has for each of our lives, to follow that plan, and to journey through life glimpsing the graces He provides, that point toward the ultimate reward of unity with Him in heaven. I can only imagine that my aunt and her classmates and all those who died in the OLA fire - and all of us affected by it - were/are part of a plan that - at the time seemed awful and incomprehensible and perhaps even evil - but a plan that eventually will bear fruit in God's inscrutably divine way. I claim that I am evidence of that fruit.

Our ongoing pain of loss, our indelible images of horror, our tears that still run whenever we imagine our loved ones suffering as they perished, our clenched stomach and broken heart that ache with the unanswerable question of "why did this happen?" - despite all this human anguish, God remains, calling us into relationship with Him, offering us His consolation, if we surrender into His arms. His own Son perished horribly; He knows our loss, He feels our despair, He laments the injustice... and still He calls to us.

We can stubbornly choose to resist Him, justified in our human anger and outrage and pain; or we can fall to our knees, exhausted at holding on to our emptiness, and surrender to His love, His mercy, His healing. We are His beloved creation, in whom He is well pleased. Come... Come... Come... Come to the Father, through the Son, with the Holy Spirit. Come...

Deacon Dan Lupo
deacondanlupo@yahoo.com


Posted by: Mike Hartnett On: 7/25/2018 ID: 675
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before Chicago
I am a retired journalist, and the son of the late Jan Hartnett, a reporter for the Associated Press in Chicago.

On a cold December day in 1958, I was in the seventh grade, living on the south side of Chicago, when a west-side grammar school, Our Lady of Angels, caught fire. My dad was sent to cover the fire.

He arrived in time to see little kids hanging by their fingertips on the window sills, and then finally giving way, and falling to the ground.

By the time the fire was extinguished, 92 children, most 9 or 10 years old, and three nuns were dead.

Dad came home and, without speaking, went straight to the liquor cabinet and got drunk.

That was very unlike him. He would often have a drink or two before dinner – or after – but was always telling stories about the news of the day – Chicago politics, sports, or whatever. Not this time, though.

Two or three days later, he covered the mass funeral of 20-30 children. Again, he came home without a word, and got drunk.

It wasn't until decades later that I read To Sleep with the Angels, the story of the fire, that I began to understand the horror my dad had seen. He died about 30 years later; I'm sure those memories never left him.

Months later we moved to the neighborhood immediately west of the area served by Our Lady of Angels. I was the new kid in the school, in eighth grade – a very awkward time for me.

Not just for me. Our Lady of Angels was destroyed, so the survivors were sent to other nearby schools, including mine, Our Lady Help of Christians. In my class was an "Angel," Joann McDonald, who had finally jumped from her classroom and broke her leg. She was a big, gawky girl, by eighth-grade standards, but a real nice kid, and going through the same "new kid in school" trauma that I was going through.

(God bless women's athletics; today a big gawky girl might have an outlet – basketball or volleyball. But there was nothing like that for Joann.)

She wouldn't have made any team, regardless, because she had a number of operations during the year, returning to class each time with a heavy plaster cast on her leg.

In Joann's own words: "Everybody was screaming. Two men brought ladders from the garage and put them up to the second floor. One girl hung from the ledge and got her feet on the ladder, but it was too far away for the rest of us. Then the men put the ladders together and one girl started to climb down, but the ladder fell apart and she dropped.

"The fire started coming through the walls and everybody was screaming because the fire was hurting them. I jumped out the window and landed on the roof of a shed in the alley. I must have bounced because then I landed on the ground. I felt the pain right away and couldn't move my leg, so I knew it was broken."

(To read more interviews with the survivors, visit www.olafire.com/survivors.asp#208.)

We graduated and went to different high schools, me to an all-boys school, Joann probably to an all-girls school. That's the way it was in those days.

I don't know what ever happened to Joann. I haven't googled her because her name is so common, I assume I'd find eight gazillion entries. But I've never forgotten her.

God bless Joann. God bless Dad.