First of all I think it is incredible after all these years that so many people are saying the same words I have been saying for years.
I was 8 years old the day of the fire and attended Orr Elementary School. However, my 2 best friends Kathleen Carr and Daine Karwacki went to OLA. Because I wanted to be with them, my parents were working on getting the money to send me to OLA and I was due to attend in 1959. The day of the fire I had a stomach ache and asked my Mother to let me stay home. Usually she would say no and send me off to school but that day she let me stay home. I sat at the window and watched all the children on our block...seems like hundreds... go off to school, including Kathleen and Diane. Sometime after lunch a family friend Rita Virgilio called our house to make sure we were OK because she saw black smoke coming from our area. She was at Garfield Park walking her babies around. My Mom thought she was kidding because we had a fire in our home once and the fireman had to take us out of the burning house.
My Mom decided we should take a walk and find out what was on fire, so we did. We followed the smoke and came upon OLA School, which was our parish and where we attended cathecism. We passed kids on the way whose clothes were torn and black and some were burnt. Walking home! We arrived at the schoold, I was holding my Mother's hand and we just stood there in horror, shocked and helpless. I began to cry for a family friend Gary and my best friend Kathleen and Diane. The whole day was total chaos and disbelief. I could not eat because I was worried about all the children but mostly wanted to know where about Gary, Kathleen and Diane. I remember my father crying at the table worried for all the families.
Gary arrived home, smoke stained and it took 3 days to find the bodies of Kathleen and Diane both burnt beyond recognition. I prayed everynight and thought for sure they were at someone's house.
I remember the moment a neighbor came to our front door with the news. My mother walked down our long hallway and I slipped out the upstairs hallway door to listen. My mother cried and then came up and did not say a word. When I asked she said they were just dropping something off. I was so frustrated that she would not tell me I remember yelling at the dinner table, "I know that Kathleen and Diane are in heaven, why won't you tell me!" I went to my room and cried. And in all honesty to this day, deep inside, I never have stopped crying about this whole tragedy. I could go on and on about each day that we learned of another child was found dead.
Many people on this message board have said, we just were not allowed to talk about it. It's true and I eventually went to counseling as an adult and those were the words I used! "They never let us talk about it!" To release my expereince, I have written articles about this fire and have used it for illustrations in public speaking.
I think it was too horrible to talk about for the surviving parents and they were on every block, everywhere we went. So if we were quiet, it seemed respectful to them.
One incident I will never forget was "after the fire". I walked across the street to my friend Kathleen's house. She was a red headed little cutie and had a play house in the backyard. Diane and I used to go there all the time. It is a great memory. But on this day, I went after the fire and knocked on the door to tell her Mom I missed Kathleen. Her Mother was so taken back she slammed the door in my face and soon after that they moved. I felt so bad and my mother scolded me for going there. I believe Kathleen was an only child. I sure would like to find her parents and just tell them how much I cared. Diane lived next door to Kathleen and her family build a fence that was so high no one could see over it. I saw her uncle on occasion but never her mother.
Interestedly, enough after that, I had no playmates on my block until I was about 12 years old. I played with my 3 brothers in the yard.
There is so much to tell about this event. Recently I connected with a man Larry Giantomas, who I have never met, due to a common bond of this fire. I want to thank the person who came up with this idea of a website. It is a blessing.
Life does go on, I had 2 children of my own and told them about the fire after they were adults. It took me that look to talk about it openly. I have 2 almost 3 grandchildren and I am very protective of their whereabouts. I think this is getting long but I am excited about being a part of this and hope to reconnect with some people from the old neighborhood.