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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: jane neubauer On: 2/24/2005 ID: 215
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No After n/a
i found the book TO SLEEP WITH THE ANGLES on my moms night stand and started reading it its a touching story. Richard Scheidt is my moms best friends husbands dad. im not done with the book yet but ive cried already and thats saying something.

Posted by: Cristal On: 2/22/2005 ID: 214
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No After n/a
This past month i have been doing alot of research regarding Our Lady of Angels School Fire. I have read many interesting things. Up until this last month i had never heard of any of this before. All i want to say is that even though i didn't know all those kids that died and their families i feel really bad. while i was reading the stories of those who survived tears were coming out of my eyes because i can't imagine going through anything like that. GOD BLESS ALL OF YOU AND R.I.P THOSE ANGELS WHO DIED.

Posted by: Marilyn Neenan On: 2/17/2005 ID: 213
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before Wilson, Arkansas
I found this site quite by accident, but I believe by divine providence. In 1958 I was almost 10 years old and attending school in a building very much like Our Lady of the Angels. I believe I was born with a terror of fire and my school had always scared me . . . all the polished wood and an ornate open staircase which was the only way on or off the third floor, high ceilings and transoms over the doors. Grades 1 - 12 were in the building. It was a small town. It had no fire escape except for stairs leaving the auditorium at the rear of the large building and a very rickety metal fire escape from the penthouse on the roof where typing classes were held. I was fearful before December 1, 1958 and afterwards it was worse. Everything I feared had happened to other children. It was useless for my parents to tell me not to worry. I suffered through another 5 years dreading every day until the town built a new glass and steel 1 story school. I breathed a sigh of relief as I watched the wrecking ball demolish the old school. The fire in Chicago had a profound effect on me. I never knew any of the people involved but it did not matter. I was devastated at their loss. Never a week has passed that OLA has not entered my thoughts in some way. I finally decided to read "To Sleep with the Angels" and face my demons. I cried again, but at least I know more now. I still find it hard to understand how we could have been allowed to attend school is such places. . . old, perhaps beautiful, but oh so dangerous. I enrolled my daughter in a private school in 1985 because her assigned public school in Memphis was an old red brick 3 story building built in the 1930's. I couldn't afford it really, but I could do nothing else. I would have been fearful of leaving her every day. I am glad I found this website. Most of all I want to finally say to the victims, and you are victims just as surely as if you too had perished that day. . . please know you are loved and prayed for still in places far from the neighborhoods of Chicago.

Posted by: Marc Seeger On: 2/13/2005 ID: 212
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before Chicago's southside
Last spring I was a judge for the Chicago History Fair.
One of the displays I was asked to judge was on fire prevention which used the Our Lady of Angels Fire for its major influence on updating fire prevention techniques. After the fair, I remembered how impacting the tragedy had been, and I realized that there are many parents, siblings and friends who still carry the pain of that horrible day, and I felt God's compassion for them. I reviewed various websites on the fire, and when I found this site, I read the letters and felt compelled to write.

On December 1, 1958, I was a third grader in a public school (Caldwell) on Chicago's south side. Most of the students were either Jewish or Catholic, and the teachers were predominantly of Catholic background. The day after the fire one of the teachers, herself a Catholic, shared with us how she knew many of the sisters at Our Lady of the Angels school. I remember that we students were unusually quiet and somber as we listened to her talk.

As I read over your letters, I was impacted by how real the memories and pain of that day still remains in so many people's lives and how there are so many thoughts and questions about God. I was raised Jewish but through my own search for God many years ago I have come to know Jesus as my loving Messiah, and through the study and application of the bible, I have come to learn the character and nature of our loving Father, who has helped me to understand my own losses.

Dear loved ones, please know that God is not the author of tragedy, but he is there for us in ours to provide us hope and comfort.Even God the Father, knew the loss of His only begotten son, and He considers your pain no less than His. He created you, and He cares for you. God said in the messianic passage of Isaiah 53 that He (The suffering servant, Jesus) bore our griefs and our sorrows. God wants us all to know the blessing and comfort of His presence and the hope of eternal life offered through His son.

When reading through your posted stories, I particularly remember the one of the young girl who had dreams about fires and three different girls who she played with who all perished in the fire and that she now realizes that it was ESP. All I can say is that actually you have a gift from God of visions and dreams, as many had in the bible including Mary and Joseph. In Matthew Chapter 2:12-13 we read how God warned Joseph in a dream to depart form Herod's presence and go to Egypt, a dream which Joseph obeyed, and which spared his son, Jesus, from the execution of all male children age two and under (verse 16). I beleive God, in His love, was trying to communicate to you the impending danger so that people could pray and act and avoid the disaster. Ask God to help you identify and clarify this gift for use in the future. In the story of young Samuel, the prophet, we see that he did not realize that God was trying to communicate to him in the night until the priest, Eli, told him so (see 1 Samuel chapter 3).

I planned to write this letter many months ago, but I never took the time to do it. Since that time I have been accepted and have been working as a teacher at a Catholic school, a wonderful school with many wonderful Catholic teachers and students. I pray that you all may know the love, forgiveness and comfort of Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit, and remember that He promised us that "He comes to give us life and life abundantly, though the thief (Satan)comes only to steal and kill and destroy." Please don't believe the lies of Satan that God is the one who caused the tragedy when it was really the evil forces in a fallen world."

I pray that you all may come to know the peace and comfort of God that can only be found in Jesus Christ. As God has said in Jeremiah 29:13 that if "we seek Him with all our heart, we will find Him."If you want to e-mail me further my e-mail is mseeger@comcast.net. As to the girls at Regina, perhaps I will see you at this year's history fair. God bless you all - Marc Seeger

Posted by: Samantha and Mary Kate On: 1/30/2005 ID: 211
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No After n/a
Hello. We are sophomores at Regina Domincan High School in Wilmette but both of us live in the suburbs of Chicago. We are doing a documentary for the Chicago History Fair. We are very intrested in the topic of fire safety and how it has changed in schools over the years. As we looked back at our own grade school, niether of us remember seeing fire escapes, only practicing escape drills. Samantha went to a public grade school and in 8th grade learned how to use a fire estingisher in case of an emergency. This showed us how prevenlent it is that young children are protected in schools. Our high school was built in 1957, a year before the fire. We practice drills often but have no fire escapes and both of our homerooms are on the third floor as are many of our classes. We have 2 classes and lunch on the first floor. We would like to contact anyone who would like to help us with our documentary or give us information or stories. Anything would be helpful. You can contact us at Sbrayer@rdhs.org or MaSmyrniotis@rdhs.org.
Thank You,
Samantha and Mary Kate
Sophomores at Regina Dominican High School, Wilmette IL

Posted by: Paula On: 1/27/2005 ID: 210
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before Chicago, IL
I have found my life intersecting with this horrible event throughout the years. My great-aunt was a surgical nurse at St. Anne's when the fire occured. I knew many of the doctors on staff at St. Anne's. My cousin is a BVM nun who personally knew the three nuns that perished. My husband's aunt lost her nephew Joseph Maffiola in the fire.

My mother had a terrible fear of fire, having been through one herself. She also had a fascination with it. As a child, I remember that if the sirens were close, we had to find out where they were going, and if it was close enough, we stayed to watch the firefighters put out the fire. She spoke often of the Our Lady of the Angels fire, of my aunt's heartbreaking stories of the cases she assisted with that day in surgery, the terribly burned children. I don't think my aunt ever got over it.

My mother passed this fascination and fear of fire along to me. I wanted desperately to become a firefighter or a paramedic, but knew that there was no chance that I'd pass the physical. Instead, I decided that I would learn as much as I could about being prepared for any kind of disaster, and that I would always be one that could be relied upon in the event of an emergency.

I had my life changing experience on 2/4/77, when the Lake St. "L" train that I was a passenger on crashed into the back of another train and fell to the ground at Lake and Wabash. Eleven people died, including the man I was seated next to. The fact that I was aware of my surroundings and knew that we were going to crash was probably the only thing that saved my life. I was injured badly enough to miss six weeks of work, and to have nightmares that led me to two years of psychological counseling.

After reading both "The Fire That Will Not Die" and "To Sleep With the Angels", I was led to this website, which I'm certain has been catharsis for those who have posted their stories. Reading the books, and the stories posted on these pages makes me relive the memories of the sirens, the chaos, the terror. If you've been through it, I'm sure that you know what I mean.

Ironically enough, in reading some of the stories posted here, I ran across one from Julie Seagraves, who I graduated from High School with. I never knew her story then, but I can testify to her fear of being trapped in a high rise fire. I work in a high rise myself, and I am a floor fire representative. Julie, if your building management doesn't have safety protocol team in place, they're in major violation of the revised City of Chicago Building Codes. Since the 69 West Washington fire, and more recently the LaSalle Bank fire, high rise building management companies have been required to put together comprenhensive fire evacuation plans, and to have drills regularly.

Any of you who work in high rises that haven't been through a fire drill, or haven't seen a evacuation plan, etc., get in touch with your building management, and if you get no satisfactory answer, call your local Fire Department and report it! Being proactive rather than reactive may save your life. Many of the stories on these pages are proof of that very fact, as my own experience has shown.

May God give His gift of strength, peace and closure to all victims of tragedy.

Posted by: Kimberly On: 1/26/2005 ID: 209
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before DesPlaines, IL
I was born April 29th, 1958, and therefore was only an infant when the fire occurred. However, growing up, on December 1st every year, from the time I was old enough to remember, my mother would always say, "Oh, I remember that so clearly, I was home with a new infant, and it was just so horrible." I heard many stories of the fire from my mother over the years. Years later, as an adult, I took my own daughter and my mother to vist her old school, St. Alphonsus, and as I walked around I remember looking at the classrooms, all the varnished wood, the windows, etc. and wondered if this is what OLA was like? It is now 2005, I am almost 47 years old and I still think about the children and the stories that my mother told me. I have told my own daughter the story and showed her this website. It never fails to make us stop and think and say a prayer together.

Posted by: Julie Segraves On: 12/16/2004 ID: 208
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before River Forest, Il
My father was Dr. James Segraves, my uncle Dr. William Dvonch, my neighbor Dr.Paul Fox, my sister's godfather Dr. James Callahan. All were on staff at St. Anne's Hospital. All were involved with the fire victims. The disaster plan that was used, which is credited for saving many lives, was developed by my father and others on staff. When he died he received a posthumous civil service award for his work on disaster planning. The plan used then was the first time that the triage concept was used in a civilian hospital (it had been used by the military for years) and it is what modern trauma centers are modeled on.No one who had any connection with St. Anne's hospital will ever forget that day.

My mother used to wake us up in the middle of the night just so we could see our father - he was never home. My aunt worked as a secretary there. She is now 95 years old. She still vividly remembers the auditorium and the bodies laying there and the families anxiously looking for their children. As the majority of the children were released we used to go to the hospital and visit those who were left. One was Michele McBride. She was very badly burned but a great person. My family kept in touch with her until she died (recently).

My uncle Bill (Dr. Dvonch) took care of a little boy who was in the hospital for I think a year. My uncle tried so hard. When thel ittle boy died he was devastated. It was so sad. All of his kids remember. We remember too.

None of the kids of the hospital staff at St. Anne's, doctors, nurses whatever, will ever forget that fire or the days and weeks and months following. My father was taking care of Michele for years. I remember my sister was in the hospital once and amazingly Michele was there too, for another surgery.

I have a very irrational fear of fire. I plan escape routes and always make sure there is a clear path through every room of the house to the doors. I don't like wearing seat belts for fear I'll be in an accident
and the car will catch on fire and I won't be able to get out of the seat belt. I work in a high rise but only on the third floor and the ledge outside is really wide - I am grateful for that because this place NEVER HAS FIRE DRILLS - NEVER. They have had 1 since I started here and I've been here for 15 years. I keep asking.......

Posted by: Pat Delsing On: 12/8/2004 ID: 207
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before 7415 S Union Chicago, Il
I was home from school sick that day. My Mom and I were sitting on the couch watching Tv together when the news broke. We prayed and cried and really couldn't believe that that many had died so quickly. Every December 1st, I pray and cry a little. This was one of the most vivid memories of my youth. To this day, what ever building I'm in, I check for exits and fire exits. The picture of the fireman carrying out three little children,dead, in arms will never go away. May they all rest in peace

Posted by: Mary L. On: 12/7/2004 ID: 206
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 four years old at the time of the fire and living in Saint Paul Minnesota. My Mom had the news on and we watched pictures of the fire. I remember my Mom was so upset and started praying for everyone there. I was so horrified watching the pictures and thinking of all of the poor people trapped in the building. I asked my Mom not too long before she died (2002) if she remembered watching it and she said of course she did and how sad it was. I think she was surprised after all of these years that I would still remember it clearly because I was only four at the time. I actually did not know the date that it happened other than it was winter. Something made me think of it today and I found this website. My prayers are with all of the families that lost their loved ones so long ago.