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Our Lady of the Angels (OLA) School Fire, December 1, 1958
OLA Fire Period News Articles
(These stories have been reproduced as accurately as possible from the original news reports, including original errors)
90 Die In School Fire (12/1/58)
74 Hurt, Blast Traps Scores (12/1/58)
Tough Chicago Police Weep At The Tragic, Tiny Bundles (12/1/58)
Tom Feared Sight Of Death's Mask (12/1/58)
Margaret Was a Little Girl Who Didn't Like to Be Sick (12/1/58)
Joe Wasn't Hurt, He Saw Only Horror (12/1/58)
Sobbing Nun Tells of Horror In School Fire (12/1/58)
Parish Families Seek Children (12/1/58)
Man, 74, Stricken Helping Children (12/1/58)
F.B.I. Ready to Assist Chicago Fire Inquire (12/1/58)
Panic Grips Classrooms; Confusion Increases Toll (12/1/58)
Everybody was Jumping (12/1/58)
List of Identified Dead In Chicago School Fire (12/1/58)
Fire Gong Tolled A Deadly Message (12/1/58)
Frantic Dad Tells Fire Rescue Role (12/1/58)
85 Youngsters Still Hospitalized; Blaze 3rd Worst In 100 Years (12/2/58)
Smoldering School Ruins Like A Cavern Of Death (12/2/58)
87 Children, 3 Nuns Die in School Fire (12/2/58)
Probers of Fire Ask: Why? (12/2/58)
Schoolboy Smoking Cigaret Might Have Touched Off Fire (12/2/58)
One Family's Story (12/2/58)
Throng Just Waits, Looks (12/2/58)
The Morgue (12/2/58)
School Fire Chicago's Worst in 55 Years (12/2/58)
“I'll Remember It to My Dying Day,” Says Fireman (12/2/58)
Chronology Shows Speed of Disaster (12/2/58)
Girl Recalls Burning Backs Of Classmates (12/2/58)
Chicago Presses Search for Clues to Fire At School (12/2/58)
'I Won't Give Up Hope,' Says Father (12/2/58)
Boy Who Jumped Tells of Tragedy (12/2/58)
Pope John Wires Condolences to Bereaved Kin (12/2/58)
Arson Squad to Probe Fire in School Last Year (12/2/58)
“It's Just Too Much,” Laments Archbishop (12/2/58)
Hospitals Work Around Clock to Relieve Injured (12/2/58)
Other School Tragedies (12/2/58)
Moscow Says School Fire No Accident (12/2/58)
Memories of Horror Rack School Janitor (12/2/58)
How Fireman Feels Carrying Out Victims (12/3/58)
Third Worst In Nation (12/3/58)
Priests Try Vainly To Comfort Bereaved Relatives And Parents (12/3/58)
Struggle to Save Fire Survivors Continues (12/3/58)
Gigantic IFs Jolt Probers Digging Into Fire Mystery (12/3/58)
Fire Leads to School Checkups (12/3/58)
Rites Held for Nuns Killed in School Fire (12/4/58)
10,000 Mourners at Funeral Of Three Nuns Killed in Fire (12/4/58)
Mass Offered for 28 Small Victims of Fire (12/5/58)
Fire Victim's Souls Commended to God (12/5/58)
91st Chicago Victim Of School Fire Dies (12/6/58)
500 Children Face Questioning In School Fire (12/6/58)
Bereaved Families Mourn in Chicago (12/7/58)
9-Year-Old Boy Dies, Raises Chicago School Fire Toll to 92 (12/8/58)
Boy Becomes 92d Victim of Chicago Fire (12/8/58)
School Fire Horror Probed (12/11/58)
Chicago School Afire Long Before 1st Alarm (12/11/58)
Terror, Torment Related by School Fire Victims (12/13/58)
Girl Fire Victim, 9, Wonders Why Cards Have Stopped Coming (12/14/58)
Fire. Thirty-Eight O Eight Iowa...The Alarm Was Desperate, the Tragedy Incredible! (12/15/58)
Nightmare in the News (12/15/58)
Disasters - The Chicago School Fire (12/15/58)
How Safe Are The Schools (12/15/58)
Fire Hazards Found At 2 City Schools
Two Schools To Be Closed As Fire Risks
Texas School Tragedy Of 294 Dead Recalled
$50,000? So What?
Erect Fireproof School Building (11/30/59)
City Cleared As Defendant In School Fire (7/19/60)
New School Open (9/60)
Considered prime suspect in Chicago blaze (1/16/1962)
Boy Admits Fire Fatal To 95 (1/16/62)
Judge Rips Lie Tester On Boy's Story Of Fire (1/16/1966)
Cicero Won't Let Police Talk to Youth (1/16/1962)
Lad Cleared in School Fire (3/13/62)
Memories stay forever - Our Lady of Angels fire survivor (11/83)
'Born fireman' wanted to be part of the action (6/1/2003)
87 Children, 3 Nuns Die in School Fire
CHICAGO, Dec. 2 - (AP) - Ninety persons died Monday when fire struck a parochial grade school with terrifying swiftness, trapping pupils and teachers at their desks a few minutes before dismissal time.
The final toll included 87 children and three Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The fire was Chicago's worst since the disastrous Iroquois Theater fire of 1903. It was the third worst school fire in the nation in the last 200 years.
More than 85 youngsters remained in hospitals, suffering from burns, broken bones received in frantic leaps for life and from the shivering shock of seeing playmates die in the fiery inferno.
There were 1,300 students and teachers in the Our Lady of the Angels Roman Catholic school.
In the Cook County morgue, sheet covered little corpses, a few charred nearly beyond identification, still lay awaiting to be identified by tearful parents.
Sgt. Drew Brown, head of the police arson squat, favored a theory that a carelessly discarded cigarette caused the fire.
“A carelessly discarded cigarette, tossed into a waste basket by a sneaky smoker,” Brown said was the best theory.
He emphasized, however, that it is “strictly a theory.”
Brown said his theory was based on these circumstances.
Every day, about 2:30 p.m., pupils from each class go to the basement of the building and empty waste baskets into large cardboard containers. The waste later is burned in boilers by the janitor.
Nearby is a boy's washroom - where, in Brown's theory, a boy might sneak a smoke.
The fire started in the northeast corner of the building near the place where the waste paper is deposited.
Two boys, who are among those performing the waste disposal chore, already have been questioned by police.
Mayor Richard J. Daley started a fund for financial aid for families of children injured or killed in the fire. The fund, within minutes, soared to $11,000.
Just 18 minutes was the difference between life and death. The first box alarm was turned in at 2:42 p.m. The school would have been let out at 3 p.m.
Many Panic
Within minutes the building turned into a wild, screaming inferno. Smoke and heat filled staircases and second floor corridors so fast that normal exits were impassable.
“We are trapped. We are trapped,” nuns screamed from the windows as they huddled with groups of pupils.
Many children panicked, stampeded to windows. Some leaped the 30 feet to a crunching death on sidewalks below rather than face the singeing heat and burning smoke.
“Nothing killed those kids but heat and smoke.” Quinn said.
“They just couldn't get out into the corridor to go downstairs.”
Nearly all of the eighth grade class in two upper-floor classrooms perished.
The screams of the children trapped on upper floors drifted down to hundreds of horrified spectators and hysterical parents standing below in the 30-degree cold.
Firemen raised ladders and brought down dozens of shocked pupils. Priests on the scene even before the firefighters, led out others.
Nuns, with disregard for their own safety, rolled some students down staircases. Children ducked to the floor, seeking cool and fresh air, and crawled out. Others groped their way to freedom by grasping hands and belts of classmates and filing out the smoke-filled structure.
For some there was no rescue, however.
“God we tried, God, how we tried.” Sobbed one fireman. “But we couldn't move fast enough. No one could live in that fire.”
As the bodies were brought down in the eerie, hazy light, parents pushed against police lines, crying, “Where are our children? Where are our children?”.
The U-shaped school at 3808 Iowa Street was built some 40 years ago. It was remodeled about five years ago.
A single fire escape, with exits from the first and second floors, was in the center of the rear, or east side of the building - the bottom of the “U” which joined the wings.