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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)
Probers of Fire Ask: Why?
By Leroy McHugh and Basil Talbot.
CHICAGO - Dec. 2, 1958 - Doctors and officials, red-eyed and sleepless, worked on today to save lives and unravel some mysteries in the aftermath of Chicago's worst school fire disaster.
The doctors are battling to prevent the death toll from rising.
Officials are trying to supply answers to the questions.
“What caused the fire? What caused it to spread so quickly?”.
Nearly 100 children - many burned critically - are in hospitals.
In the County Morgue, arranged in rows, lay 90 sheet-covered bodies.
A heavy grief lay over the city.
The tragedy struck yesterday at Our Lady of the Angels Roman Catholic Elementary School, 3816-20 Iowa st.
Fire swept up from the basement at the northeast corner of the two-story brick building.
The flames and billowing black smoke - described as “oil type” - roared up a wooden stairwell, trapping many 5th, 6th and 7th grade children on the second floor.
Many leaped from windows, their clothing - and in some cases their hair - in flames.
Others were helped out by nuns, firemen and passersby, but were seared by flames.
There were as many acts of heroism as there were scenes of horror. Many heros remained anonymous.
Multiple investigations have begin.
Arson is considered a possibility by some police and fire officials. It is based on a 30-gallon barrel, resembling an oil drum, which was found in the stairwell. No one can say whether it was there before the fire.
The drum was turned over to Lt. John Ascher of the Police Crime Laboratory.
Also considered suspicious are black smudges on the lower walls of the stairwell. No one can explain how they got there.
As to the arson angle, Fire Commissioner Quinn says.
“It's too early to tell - I can't say one way or the other.”
Police also are mystified.
Swarm of inspectors, including firemen and policemen, are checking the ruins in search of evidence.
Building Commissioner Ramsey headed one crew. He carried building department inspection records of the school but did not disclose them. After a visit to the scene last night, he said:
“Six exits from the second floor, including stairways and doors, were in good order. So was the fire escape on the east side of the building.”
It is the only fire escape. Ramsey said.
“The fire is a mystery - I don't see how it could have spread so quickly.”
There were 1,200 children in the building when the fire started. Another 200 were in the annex, which did not burn.
Children in the first floor classrooms - alerted by a fire alarm - were marched out safely. Those on the second floor heard the alarm but were trapped by flames before they could escape.
Coroner McCarron and State's Attorney Adamowski are among those launching investigations.
McCarron said he will impanel a jury of 15 members - a blue ribbon group to include fire experts and clergymen “of all faiths.”
Adamowski and his first assistant, Frank Ferlic, appeared at the school during the night. They were accompanied by and investigator, Sidney Monz, and Detective Emil Demko. Adamowski said he is conducting an independent inquiry but would give no details.
Ferlick was asked if wooden stairways in the school constituted a violation of building laws. He replied.
“Well, what do you think? That's up to the building commissioner.”
Queried on this point, Building Commissioner Ramsey said regulations specify steel stairways and enclosed stairwells, but added.
“This does not apply to this school, because it was built before the stairway ordinance was adopted.”
Police activity centered at Austin station. Detective Chief Patrick Deeley, his chief deputy, Frank Pape, and Capt. Harry Penzin, commander of the district, sought the answers to mysterious aspects of the tragedy.
They questioned a 12-year-old boy, a seventh grade pupil, who carried a box of waste paper to the basement from his classroom about 12 minutes before the fire was discovered.
It was his daily chore.
They also questioned his 11-year-old companion, also a seventh grader, who had gone to the basement with him.
One of the boys said a schoolmate he knows only as Richard was in the basement on a similar chore and did not come up the stairs with them.
Deeley said Richard will be questioned when his identity is established. He said all other pupils will be interviewed, too.
One story was told by Guilio Camerini, 20, of 732 N. Harding av., a pre-medical student at the University of Illinois, and a graduate of the elementary school.
Guilio's brother, Mario, 22, was acting as assistant janitor at the school because of the illness of the regular janitor, David Cumbo, who is in a hospital.
Guilio said he helped Mario on Nov. 25, at which time he noted an accumulation of rubbish under the stairway in the basement. He said this included old rags, some flower stands, a card table and some Christmas ornaments.
After the fire, only ashes remained under the burned stairway.
A section of the stairway was removed for examination at the crime laboratory. This was ordered by Sgt. Drew Brown, head of the police arson squad.
He said the section would be examined by Daniel Dragel, head chemist of the laboratory, who also will make tests of the oil-drum type barrel and some rags.
The purpose, Brown said, is to determine if inflammable chemicals are present - such as could have been used by an arsonist.
The FBI men said they are making inquiries because of recent bomb threats at Chicago schools and incidents of racial-inspired arson and bombing of schools of various faiths throughout the country, chiefly in the South.
Some of these incidents were related to the integration fight. But no Negros are enrolled at Our Lady of the Angels schools.
The Army colonel would give no information excepting that he is “from counter-intelligence.” He did not consult police, firemen or other authorities.
Chief Deeley said a search is being made for a stranger who appeared at the candy story of Mrs. Barbara Glowacki, 919 N. Avers av., near the school, about the time of the fire.
Mrs. Glowacki said the man asked to use the telephone.
She said she told him she had no public phone and that he walked out, remarking”.
“I wanted to report a fire.”
She added.
“He seemed wholly unconcerned, but after he left I went into the street and looked toward the school - I saw smoke!”.
She said he was well dressed and about 45 years old, but could not describe him clearly.
The burned and injured (some fractured bones in their leap for life) were mostly in four hospitals - St. Anne's, Franklin Boulevard, Garfield Park and Walther Memorial.
Frantic parents gathered at these places, some trying to force their way in. they had to be restrained and quitted so as not to interfere with the life and death battle going on in many rooms.
At the County Morgue sorrowing parents collapsed as attendants lifted the sheets from bodies of loved ones.
Morgue attendants are hardened - but they, too, shed tears.
The covered bodies lay on planking.
At the school, a crowd remained throughout the night.
The neighborhood lay under a blanket of grief.
Bells in many Catholic churches tolled in mourning.
Perhaps all of the dead - 87 children and three nuns - may be buried the same day, possibly Friday.
The 1,000 seat Our Lady of the Angels Church will not be able to handle the services - other churches will have to help bury the dead.