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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)
One Family's Story
Ronnie Sarno's day began like many others.
Ronnie, 10, crawled out of bed in the back bedroom of the second floor apartment at 3804 Chicago av., about 7:35 a.m.
The floor was cold. Outside the sun was shining. The mercury stood at 19 degrees. It was the coldest school day since last Feb. 18.
Ronnie discovered that his brother, Billy, 13, who shared the back bedroom, had beaten him by five minutes in the daily scramble for the bath.
But Ronnie had a five-minute lead on his sister, Joanne.
After the usual splashing and snatching of towels, Ronnie and William donned long-sleeved shirts, ties, and dark slacks. Joanne put on white blouse and blue jumpers, regulation dress for pupils at Our Lady of the Angels School.
Their dad, Oscar, 43, a truck driver, was at the table for breakfast, unusual for a week day. He was taking a day off to see a doctor at Garfield Park Hospital at 11 a.m.
Mom was there, too, and, as usual, in charge. Joanne said the morning prayers.
She and Ronnie decided they wanted only tea for breakfast. Billy wanted nothing at all.
Ronnie left for school at 8:10. a.m. He had been instructed by the Sister teaching the fourth grade room on the second floor to come early to help distribute textbooks to the desks.
He wasn't early enough. When he arrived another boy already had done his job.
Billy left for the 8th grade class at 8:15 a.m., but Joanne in the fourth grade with Ronnie, waited until 8:25 a.m., then stopped next door at 3806 Chicago av. to call 7-year-old Dorothy Miceli and walk with her to school.
All were in school when the bell rang at 8:40 a.m. Five minutes later, when the fourth grade Sister led the morning prayers, Joanne was in her seat in the second row from the windows. Ronnie sat in his a couple of rows closer to the door.
The morning lessons were routine as far as Ronnie was concerned. He doesn't recall much about them. This is understandable in the light of later developments.
When the morning session ended, he was the first one home. Joanne then arrived, and finally Billy.
Mom—Catherine, 41, to the rest of the world—had soup and crackers, bologna sandwiches and milk ready for Joanne and Ronnie. For Billy there were his favorite peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Dad hadn't yet returned from his appointment at the hospital.
Joanne asked when she was scheduled to go to the dentist, and Mom told her 7 o'clock in the evening. Ronnie started back to school about noon, telling his mother.
“Goodbye, Mom—don't work too hard.”
Joanne and her mother left the apartment together. Mrs. Sarno was headed for her afternoon job as a typist. As she left, Billy, still inside, called.
“Bye—see you later!”.
In the afternoon session, the teacher gave Ronnie, Joanne and their classmates assignments in spelling and arithmetic. She then turned the class over to a lay teacher while she went to give religious instruction to another grade.
When the sister returned, the class reviewed the arithmetic lesson. She demonstrated problems on the blackboard and called on Ronnie a couple of times to recite.
The class was preparing to begin geography study when one of the hoys blurted out.
“Sister, I smell smoke!”.
Others did, too. They saw smoke creeping under the closed door. At that moment the fire bell rang. The sister opened the door, and swiftly slammed it shut as smoke billowed in.
She ordered the youngsters to go to the windows, and to pray. Then there was a lot of pushing and screaming and coughing. The sister opened a window and shouted for help. The youngsters opened the other windows. Everyone was shouting and screaming.
Ronnie and Joanne were within arm's reach at a window. The boy told his sister.
“I'm going to jump. Do you want to come?”.
As he went over the sill, he heard Joanne's voice.
“Don't jump! Don't jump, Ron!”.
Ronnie landed on his feet and then flopped over on his back. He got up and brushed himself off. Dorothy Miceli's mother came along, holding Dorothy by the hand. Mrs. Miceli had rushed frantically to the school and had found her daughter, who with her little classmates had marched out of their first floor room in routine fire drill order.
Through the turmoil and confusion, Mrs. Miceli led Dorothy and Ronnie, both without wraps, home through the cold. Ronnie's mother was still at work. His dad was at the school, searching for his children.
About 4 p.m., Mrs. Sarno rushed home, beside herself with fear. Ronnie was there. But there was no word of Joanne or Billy. Ronnie didn't want to bother his mother with his own troubles, but he thought his left leg hurt. He told her finally. She took him to Garfield Park Community Hospital. Attendants found a small burn which they treated. They could find no other injury resulting from his jump.
Back home, Sarno came in defeated in his search but still hopeful. Relatives came rushing in. One hurried off to the morgue.
There wasn't any supper, but no one missed it. Ronnie lay on a couch, covered with a blanket, occasionally weeping, surrounded by turmoil.
About 9:30 p.m., hopes soared when someone telephoned that Joanne's little purse had been found in the schoolyard.
Within minutes, the phone rang again. A relative at the morgue had definitely identified Joanne's body.
Sarno took his wife in his arms. Ronnie demanded.
“Daddy, what is it?”.
Sarno replied.
“Son, Joanne has gone to sleep.”
Ronnie shouted.
“You mean Joanne's dead — what about Billy?”.
And his father replied.
“We don't know yet, son.”
The Sarno—nine of them by now—knelt on the floor, weeping and praying. Ronnie knelt on the couch, his blanket still around him. His prayer was loudest of all.
The telephone bell broke in again. This time it was Billy's body that was identified. Ronnie sobbed himself into exhaustion. He whimpered.
“I don't want to go to school no more. I want Joanne and Billy.”
At last someone carried him back to his lonely bed in the back bedroom. Eventually he fell into a fitful sleep.
The parents, surrounded by solicitous relatives, sat together through the night, immersed in grief.
It was a day none of them will ever get over.