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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)
How Fireman Feels Carrying Out Victims
By Norman Glubo (Chicago American Newspaper)
What does a fireman think about as he goes about the grim task of recovering bodies from a burning school.
If he is a father himself his thoughts are probably the same as those of Richard Scheidt, who says:
“I thought of my own four children at home and all the times I could have been nicer to them.
“I thought about what I hope they will become some day.
“And I tried to put myself in the place of the parents of the children I was carrying out. I knew many of them were down in the street below the second floor classroom I was working in.
“I wondered how anyone could tell them that their children didn't escape.”
Pictured in Rescue
Scheidt, who was pictured carrying an unconscious boy from the Our Lady of the Angels School fire on page 1 of yesterday's CHICAGO AMERICAN, is typical of the 250 firemen who fought the blaze that claimed 90 lives Monday.
Scheidt is a 30-year-old veteran of seven years in the fire department. He lives with his wife Nancy and their three sons and a daughter in a six-room cottage at 1345 W. 97th st.
His $5,400-a-year salary, a little less than $104 a week, doesn't begin to compensate for the tremendous risks he takes. He drives a 1953 Chevrolet and never has been able to afford a vacation.
But there are other compensations besides money. Says the slim, balding six-footer.
“It's a good position in life, even if you are just a fireman.
“When I'm in my uniform I have the respect of the people. It's a nice feeling to know you're doing something people are grateful to you for.
“I've never heard an angry word about a fireman.”
Scheidt is a member of Rescue Squad 1, stationed at 209 N. Dearborn st.
On 'Dizzy Wagon'
Life on a rescue squad, nicknamed the “dizzy wagon” because its members are kept so busy, is the most hectic in the fire department.
There are only 13 squads to cover the entire city and each is manned by half a dozen young, vigorous volunteers.
Where an engine or a truck company may respond to an average of only one alarm each 24 hours, rescue squads are called out as often as 10 or 15 or even 20 times.
Monday started out as a typical day in the Scheidt household.
Up to 6 a.m., Scheidt had coffee and toast with his pretty brown-haired wife.
At 7 a.m. he and Nancy got the kids out of bed to kiss them goodby.
Richard, 8, is a third-grade pupil and Nancy, 6, is in first grade at St. Margaret of Scotland Parochial School. The others are Thomas, 4, and Timothy, who will be 2 years old the day after Christmas.
Scheidt drove to the Loop, parked his car across the street from the firehouse and reported in for 8 a.m. roll call.
Reports for Roll Call
Thirty-five minutes later the squad reported to a fire at 229 Hill st., got back to the station at 9:05 and was out again at 9:10 on an inhalator call at 55 W. Van Buren st.
Back in the station by 9:27 a.m. Scheidt and his buddies went through their regular Monday morning drill, testing their gas masks and cutting torches.
After lunch the day was quiet until 2:42 p.m. when the first alarm from the school came in.
Seated in an easy chair in his living room last night, his red-haired son Timothy in his lap, Scheidt recalled.
“We had no idea it was a school on fire. It was out of our territory and we didn't think much about it until the radio operator called all available ambulances and police wagons to the scene.
“Then we knew someone was trapped or injured. We thought it must be a factory. We get them all the time. It never occurred to us that a school could go like that.”
Call to Iowa Street
At exactly 3:09 p.m. the loudspeaker in the firehouse called for Squad 1 to proceed to 3800 Iowa st. Continued Scheidt.
“One of our guys who lives on the West Side told us it must be the Our Lady of the Angels School. But we tried to put it out of our minds And we still thought it must be a factory across the street, or something.”
As the red doors to the station swung open, Scheidt leaped to his post at the rear of the truck.
By the time the driver turned north into Dearborn street Scheidt had slipped on his rubber fire coat. As the truck rumbled across the bridge over the Chicago River, Scheidt yanked off his shoes, and pulled on his boots.
Squad 1 took Dearborn street to Chicago avenue, then headed west to Hamlin avenue. Recalls. Scheidt.
“It was a very clear day. It wasn't at all uncomfortable.”
Smoke from Window
As Scheidt's squad pulled up a block from the fire scene at about 3:18 p.m. the men saw smoke pouring from the school building. Says Scheidt: “I grabbed my ax and pike pole and ran after our captain, Harry Whedon, to the school.
“As we got close I saw flames still shooting out of the northwest windows on the second floor and I knew we were in for some rescue work.”
Scheidt recalls that it didn't look like much of a fire from the outside. He said:
“If it hadn't been for the children inside it probably wouldn't have been more than a box alarm with maybe half a dozen pieces of equipment.”
Scheidt's squad reported to Chief Fire Marshal Raymond Daley who ordered them to the second floor to get into the school rooms.
As Scheidt and his buddies climbed a stairway on the opposite side of the building from the flames, they found the corridor already crowded with firemen operating hose lines.
Trip After Trip
Entering the first classroom, Scheidt was greeted by a scene that turned an ordinary day into one he will never forget. Said Scheidt.
“There wasn't much sign of fire in the room at all. But the water was shin deep.
“Then up at the far end of the room I saw about a dozen children all huddled together. And the nun was lying over the children as if she was trying to protect them. Nobody was burned.
“They had all suffocated.”
Scheidt made trip after trip downstairs to carry the lifeless forms to waiting ambulances.
When everyone was removed from the first room, he said, his squad broke through the wall to the next room where they found about 20 bodies huddled near the windows. The youngsters had been asphyxiated before they could leap to safety.
When the second room was cleared, Scheidt's men moved on to a third room where they removed 20 more bodies. Said Scheidt: “You know, after a while on the fire department you think you have seen the worst.
“I worked on the Reliance Hotel fire when five firemen were killed. I was at the Barton Hotel fire on Skid Row when 29 men were killed.
“I was out at the “L” wreck at Wilson avenue a couple of years ago and I thought nothing could be worse.
“But I've never seen anything like that school fire. All those children up there and all those parents outside hoping and praying that their kids weren't in there.
“It wasn't like the usual crowd. There was no screaming or shouting. Everyone seemed to be in a state of shock. They couldn't even move.
“How did I feel? It's hard to put it into words. I was just numbed.”
Back to Station
When the last body was removed from the charred building, Scheidt's squad was sent back to its station where it logged in at 6:32 p.m.
At 7:50 p.m., the station record book shows, the squad was called to sweep water from a broken main in a store at 17 N. State st. But nobody remembers much about that.
An ex-Marine who followed three brothers on the fire department, Scheidt said he would be happy to see his three sons follow in his footsteps.
Said Scheidt: “It's a wonderful job. To me it is the greatest public service there is.”
“Echoes Nancy, her brown eyes gleaming.
“It's a good life. We'd be proud of them.”