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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)
Nightmare in the News
CHICAGO, Dec 15 - (Newsweek)- Probably no disaster in history has been reported with such sickening immediacy as Chicago's school fire last week (see page 31). Less than an hour after the first fire alarm was sounded the bulky impedimenta of radio and television - vidicon cameras, sound trucks, cables, and recorders - were on the scene and moving in close along with the usual small army of newspaper reporters and still photographers. Cameras immediately began focusing on the smoldering school building. A helicopter from WGN hovered overhead. Reporters talking into chest microphones recorded on tape the horrifying testimony of witnesses and survivors.
As the scene of the drama moved from street to hospital and morgue the lumbering equipment followed, flood-lighting corridors, peering through elbows and over shoulders to catch a glimpse of the grief of the victim's families. Coffins and stretchers were borne across the camera's paths. Nurses comforting bereaved parents walked in and out of camera range. A policeman announced through a megaphone the heart-rending details of the clothing on the unidentified dead, not only to the parents at the Cook County morgue but to the nation at large: “Blue velvet shoes, white bobby socks. About 10 or 11 years old. Black and white saddle shoes, medal and cross around her neck.”
At one of the seven hospitals receiving casualties a distraught nurse turned on a cameraman and told him to get out. He went without protest - “I know, I got three kids myself.” At the morgue, when a TV cameraman tried to move one victim's father aside to get a better angle on his wife's grief-stricken face, the man gently placed his hand over the camera lens and murmured, “Oh God, have a heart.”
'Help!': In the mass of detailed coverage (there were 42 program interruptions and news flashes about the holocaust, in both the U.S. and Canada, on CBS radio and TV alone*) the most painful fragment was undoubtedly the brief four-minute testimony of a 29-year-old candy-store proprietor whose shop was a few doors away from the school. Listeners to CBS's regular 6:30 radio news heard the thickly accented, emotion-charged voice of proprietor, Mrs. Barbara Glowacki, whose own 8-year-old daughter had escaped injury in the fire: “When I look up I see all the children. I see them looking out the window and scream - Most of the children, they know me by name, they usually come for candy - they call - 'Barb, Barb, please come and help!”.
“One by one they start to come down: I took them under the arms and I pull them all the side by our house there and I line them up. One was broken down so bad, the head twisted. I was afraid something had happened. I was afraid to touch. The others start whimpering” 'Come on, help me.' One I see the foot all twisted. Just say: 'My foot is so cold, come cover my foot' - and the skin was hanging down, burned - and the hair - it was just terrible. I tried to do as much as I could.
CBS reporter Hugh Hill, who had parked his tape recorder on the fender of an automobile in front of the charred building, thrust his mike into Mrs. Gowalki's trembling hands to get his tragic scoop. After interviewing other survivors, he went on to the hospital and morgue, piecing together the heartbreaking story. “At 2:30 a.m., I was still awake,” he recalled later. “I couldn't take my mind off this thing. Then I dozed off. I had nightmares.”
Two days later radio and TV were still at it. The cameras, tape recorders and sound trucks were at Chicago's Northwest Armory and suburban Queen of Heaven Cemetery to record the funeral of 23 of the fire's 90 victims and the graveside despair of the survivors.
One remote aftermath of the tragedy: Five pupils set fire to a frame classroom building at St. Martha's School in Sarasota, Fla. There were no casualties but the head of the school had an upsetting explanation: The children, she theorized, “probably tried to reproduce what they saw on television that night.”
* NBC, caught with two of its three cameramen out of town, and ABC, with no local camera crew, were off to a slow start in covering the fire.