OLAFire Logo
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)
Memories stay forever - Our Lady of Angels fire survivor
By Bob Wiedric.
FOR REV. John Kobus of Visitation Catholic Church.
Thursday is an anniversary of sorrow. On this date 25 years ago, he was a 7-year-old 2d-grader in Our Lady of the Angels School in the Austin neighborhood.
It was the day on which 92 children and three nuns perished in a blazing inferno that within minutes transformed the school, packed with 1,200 pupils, into a charnel house.
Father Kobus' older brother, Milton, now an educator, was five years older and in the 7th grade. The brothers miraculously escaped injury, while more than a hundred surviving classmates suffered burns.
“We smelled smoke,” Father Kobus recalled. “We heard pupils hanging out of windows upstairs crying for help. “I was a very scared little boy. I ran out a door into the street. Shortly after that, kids started jumping from the windows. The children started panicking.
“MEN ON THE STREET were trying to break the children's falls with their arms and their bodies. Some children who had escaped ran back into the building to find their brothers or sisters.
“The firemen did a spectacular job. But the building was so old. And there weren't enough ladders.
“Out on the street, as the crowds gathered, some of the parents were hysterical. Many of the pupils were children of Italian immigrants. They spoke only a little English. And their parents spoke little English at all.
“I remember some things vividly, some not so vividly—all the confusion on the streets, the cries and the screaming. I stayed until I saw my brother was safe and our grandfather came to find us.”
The origin of the fire was never proved, but most investigators came to believe that it was started by a disturbed young pupil who confessed to the arson but later recanted his story.
LESS THAN TWO years after the blaze, a phoenix of concrete, glass and steel rose from the ashes at 909 N. Avers Ave. A new school building was erected as a monument to the dead and to those who had battled to save lives at the risk of their own.
A now-retired firefighter, Walter Roman, was at the wheel of Truck 35, a hook and ladder unit that was among the first fire companies to arrive at the blaze. His longtime buddy Willard Martens was the tiller man, in charge of guiding the long and cumbersome trailer through the narrow residential streets.
“We didn't know it was a school fire when we left our quarters at 1713 N. Springfield Ave.,” Roman recalled. “It took us less than a minute to get there. We were the best team in town. Thank God, we had only five traffic lights and they were all green. I never took my foot off the accelerator.
“WE WHEELED UP to the curb. Martens and I put up a ladder to the second floor. That was a 50-foot ladder that usually takes six men to put up in two sections. We did it by ourselves.
“I got my foot inside the window. The building was billowing black smoke. I could see the kids milling around. I yelled, 'Over here, over here!' I must nave gotten 35 or 40 kids out of there, just pushing them onto the ladder as I grabbed for another one.
“Once that room emptied, we grabbed the net and caught other kids. Some children missed other nets. But none missed ours. It was after midnight before we left. But the memories stay forever.”
This reporter also was among the first to arrive at the scene.
IN ONE ROOM, the bodies of six children lay crumpled against a wall. The charred body of their teacher, a nun, was buried by debris.
In a room nearby, a porcelain figure of the Virgin Mary stood on a bookcase, looking out over desks on which pupils had been working on an arithmetic problem when super-heated gasses exploded from the ceiling. The papers never would be graded. Teacher and pupils were dead.
(Article contributed by Sally Konley)