Our Lady of the Angels School Fire

Our Lady of the Angels School Fire

The Our Lady of the Angels School Fire broke out shortly before classes were to be dismissed on December 1, 1958, at the foot of a stairway in the Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago, Illinois. The elementary and middle school was operated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. A total of 92 pupils and 3 nuns lost their lives when smoke, heat, and fire cut off their normal means of escape through corridors and stairways. Many perished while jumping from second-floor windows (which were as high as a third floor would be on level ground). Another 100 were seriously injured.

The disaster was the lead headline story in American, Canadian, and European newspapers. Pope John XXIII sent his condolences from the Vatican in Rome. The severity of the fire shocked the nation and surprised educational administrators of both public and private schools. The disaster led to major improvements in standards for school design and fire safety codes.

The fire has been chronicled in two books and an Emmy-winning television documentary, "Angels Too Soon", produced by WTTW Channel 11 Chicago. The History Channel also featured the disaster in the television documentary "Hellfire", which was an episode in the cable network's "Wrath of God" series.

The building prior to fire

Our Lady of the Angels was an elementary school comprising kindergarten plus eight grades. It was located at 909 North Avers Avenue in the Humboldt Park area on the West Side of Chicago, at the intersection of West Iowa Street and North Avers Avenue (Some sources describe the school as "in Austin"). [" [http://www.olafire.com/NewsStoriesAll.asp#MemoriesStay Memories stay forever - Our Lady of Angels fire survivor] ," hosted by "Our Lady of the Angels (OLA) School Fire, December 1, 1958"] The school was located in a mostly Italian-American middle class community; the community held several second and third generation immigrant groups, including Italian Americans, Polish Americans, Irish Americans, and German Americans. Most members of the community were Roman Catholic.

The facility was part of a large Roman Catholic parish which also consisted of a church, a rectory which was adjacent to the church, a convent of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary which was across the street from the school on Iowa Street and two buildings on Hamlin Avenue which housed kindergarten and first grade classes. The school was the educational home to approximately 1,600 students. The north wing was a two-story structure built in 1910, but remodeled several times later; the building originally consisted of a first-floor church and a second-floor school. The entire building became a school when a newer church facility opened in 1939. [" [http://www.olafire.com/NewsStoriesAll.asp#90perish 90 PERISH IN CHICAGO SCHOOL FIRE; 3 NUNS ARE VICTIMS; SCORES HURT; PUPILS LEAP OUT WINDOWS IN PANIC] ," hosted by "Our Lady of the Angels (OLA) School Fire, December 1, 1958"] A south wing dating from 1939 was connected in 1951 by an annex to the north wing. The two original buildings and the annex formed a U-shape, with a narrow fenced courtyard between.

The school legally complied with municipal and state fire codes of 1958, and was generally clean and well-maintained. Those codes did not address hazards present in the building which would not be tolerated today given a modern understanding of fire safety. Each classroom door had a glass transom above it, which provided ventilation into the corridor and also permitted flames and smoke to enter once heat broke the glass. The school had one fire escape. The building had no automatic fire alarm, no rate-of-rise heat detectors, no direct alarm connection to the fire department, no fire-resistant stairwells, and no heavy-duty fire doors from the stairwells to the second floor corridor. At the time, fire sprinklers were primarily found in factories or in newer schools, and the modern smoke detector had not yet become commercially available.

In keeping with city fire codes, the building had a brick exterior (to prevent fires from spreading from building-to-building as in the great fire of 1871). Its interior was made almost entirely of combustible wooden materials -- stairs, walls, floors, doors, and roof. Moreover, the floors had been coated many times with flammable petroleum-based waxes. The building also possessed acoustical tile ceilings. There were two unmarked fire alarm switches in the entire school, and they were in the south wing. There were four fire extinguishers in the north wing, each mounted seven feet off the floor, out of reach for many adults and virtually all of the children. The single fire escape was near one end of the north wing, but to reach it required passing through the main corridor, which in this case rapidly became filled with suffocating smoke and superheated gases. Students hung their flammable winter coats on hooks in the hallway, rather than in metal lockers. There were no limits to the numbers of children who could be educated in a single classroom, and this number sometimes reached as many as 64 students. The school did not have a fire alarm box outside on the sidewalk. With its 12-foot ceilings and an "English-style" basement that extended partially above ground level, the school's second floor windows were 25 feet above the ground, making jumping from the second floor risky.

The Fire

Room 211

Room 211, housing Sister Mary Helaine O'Neill's 8th grade class, had 24 deaths out of the 48 students inside at the time of the fire. Normally 63 students occupied the room; at the time, 13 boys helped with a clothing drive at the church and 2 male students stayed away from the school due to illness. The existence of a picket fence blocked firefighters and hampered the rescue of the middle schoolers in 211. The firefighters could not save all of the students before the room flashed, dooming the remaining students. The circumstances of the rescue of O'Neill, who was hospitalized for burns after the incident, are not known.

tudents in Room 211

Room 212

Room 212, housing Sister Mary Clare Therese Champagne's 5th grade class, had 26 deaths out of the 55 students. The deaths all were due to smoke inhalation. Champagne also died.

taff in Room 212

* Sister Mary Clare Therese Champagne (born Eloise Champagne) (27)

tudents in Room 212

Fire in popular culture

Some scenes from the 2003 movie "Finding John Christmas" are based on the OLA fire. [" [http://www.cbs.com/specials/finding_john_christmas/comm_ask_valerie.shtml Ask Valerie] ," "CBS"]

Other U.S. school disasters

The fire at Our Lady of the Angels School was the third highest death toll from a disaster in an American school building, with 95 lives lost. The greatest school disaster, the New London School explosion, occurred March 18, 1937, when at least 298 died in a natural gas explosion in New London, Texas. The other major school disaster claimed 175 lives in the Collinwood School Fire in what is now Cleveland, Ohio, on March 4, 1908.

The Tri-State Tornado of March 18, 1925, killed 69 students in several school buildings across three Midwest states; the highest single toll was the school in De Soto, Illinois, where 33 children perished as walls collapsed during the tornado.

The school explosion in Bath, Michigan on May 18, 1927 killed 38 students, three teachers, and three others after the mentally deranged school board treasurer wired dynamite under the school building, causing the explosion and killing himself.

ee also

*Collinwood School Fire
*James Raymond
*Jonathan Cain

Further reading

*"To Sleep with the Angels", by David Cowan and John Kuenster, Chicago, IL: Ivan R. Dee Publisher, 1996. ISBN 1-56663-102-5. Available from Publisher: Ivan R. Dee, Inc., 1332 North Halsted Street, Chicago, IL 60622.

*"The Fire That Will Not Die", by Michele McBride. Palm Springs, CA: ETC Publications, 1979. ISBN 0-88280-066-3 (original), ISBN 0-88280-152-X (reissue). Available from ETC Publications $19.95 + $4.00 S&H (California residents add $1.55 sales tax) at 700 East Vereda Sur, Palm Springs, CA 92262.


External links

* [http://www.olafire.com Official Website of the Our Lady of the Angels School Fire and OLA community]
* " [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,810717-1,00.html The Chicago School Fire] ," "Time"
* [http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4155/is_20030901/ai_n12513474 Article about OLA website and its impact on the survivors of OLA]
* [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4196/is_20010506/ai_n10699325 Saved by an angel: Man strives to say `thanks']
* [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=8839] Findagrave.com entry about the disaster

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Игры ⚽ Поможем написать курсовую

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Our Lady of the Angels School fire — Monument at Queen of Heaven Cemetery The Our Lady of the Angels School Fire broke out shortly before classes were to be dismissed on December 1, 1958, at the foot of a stairway in the Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago, Illinois. The… …   Wikipedia

  • Our Lady of the Angels School Fire — 41° 53′ 51″ N 87° 43′ 20″ W / 41.8975, 87.7221 …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Our Lady of the Angels School (Illinois) — Our Lady of the Angels School was a Roman Catholic elementary and middle school located in the Humboldt Park section of Chicago, Illinois, United States. Some sources describe the school as in Austin .[1] The school was operated by the Roman… …   Wikipedia

  • Our Lady of Caysasay — The Shrine Our Lady of Caysasay ( …   Wikipedia

  • Our Lady of Prompt Succor — Mosaic of Our Lady of Prompt Succor. Old Ursulines Convent complex, French Quarter, New Orleans. Our Lady of Prompt Succor is a religious title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, by the Roman Catholic Church. It refers to a… …   Wikipedia

  • Golden Age Nursing Home Fire — The Golden Age Nursing Home Fire took place in the pre dawn hours of November 23, 1963 near Fitchville, Ohio, USA, killing 63 elderly people. The disaster has largely been forgotten since it came in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of …   Wikipedia

  • Hamlet chicken processing plant fire — The Hamlet chicken processing plant fire was an industrial disaster that took place at the Imperial Foods chicken processing plant in Hamlet, North Carolina, USA on September 3, 1991, after a failure in a faulty modification to a hydraulic line.… …   Wikipedia

  • New London School explosion — 1937 newsreel The New London School explosion occurred on March 18, 1937, when a natural gas leak caused an explosion, destroying the London School of New London, Texas,[1] a community in Rusk County previously known as London . The disaster… …   Wikipedia

  • The Benedictine Order —     The Benedictine Order     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► The Benedictine Order     The Benedictine Order comprises monks living under the Rule of St. Benedict, and commonly known as black monks . The order will be considered in this article under… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • The Blessed Virgin Mary —     The Blessed Virgin Mary     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► The Blessed Virgin Mary     The Blessed Virgin Mary is the mother of Jesus Christ, the mother of God.     In general, the theology and history of Mary the Mother of God follow the… …   Catholic encyclopedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”