Chicago, IL Our Lady of the Angels School Fire, Dec 1958 - Cause Unknown

SCHOOL  FIRE  CAUSE  UNKNOWN;  90  DEAD
 
Boys Who Emptied Trash In Basement Questioned
 
CHICAGO - (UPI) - Police sought to learn today whether arson or accident started a fire which killed 87 children and three nuns in a Roman Catholic school Monday.
Authorities questioned two 13-year-old boys who carried trash from classrooms to rubbish bins near a basement stairwell where the tragic fire is believed to have started.
Deputy Chief of Detectives  FRANK  PAPE  said police planned to question other youngsters who were assigned to carry trash to the bins at Our Lady of Angels grade school.
He said the two boys,  DANIEL  O'SHAY  and  PATRICK  MACHAJ, told of being in the basement with a third boy before the blaze broke out less that a half hour before classes were to be dismissed at 3 p. m.
"It would seem to me that some youngster was smoking down there and slipped the cigaret[sic] away when he thought he heard someone coming,"  PAPE said.  However, he emphasized that neither  O'SHAY  nor  MACHAJ  was under suspicion.
"At the present time the origin of the fire is still undetermined,"  PAPE  continued.  He said it didn't "make sense that a child would set the fire deliberately" and then return to his classroom.
The flash fire trapped and killed 53 little girls, 34 boys and three nuns.  The children ranged in age from 9 to 15..
Dozens of them suffocated.  One entire class of 24 was found dead in their desk seats.  They apparently obeyed the teacher's order to stay in their places.
Other children were burned to death.  Some were killed when they leaped from the upper floor of the two-story building. It had only one outside fire escape in the rear.
Nearly 100 children were injured, four so critically they were expected to die.
Heroic nuns and men who dashed into the burning building from the street helped save most of the 1,300 children in the school.  Firemen carried others down ladders from upper floors.
A crowd of 10,000, many of them hysterical parents, swarmed around the burning building.  They had to be restrained by police cordons.
It was the worst school fire in Chicago's history and the city's most tragic blaze since the Iroquois theater fire killed 575 persons in 1903.  It was the nation's worst school fire since 294 were killed in an explosion at New London, Tex., in March 1937.
The school, formerly a church, is located in Chicago's teeming West Side in a neighborhood made up largely of working people of Italian, German and Irish descent.
In recent weeks, a number of Chicago schools have had bomb threats and scares, tied in with Negro - white integration.  There were no Negro students in Our Lady of the Angels.
Anguished parents rushed from the school to hospitals and, finaly[sic], to the Cook County Morgue in search of their children.  They filed past rows of hastily erected benches in the morgue basement, looking with horror at the charred, blanket-covered bodies.
 
SCHOOL FIRE CAUSE UNKNOWN; 90 DEAD Boys Who Emptied Trash In Basement Questioned CHICAGO - (UPI) - Police sought to learn today whether arson or accident started a fire which killed 87 children and three nuns in a Roman Catholic school Monday. Authorities questioned two 13-year-old boys who carried trash from classrooms to rubbish bins near a basement stairwell where the tragic fire is believed to have started. Deputy Chief of Detectives FRANK PAPE said police planned to question other youngsters who were assigned to carry trash to the bins at Our Lady of Angels grade school. He said the two boys, DANIEL O'SHAY and PATRICK MACHAJ, told of being in the basement with a third boy before the blaze broke out less that a half hour before classes were to be dismissed at 3 p. m. "It would seem to me that some youngster was smoking down there and slipped the cigaret[sic] away when he thought he heard someone coming," PAPE said. However, he emphasized that neither O'SHAY nor MACHAJ was under suspicion. "At the present time the origin of the fire is still undetermined," PAPE continued. He said it didn't "make sense that a child would set the fire deliberately" and then return to his classroom. The flash fire trapped and killed 53 little girls, 34 boys and three nuns. The children ranged in age from 9 to 15. Dozens of them suffocated. One entire class of 24 was found dead in their desk seats. They apparently obeyed the teacher's order to stay in their places. Other children were burned to death. Some were killed when they leaped from the upper floor of the two-story building. It had only one outside fire escape in the rear. Nearly 100 children were injured, four so critically they were expected to die. Heroic nuns and men who dashed into the burning building from the street helped save most of the 1,300 children in the school. Firemen carried others down ladders from upper floors.
 
A crowd of 10,000, many of them hysterical parents, swarmed around the burning building. They had to be restrained by police cordons. It was the worst school fire in Chicago's history and the city's most tragic blaze since the Iroquois theater fire killed 575 persons in 1903. It was the nation's worst school fire since 294 were killed in an explosion at New London, Tex., in March 1937. The school, formerly a church, is located in Chicago's teeming West Side in a neighborhood made up largely of working people of Italian, German and Irish descent. In recent weeks, a number of Chicago schools have had bomb threats and scares, tied in with Negro - white integration. There were no Negro students in Our Lady of the Angels. Anguished parents rushed from the school to hospitals and, finaly[sic], to the Cook County Morgue in search of their children. They filed past rows of hastily erected benches in the morgue basement, looking with horror at the charred, blanket-covered bodies. For many the effort was futile. Some bodies were burned beyond recognition. Coroner WALTER McCARRON said he would impanel a "blue ribbon jury" today to investigate the cause. Fire Commissioner ROBERT QUIN ordered an investigation by arson experts. QUINN said the fire broke out in the lower part of the rear stairwell in the northwest corner of the U-shaped school. Dense smoke indicating burning oil, roled[sic] through the building. There were reports the fire was preceded by an explosion but the reports could not be confirmed. QUINN said the speed with which the flames flashed through the building prevented the children from fleeing through the six exits. QUINN said, "they just couldn't get out into the corridor to go downstairs." The school had been inspected by the Fire Department only a week ago and its safety precautions and equipment pronounced satisfactory. Mothers in the crowd fainted as they saw children jump from the second-story windows and crumple on the ground below. The jam hampered the efforts of ambulances and fire equipment responding to the five-alarm blaze. Among the first to reach the scene were the Most Rev. ALBERT G. MEYER, newly appointed of Chicago, and Mayor RICHARD J. DALEY. The mayor called the fire "a terrible disaster for our city." At the morgue, ambulances were backed up 10 deep waiting to unload the small bodies. They were taken to the basement and parents, in groups of seven, were led down to attempt identification. "Oh my God, my boy, my boy," sobbed JOHN JAKOWSKI, SR., as an attendant lifted a sheet from a charged[sic] body. The fire had its share of heroes who dashed into the holocaust to save children petrified with fear. MAX SPACHURA who lives across an alley from the school and has two children there, ran to the building and caught or broke the fall of 12 children who jumped from windows. The he saw the face of his own son, MARK, 9, at a window. "Jump, jump, MARK," he shouted. "I'll catch you." The boy could not move. His face disapeared[sic]. His body was found later. A nun teaching the seventh grade led her class out into the second floor corridor, some of the children holding onto her skirt. "But they were afraid to go down the stairs," she said. "I carried down six and went back up for more. A couple wouldn't go down and I rolled them down the stairs. I rolled them down even though they screamed." Three of the nuns of the Order of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary died with their students. Others formed chains, with children holding onto each other's shirts and dresses to lead them to safety. The fire broke out at 3:42 p. m. e. s. t. There were 400 more children in an addition to the building which was not affected. The first indication of the blaze was black smoke seeping under classroom doors. Scores of children clambered to second floor window sills and jumped or were pushed to the ground. Firemen sent up ladders and spread nets. A number of children jumped and missed. Bystanders and firemen tried to catch the children, some with their clothing and hair aflame, as they leaped. ED KLOCK, 74, suffered a stroke and was hospitalized. The fire was controlled at 4:19 p. m. The Coshocton Tribune Ohio 1958-12-02
For many the effort was futile.  Some bodies were burned beyond recognition.
Coroner  WALTER  McCARRON said he would impanel a "blue ribbon jury" today to investigate the cause.  Fire Commissioner  ROBERT  QUIN  ordered  an investigation by arson experts.
QUINN said the fire broke out in the lower part of the rear stairwell in the northwest corner of the U-shaped school.  Dense smoke indicating burning oil, roled[sic] through the building.  There were reports the fire was preceded by an explosion but the reports could not be confirmed.
QUINN  said the speed with which the flames flashed through the building prevented the children from fleeing through the six exits.
QUINN said, "they just couldn't get out into the corridor to go downstairs."
The school had been inspected by the Fire Department only a week ago and its safety precautions and equipment pronounced satisfactory.
Mothers in the crowd fainted as they saw children jump from the second-story windows and crumple on the ground below.  The jam hampered the efforts of ambulances and fire equipment responding to the five-alarm blaze.
Among the first to reach the scene were the Most Rev.  ALBERT  G.  MEYER, newly appointed of Chicago, and Mayor  RICHARD  J.  DALEY.  The mayor called the fire "a terrible disaster for our city."
At the morgue, ambulances were backed up 10 deep waiting to unload the small bodies.  They were taken to the basement and parents, in groups of seven, were led down to attempt identification.
"Oh my God, my boy, my boy,"  sobbed  JOHN  JAKOWSKI,  SR., as an attendant lifted a sheet from a charged[sic] body.
The fire had its share of heroes who dashed into the holocaust to save children petrified with fear.
MAX  SPACHURA  who lives across an alley from the school and has two children there, ran to the building and caught or broke the fall of 12 children who jumped from windows.  The he saw the face of his own son, MARK, 9, at a window.
"Jump, jump,  MARK," he shouted.  "I'll catch you."
The boy could not move.  His face disapeared[sic].  His body was found later.
A nun teaching the seventh grade led her class out into the second floor corridor, some of the children holding onto her skirt.
"But they were afraid to go down the stairs," she said.  "I carried down six and went back up for more.  A couple wouldn't go down and I rolled them down the stairs.  I rolled them down even though they screamed."
Three of the nuns of the Order of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary died with their students.  Others formed chains, with children holding onto each other's shirts and dresses to lead them to safety.
The fire broke out at 3:42 p. m. e. s. t.  There were 400 more children in an addition to the building which was not affected.  The first indication of the blaze was black smoke seeping under classroom doors.
Scores of children clambered to second floor window sills and jumped or were pushed to the ground.
Firemen sent up ladders and spread nets.  A number of children jumped and missed.
Bystanders and firemen tried to catch the children, some with their clothing and hair aflame, as they leaped.  ED  KLOCK,  74,  suffered a stroke and was hospitalized.
The fire was controlled at 4:19 p. m.
 
The Coshocton Tribune Ohio  1958-12-02 

Comments

I have researched this fire

I have researched this fire for many years. The 90 person killed figure is not correct. 92 students and 3 nuns died in the fire. Some died in hospital later. It is the third worst fire in Chicago history. The fire department is creditd with saving about 200 students within a half hour which is a record. Police questioned many students about the fire. A boy confessed to starting the fire in 1962 but than recanted the confession. No one was ever charged with the arson but it is accepted that it was arson. The boy died in 2004 after having lived a troubled life which included suspected arson in cicero,ill. and a stay in a school for troubled youth in wisconsin as well as serving in vietnam. May god forgive him. The school had over 1200 students. It changed fire safety forever. RIP Angels.