Chicago, IL LaSalle Hotel Fire and Panic, June 1946
As firemen fought their way up from floor to floor the death toll mounted. Bodies of suffocated victims lay in the corridors and rooms.
At least 200 persons were injured or overcome by smoke. Among them were 30 firemen. One fireman was killed.
The hotel, one of the city's largest, has 1,000 rooms, almost all of which were occupied when the fire started at about 11:30 p.m. (CST) last night. Near the theater and nightclub district, the hotel has been a principal stopping place for travelers since it was built in 1909.
The bodies of an unidentified mother and her child clutched in her arms were found on the roof of a three-story section of the building. She apparently had jumped from a higher window.
Thousands of spectators -- late theater goers and amusement seekers -- crowded the streets surrounding the hotel. Dense smoke poured from upstairs windows as firemen erected their tallest ladders and poured streams of water into the building.
Hotel guests leaned from windows, screaming for help. One man, fully clothed and with his suitcase packed, tried to climb out on a ledge from the third floor window of his room.
Lobby Burned Out.
Frightened guests wandered through the streets and mingled with the crowd of bystanders. Later they were taken to another hotel where emergency accommodations were made.
An emergency first aid station and morgue was set up in the city hall nearby.
The fire burned out the lobby. Damage from both smoke and flames extended upward several floors. Sparks were seen showering from the roof and it was believed flames had travelled upward through an elevator shaft.
Many of the victims died of asphyxiation as dense smoke poured through halls and into rooms. Fire Commissioner CORRIGAN said those who died in leaps from windows "would have been all right if they had stayed in their rooms."
Blind Woman Is Calm.
CORRIGAN estimated the damage at $100,000 and said it was the "worst hotel fire in the city's history." Fifty fire engines answered a 5-11 alarm, and their sirens could be heard wailing throughout the entire downtown district.
One fireman, Battalion Chief EUGENE FREEMAN, died of asphyxiation.
Perhaps the calmest person in the tragedy was a blind woman who was led down a fire escape by her seeing eye dog. The woman clutched the harness firmly and moved down slowly, step by step. Crowds cheered as they reached the street.
Fire Commissioner CORRIGAN said he could not understand "how it spread so fast."
"This is a fire proof hotel, one of the most modern in the country," he said. "Our investigation is starting at once and will continue until we find out everything there is to be known."
Firemen said the heaviest concentration of flames was on the 4th, 5th and 6th floors, especially near the south, or Madison St., side of the building. Some flames shot even higher in one or two sections of the hotel and smoke filled the upper floors.
The Daily Register Harrisburg Illinois 1946-06-05