Effingham, IL St. Anthony's Hospital Fire, Apr 1949
OFFICIAL HOSPITAL DEATH TOLL ESTIMATED AT 66.
FRESH VARNISH, PAINT ARE BLAMED FOR FEEDING FIRE.
53 Bodies Recovered, Eight Are Still Buried In Basement.
Effingham, Ill., (UP) -- The death toll in the St. Anthony's hospital fire, which investigators believed may have been fed by fresh paint and varnish, was set at 66 today by the Catholic Chancery office.
The known dead totaled 58, including 53 bodies recovered from the debris, and five persons who died of injuries outside the hospital.
According to chancery estimates there were eight bodies still buried in the basement of the blackened shell of the three-story brick building.
The latest person to die of injuries, the chancery said, was MRS. LOUIS MASCHER, who died at Louisville, Ill. Earlier, the chancery had announced that 64 or 65 persons were dead. The office said a complete re-check established the figure at 65, which, with MRS. MASCHER'S death, made the total 66.
Thirty-six hours after the fire flashed up a laundry chute and swept through the building, firemen still were digging through the debris in search for other bodies.
Firechief FRANK WILKINS said the fireman had only one more pile of rubble to explore.
Gov. ADLAI STEVENSON and aides arrived by plane from Springfield today and made a personal inspection of the ruins. He and public health officials discussed plans for rebuilding the hospital.
State and local investigations of the fire were underway, but the origin had not yet been determined.
State fire Marshal PAT KELLY and other public safety officials deemed a report that they were investigating a tip from the Federal Bureau of Investigation that a firebug might have started the fire. KELLY said his investigation had turned up nothing "to indicate any firebug at work there."
The first funeral, for a woman victim, was scheduled for this afternoon. A group funeral of four of the victims was expected to be held tomorrow.
The Chancery earlier had denied a report that the death toll would reach 80.
The Rev. JOHN J. GOFF, pastor of St. Anthony's church connected with the hospital, said: "I'm sure there aren't 80 dead."
Mayor H. B. RINEHART and ARCH JONES, American Red Cross representative agreed. The Red Cross figured there were 61 fatalities, based on a lower estimate of the number of persons in the hospital when the fire broke out.
"The figure is between 60 and 65," Mayor RINEHART said. "It definitely will not exceed 65."
Gov. ADLAI STEVENSON flew from Springfield today to check on relief work and to make sure that "all assistance possible" was being rendered.
State Fire Marshal PAT KELLY, who conducted a preliminary investigation yesterday, said there was "evidence that the hospital had been freshly painted." He said there was inconclusive evidence that paints and varnish had been stored in the basement, where the fire started.
The flames leaped upward said, and turned the haven of said, and turned the Haven of mercy into a blazing death trap before bedridden patients on the upper floors could make their escape.
"If the fire began in the basement with the doors in the corridors thrown open and the windows open," KELLY said. "A flash fire of this type could happen in five or 10 minutes."
KELLY said a thorough investigation would be made "after the confusion and hysteria have abated."
He said persons closely connected with the fire were too stunned to give coherent accounts.
KELLY returned to the State Capital at Springfield and left Deputy A. P. APPAITIS here to continue the investigation.
Edwardsville Intelligencer Illinois 1949-04-06
On April 5, 1949, St. Anthony's hospital caught fire and burned to the ground, killing 74 people. As a result, fire codes nationwide were improved. Due to extensive media coverage, including a "Life Magazine" cover story, donations for rebuilding the hospital came from all 48 states and several foreign countries. - wikipedia.org