OLAFire Logo
Our Lady of the Angels (OLA) School Fire, December 1, 1958

Personal Experiences with Our Lady of the Angels School Fire

If you have a personal experience, recollection or opinion about the December 1, 1958 Our Lady of the Angels school fire, whether you were present at the fire or not, you can relate it here. Any story or information is welcome as long as it relates to Our Lady of the Angels school fire.
Click here to add your OLA fire experience.

Posted by: susan hall On: 7/8/2015 ID: 658
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
I recently read In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume. Her book chronicles three airplane crashes in 1951 and 1952 (all close to schools) that impacted and terrified the children of Elizabeth NJ. The Our Lady of Angels School fire immediately came to my mind. I'll never forget that day. It ranks with the day President Kennedy was shot in my memory.

Posted by: Roger Young On: 6/12/2015 ID: 657
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before Detroit Mi
I was seven years old and in the second grade at Emerson School in Detroit. I'm 64 now and still remember that tragic day as will as my teacher talking about it. My fear today now that it has been almost 57 years since that tragic day happened, is that the fire at OLA will be forgotten. The parents of those kids that perished are all dead and gone today as will as many brother and sisters of those kids are gone also. I pray as my generation passes away over the next 20 years the memory of that tragic day is not forgotten. I'm sure when those kids united in heaven with there families it must of been one happy day!

Posted by: David Siedlar On: 6/8/2015 ID: 656
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before Willow Springs, Illinois
In 1958 I was 9 years old and lived in the small southwestern Cook County village of Willow Springs. News about the tragedy quickly reached everyone back in those days of radio and black and white tv. Our neighbor then was the school maintenance man for our grade school. My memory of that time was our school had all its lights on, and the maintenance man, fire chief, principal, and school board members were conducting a thorough inspection of the school. Needless to say, our school also had a fire drill the next day. My prayers still go out to the victims and survivors of December 1, 1958.

Posted by: Eddie On: 4/30/2015 ID: 655
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before Blytheville, AR
I was in the fourth grade when the Our Lady of the Angels fire occurred. I attended Sudbury school in Blytheville, AR, and the school was extremely old and used coal for heat at that time. There were no sprinkler systems in the school, and I don't recall where the fire escapes were located. I also don't know if there were any fire alarms, and I don't recall ever having a fire drill before the Our Lady fire. However, soon after the fire, we started having fire drills often, and teachers and students were issued dog-tags that would be used for identification in the event of a fire. The dog-tags were the result of the difficulty in identifying some of the victims of the Our Lady fire, and it was mandatory that they be worn at school at all times.

Posted by: Minda On: 2/28/2015 ID: 654
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before
Hello, I was 6 years old when this happened, I remember coming home to find my Mother sobbing, she was watching the horror of this tragedy in TV.
I did not know what was going on I did not understand what was happening. I was more frightened by my Mom's hysteria. We never spoke of this but somehow I knew about all the children being told by the Nuns to put their heads down and pray. Is this true? Did I picture this in my mind ? Today I am 63 and live in Helena, Montana if you believe me or not I have had some contact with the Spirit world all positive and I do believe thru the thin veil between us that all is well, the people we love are happy and they want us to be happy not to suffer and grieve they are still around us in Angel form.

Posted by: leslie skarka mashmann On: 1/20/2015 ID: 653
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before eastport, long island, new york
when i was a very young child, i developed a terrible fear of fire. i had nightmare of burning and screams, was terrified of any burning from a lit match to an actual fire. i was afraid of the smell of smoke and the fire alarms that rang from the fire house in our little town. i was taken to the doctor, but one seemed to know where this fear had come from. it lasted for about two years then slowly went away. i continued to have the fear, but i was over the screaming, run away terror that was going on when i was younger. then one day, my mother remembered that she had taken me away from the television where i had been sitting by a fire that was on the news. she said that she remembered that i kept trying to watch. it was about "some school fire were alot of kids died". little by little i remembered searching newspapers on the sly 'for the kids' and that my mom took a life magazine away from me. this had precipitated my fire terrors as a child. when the internet abounded with information, i started researching and eventually found my nightmare - Our Lade Of The Angels fire. it amazed me how familiar the pictures were. as an adult i learned that i had what i think is called an eidetic memory. this tragedy had tormented me although i had never been near it. i know of the kind of agony those parents went through. i lost my son. but to be so terrified, so helpless - God help them. I read everything I could about the fire. I know how cold and uneducated about psychological needs the times were. no one would be so ill bred as to mention your tragedies. i remember them in my prayers and have a hard time understanding how such an awful thing could have happened to children. yet there loss led to safety measures in schools.. why did such a tragedy have to happen before intelligent people see the obvious. God keep them all, the children , the parents, the families, the friend, the onlookers, the rescuers, the police, the firedepartment, the hospital staff, and yes - those that survived the horror.

Posted by: Patrick On: 12/10/2014 ID: 652
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before Superior and Lavergne Student at HOC Help of Christians
Today 12/10/14 a fire at the Firehouse restaurant on s Michigan ave burned for app 3 hrs .. The building is a Chicago landmark .. Like OLA it was built around the turn of the 20th century 1905 I believe .. From the 20th floor of my hi rise south loop dwelling / office this building looked hauntingly similar in it's construction in that the roof did collapse from the intense heat as this fire progressed ..

I watched from above unable to conduct my business or do anything but reflect in horror as many whom actually witnessed the OLA fire whom wished they had'nt ? The victims whom escaped all of whom injured with emotional psychological disorders and to many physically scarred ..

Funny how human nature makes you stay and makes you not turn away ? Only to continue watching while it traumatizes you as the tragedy unfolds ..

That same greyish color at first for only a few minutes at most then changing to that same thick black billowing horror from years of paint oil tar shellac as was the OLA fire now suddenly in moments huge flames shooting up from the 2nd floor windows and roof of this landmark structure along with this disgusting smoke ..

Reflecting back 56 yrs in a heart beat .. I could see the smoke from our 2nd story apt on Superior st hearing the sirens up and down Chicago ave coming and going from OLA.. Then north went the ambulances on to Lavergne st north to St Annes only blocks away .. Many people running down Chicago ave east bound to the fire scene only to later regret they had ..

The survivors from this day including myself ( I feel like a survivor traumatized ) became classmates for app 1.5 yrs after the fire.. At our school Our Lady Help of Christians ( HOC ) whereas we were forbidden to interact with our new classmates while they arrived by CTA buses for their afternoon classes .. We were cleared away at noon for this purpose..

To all of you ? For some in later years ( OLA victims /survivors )that I met whom also found it weird and strange to not interact wih us HOC students at all ? I am appalled and apologise for the BVM's ( order of nun's) at HOC and OLA along with the arch diocese for your having been treated ( I felt ) as "Lepers" ? This by your transitional community ! HOC was only app 1/2 mile west of OLA .. I did get to meet some of you however in spite of this outrage !

This day haunts like no other for the past 56yrs for me .. This fire today at this Firehouse restaurant had that same look without the obvious loss of human life and the serious physical and psychological trauma for many of us as far away as across the world ! No one hurt in this fire today thank almighty GOD moreover no fatalities .. However up close as I was today ? I could see where no one stood any chance once this fire took hold ? So fast and intense !

If this were a school ? Same 2nd story windows with black billowing smoke and flames with seconds instead of minutes between the time that smoke turned grey to black just like OLA.. Then some few minutes after the thick ugly black smoke I saw some flames break through the roof the firemen pouring water from the snorkels and they got there on time ! Then the roof collapses it "flashed over" like a review of the OLA fire without the haunting nite mare ending.. Shocking ! Early plans is to restore this landmark structure .. May God Bless all of you !

Posted by: Sharon Leigh Germain Vale On: 12/1/2014 ID: 651
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
Yes Before Morton Grove, IL
Back when I went to St. Isaac's, we had a small "Thanksgiving Vacation" -- that is, we got a week off for Thanksgiving. So I happened to be home on December 1, 1958. I was 8 and a half. I remember my mom coming down to the basement where I was playing and giving me my coat. "We have to go to Aunt Elaine's," she said. I knew something was wrong. We walked together to Dempster Street and rode the bus to the city (my mom did not know how to drive until I was much older.} I remember we made a transfer, then rode the second bus.... my mom was crying. I rode in a daze.

We got off and walked a few long blocks to a scene of INCREDIBLE horror -- smoke, noise, fire engines, crowds -- and firemen coming down the ladders with CHILDREN in their arms -- I saw at least two dozen. They looked like they were sleeping. I remember thinking their clothes were dirty and wondering how they let them go to school with dirty clothes and faces. I clung to my mom. She was wearing a babushka (I remember her face SO clearly -- she was crying, worried, distraught and very beautiful. My mom was gorgeous in those days -- a beautiful brunette.) It was winter but I remember it was dark and dreary but not snowing... a terrible day.

We had moved to Morton Grove over two years before, but previous to that had lived in the city where we spent a lot of time with my cousins with whom we remained very close after the move. We lived at their house for the last few months that our house in Morton Grove was being built. During that time, my cousin Linda Ruzek and her neighbor, Jimmy Ragona, were my best friends -- and had been basically since BIRTH. Jimmy was a year older than me, and I adored him. We liked to pretend he was my "big brother." His mom, "Auntie Alice," was someone I adored -- she gave me my first lasagna and cannolis, and always had wonderful little Italian almond candies when I visited. Her husband was "Uncle Angelo" but we all called him Boppa. They lived on Trumbull Avenue, a few houses away from my aunt and uncle, Elaine and Clare Ruzek.

To this day I swear what I tell you now was TRUE and not a figment of my imagination. My mom was talking with a group of ladies when I saw Jimmy. He was dressed in a white shirt and tie. He was standing with a blonde girl, a little older than us, and she had long ringlets in her hair. He looked "very clean and bright" (I remember describing him later to mom and dad exactly that way.) Jimmy turned and waved at me, smiling. I remember asking my mom if I could go play with him and she bent down and hugged me for a long time and said "Maybe later." She was crying.

Well, long story short, I remember Auntie Alice crying, "That's ROOM 210... They're all from Room 210!!!" and my mom and Aunt Elaine hugging her and trying to hold her back. I had never before seen an hysterical adult.

It was later that I realized Jimmy was one of the children pulled from Room 210. I couldn't figure it out when they told me. "Why did he go back in?" I kept asking and they were all at a loss -- I think they thought I was so upset that I was confused.

I still and always will miss him. We used to pretend we were brother and sister and I clearly remember (about age 7 -- at my First Communion party) one time when another adult questioned whether we were really related (I guess we didn't realize we looked different) and Auntie Alice laughing and replying, "Why? You don't think she speaks Italian?" and then all of them laughing. For months after that, I went around speaking in weird syllables (Coachie otta tooie?" and stuff like that) so that people would think I spoke Italian.

Posted by: Karen Rose On: 11/27/2014 ID: 650
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No After n/a
I attended a Catholic school in Illinois as a child. The school I went to had 3 buildings, 2 of them looked quite a bit like Our Lady Of The Angels school. Brick, very high ceilings, fire alarms very high off the floor, same kind of stairways. I remember being afraid to be in the older brick buildings because of hearing about the OLA fire. If a fire had ever broken out in those old buildings, the same tragedy would have ensued. They have been torn down now and a newer building is there now.
When I was older, I read a lot of things about the OLA fire and it is one of the worst tragedies that has ever taken place. Every year on December 1st, I think about the victims and pray for them. I hope their families were able to move on with their lives and find some kind of peace.

Posted by: Rene Girardi On: 11/6/2014 ID: 649
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before 831 N. Pulaski, Chicago, IL
I was only 4 years old but I remember that day. We lived close to OLA, and could see the smoke from the school. My mother screamed to my father who was just coming home that the school is on fire. My father was a plumbing contractor and had long ladders. He, and another plumber took a long ladder and ran to the school to help the fire department. He was always silent about that day. I was the first, first grade in the new school. Many of my friends and my parents friends lost children and siblings that day. I was baptized, made my first communion, confirmed and graduated from Our Lady of the Angels. The fire, for those of us that lived in and with the church and school has never left us. It's part of our living history, and part of who we are.