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

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John Jajkowski, a ten-year-old in Sister Theresa Champagne's fifth grade class in room 212, was found dead under a window near the back of room 212. Firefighter Richard Scheidt carried the boy's smudged but unburned body from the school, along with 19 other children. As Scheidt stepped from the side door of the north wing on the alley side of the school with John in his arms, photographer Steve Lasker of the Chicago American newspaper snapped this heartbreaking photograph. It became the defining image of the tragedy and appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world. This photo, perhaps more than any other, conveys a sense of the unmeasurable sorrow caused by the OLA fire.
Full width photo, as seen in the December 15, 1958 issue of Life Magazine, of fireman Richard Scheidt carrying John Jajkowski from the northwest entrance of the school.
Faces of grief - Robert McNeilly (center) carries an unconscious girl from the school, with the assistance of Sister Adrienne Corolan and an unidentified man. Robert was among those who helped with rescue efforts before the fire department arrived. (Photo courtesy of Bob McNeilly and Robert Denstedt)
Fireman Richard Scheidt (to the right of the fireman with the white hat) can be seen carrying the body of John Jajkowski seconds after Steve Lasker snapped the famous photograph of Scheidt emerging from the school with the boy.
Richard Scheidt carries the body of John Jajkowski just seconds after Steve Lasker snapped the now famous picture of Scheidt emerging from the school carrying Jajkowski.
Joseph Maffiola was ostensibly the first victim removed from the school after the fire was out and it became clear that no more survivors would be found. The ten-year-old was found, along with 25 classmates, in room 212. He was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at Cook County Hospital. His teacher, Sister Therese Champagne, was among the fatalities in his classroom.
Another view of firemen carefully lowering Joseph Maffiola down from room 212. Joseph and 25 of his classmates and their teacher died from smoke inhalation in room 212.
The body of a young girl is carried down a ladder from room 212 when the fire is nearly extinguished.
Firemen carefully retrieve the body of a young girl from room 212, before the fire is completely extinguished.
A priest performs last rites as firemen carry victims from the school after the fire is out.
Another view of a young girl being carried down the ladder from room 212. Unlike the other classrooms, the bodies of those who died in room 212 were not burned.
As firemen using the new Chicago Fire Department “Cherry Picker” douse the hot spots in room 212, other firemen struggle down a ladder with the limp form of a 10-year-old girl. A total of 26 children and their teacher, Sister Mary Clare Therese Champagne, died in room 212. Although the fire damage was less in this room than the other classrooms, the death toll was very high due to the thick, oily, suffocating smoke and superhot air that attacked without mercy, killing anyone who did not quickly escape through a window.
Captain James Neville, lower on ladder, helps one of his men carry an unidentified little girl down from room 212.
Firemen retrieve the body of a young girl from room 212. But it is too late - everyone remaining in the room now is dead. Firemen rescued at least 160 students from the burning school before conditions in the classrooms became unsurvivable.
Firemen struggle to remove the body of Sister Teresa Champagne from room 212.  All three teachers in the north side classrooms of the north wing (rooms 208, 210 and 212) died in the blaze.
Firemen carefully remove the body of a another victim on a stretcher down the southwest stairs of the north wing.( Photo courtesy of The Catholic New World with photo research by Renee Jackson
A victim is loaded into a police squadrol, a vehicle normally used to transport prisoners but pressed into service at the OLA fire to transport victims to hospitals and especially to the morgue. (Life Magazine Photo)
Firemen carried dead children out of the school on stretcher after stretcher. Priests of Our Lady of the Angels church administered last rites as the bodies passed by.
Firemen remove the charred body of a child.
The badly burned body of a child is removed from the school. Many children in the classrooms died from asphyxia in the suffocating smoke and super heated gases.
An injured boy, Frank Della, is moved to a treatment room shortly after arrival at St. Anne's Hospital.
A priest performs the last rites on a child even while the body is still being removed from the school by firemen. Firemen would pause with each body for priests to quickly perform a last rite prayer for each victim.
Bodies lie in the Cook County morgue awaiting identification. Descriptions of each body (hair color, clothing, jewelry) were recorded and compared to descriptions provided by parents so as to minimize the number of bodies they were forced to view while attempting to identify their beloved child.
Firemen carried stretcher after stretcher with bodies from the school to awaiting ambulances and squadrols in the hours after the fire. But some bodies were so badly burned they could not be picked up without breaking apart. Those were wrapped in blankets, tarps or hose covers for removal to the morgue.
After frantically rescuing over 160 children, the fire and smoke became so intense that those who remained quickly perished. Then came the heart breaking job of removing the bodies. As each victim was brought out, priests administered the church's last rites. Here, Msgr. Gorman of the Chicago Fire Department administers last rites to a victim being removed on a stretcher. (Photo courtesy of The Catholic New World with photo research by Renee Jackson)
Vito Muilli, 13, suffered burns on his face and hands and a minor leg injury. He escaped through a window from room 210 and slid down a ladder that had been placed at the window. His leg was injured when he hit the ground at the bottom. This photo captures a sense of the horrible suffering so many innocent children endured on December 1, 1958.
Frances Panno appears dazed after escaping the burning school. The emotional trauma many children experienced at Our Lady of the Angels on December 1, 1958, is still felt by many to this day. No emotional counselling was offered, and many children were scolded when they spoke of the fire. For adults, including nuns and priests, the memories were just so horrific and painful, many tried to avoid confronting them at all cost ... one cost being the emotional well-being of countless young children.
Frank Della awaits treatment for his injuries. Within the first hour, thirty-seven children and three nuns were admitted to St. Anne's Hospital. Ten other students, along with Sister Therese, were dead on arrival. Two more students died before they could be admitted. Of the first arriving students, six had burns over 60 percent of their bodies. Thirteen more had burns over 40 percent. Twelve had broken bones, including a broken neck, two fractured skulls, one crushed chest and a shattered hip. Four injured firemen were also admitted.
Susan Smaldone, a 9-year-old from room 210, lies critically burned in the hospital the day after the fire. Her injuries were very severe and she died in the hospital on December 22, 1958 from kidney failure.
An injured child is loaded into one of the dozens of ambulances that responded to the fire.
Fifth grader Diana Voskrenski spent several weeks in the hospital recovering from her injuries.
Ten-year-old fourth grader Frank Della suffered significant burns before he was pulled from a window by firefighters. He had passed out and collapsed beneath a window in room 210.
Fifth grader James Erbstoesser broke a wrist and crushed both ankles while jumping from a window in room 212.
A priest blesses an injured child as he awaits treatment for his injuries. Hospital staffs were overwhelmed by the number of injured children and teachers pouring into their emergency wards.
Nearly one hundred children were injured in the blaze. Many required weeks or months of hospitalization. Many were left with severe burn scars - all were left with emotional scars.
Frankie Gallo was one of the lucky ones who escaped with very minor injuries. He spent the night in the hospital for observation after jumping from a window in Room 210.
Elizabeth Koncel is comforted by her grandmother, Elizabeth Bannon and her mother, Josephine Koncel at St. Anne's Hospital on the evening of the fire. St. Anne's received most of the injured, and all of the most severely injured, due to it's proximity to the school
Another lucky child who survived the holocaust inside Our Lady of the Angels school. Five children admitted to hospitals after the blaze died from their injuries.
Steven Friedeck was one of the lucky survivors of the fire, suffering only broken bones in his jump from a window of room 210. Some jumpers suffered broken bones, like Steven, but many survivors also suffered severe burns that required month of hospitalization and painful skin grafts.
Joann McDonald recovers in the hospital from a broken ankle sustained when she jumped from her second floor classroom.
Parents searched frantically outside the school for their children. When they did not find them, the began searching hospitals. Some, like this mother, were lucky - she found her beloved child, Frankie Gallo, alive. Others had to make the horrible trip to the morgue to find their loved one.
Larry Walter, 13, peers from beneath bandages intended to protect massive open burn wounds and ward off infection. Hospitals that normally handled a few burn patients a week suddenly had dozens in one day. Nearly 100 children were hospitalized with injuries ranging from cuts and sprains to severe burns, broken bones and fractured skulls.
Charlene Campanale, a fourth grader from room 210, fell from a window of her classroom, fracturing her spine and pelvis. She was hospitalized for three months and had to lie motionless on her back. Here she is wearing a special pair of prism glasses that allowed her to view pictures and cards hung on the wall of her hospital room by her mother, without moving her head. (Photo courtesy of Charlene Jancik)
Archbishop Meyer visits Luci Mordini, a survivor of room 208. With Archbishop are Sister H. Alumnda, PHJC, administrator of St. Anne Hospital, and Rev. Richard J. Burmingham, hospital chaplain. (Photo courtesy of The Catholic New World with photo research by Renee Jackson)
Student nurse Carol Flemming checks the chart of survivor Mary Brock at St. Anne's Hospital. Looking on are, from left, Mother M. Theolinda, PHJC, Provincial Superior of Poor Handmaidens of Jesus Christ; Sister M. Joan, Administrator of St. Elizabeth hospital and Sister Almunda. (Photo courtesy of The Catholic New World with photo research by Renee Jackson)
At St. Anne's Hospital, Maria Glasgow receives the blessing of Archbishop Meyer as Linda Barletta (behind him) waits to be blessed next. The priests wear masks to reduce the risk of spreading germs to the children, many of whom had open wounds and compromised immune systems. (Photo courtesy of The Catholic New World with photo research by Renee Jackson)
Nine-year-old fourth grader Charlene Campanale jumped or fell from one of the windows of room 210, breaking her spine and pelvis. She was hospitalized for three months, having to lie motionless on her back the entire time. After leaving the hospital, she wore a body cast for seven months, followed by months in a torso brace. Here she is wearing her brace and playing her piano nearly a year after the fire. (Photo courtesty of Charlene Jancik)
Life magazine artist depiction of conditions in Room 208. Panic ensues as heavy smoke reaches the seventh grade history class. Three boys in the foreground have already suffocated from the blast of hot air which preceded the flames. At the windows, children fight for a breath of air and a chance to jump. Sister Mary Canice, shown at right trying to help a frightened girl, was one of three nuns who perished in the fire.
Another Life Magazine artist's conception, this one showing Sister Andrienne Corolan ushering her students through thick smoke out of the south wing.
Chicago American newspaper of Friday, December 5, 1958, five days following the disasterous blaze. The front page carried photographs of 72 of the (then) 89 child victims (three more children died later from their injuries). In the end, 92 children and 3 nuns perished as a result of the fire. <a href=frontpagephotos.asp>Click here</a> for enlargement of this page.
James DePhillips and Teresa Whittaker, survivors of Room 210. As James climbed down a ladder, a fireman noticed his clothing was on fire and directed a blast of water at him with a fire hose. The water blew James off the ladder but in the end he suffered only minor burns. Teresa suffered more severe burns before she was able to escape the inferno.
An injured girl at St. Anne's Hospital is moved by gurney for treatment of her injuries.
Victor Jacobellis jumped or fell from a window in room 210. Although not burned, he died of a head injury suffered in the two story fall.
This is the prayer card for Richard and Kenneth Kompanoski. (Photo courtesy of Rich Krzemien)