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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.
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Posted by: Fran Work On: 12/2/2023 ID: 714
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before Stronghurst, IL
During 12 years of being a public school student and then 35 years of being a teacher, our school had the only winter-time fire drill I remember having on Dec. 2, 1958. We walked through deep snow to our "safe area." From then on I looked at each classroom with the question "How can I get out of here in case of a fire?" When I started teaching, my question changed to "How can I get all of my kids out of the room if there is a fire?" Ironically one of the schools where I taught for eleven years burned several years after I had transferred to another building in the same district. It totaled the building, but fortunately the fire started after the end of the day so there were very few students still inside.
Even though we lived in west central Illinois, my grandfather subscribed to The Chicago American newspaper. I will never forget the front page with all of the students' photos. I was in third grade at the time so many of the OLA students were near my age.
Rest in peace, dear ones.

Posted by: Susan On: 12/1/2023 ID: 713
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No After n/a
My grandfather was a Chicago police officer in 1958. At that time they lived in the Austin neighborhood; my mother was a senior at Austin High School. On that day, his day off, he noticed the smoke from OLA and heard the sirens, so he went over to volunteer his services. He ended up directing traffic around the building. He never really talked about what he had seen, but I know it affected him deeply.

My former father-in-law worked downtown and recalled watching the smoke from the upper floor of the building. Later, his sister-in-law taught at a public high school that a number of the survivors attended. She said that every time there was a fire drill, the survivors would scream and run from the building. It was heartbreaking.

So many people's lives were lost or changed that day. And it was all so tragically unnecessary. But I often told their story to kids when I was teaching to remind them of the importance of fire drills. And I remember them whenever I see a fire alarm pull-box.

Posted by: Jen On: 12/1/2023 ID: 712
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No After n/a
I live in the Chicago suburbs and learned about the OLA fire many years ago. My dad and aunt went to a Catholic school on the south side of Chicago, and my dad told me about it, so I looked up everything I could about it.
I had the sudden urge to come back and look at this site again, to see it's the 65th anniversary. Today I have a child of the same age as many of those who perished that day, a 9 year old 4th grader. Her school is one floor and is likely fire safe because of the OLA fire. I will say a prayer of thanks to those little saints. Because of their sacrifice my child - and many, many others - are safe from fires in their schools

Posted by: Mark Cummings On: 11/24/2023 ID: 711
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No After n/a
I was born 10yrs 11 months and 20 days after the fire. However, I did see the benefit of the code changes from this disaster. Thes Children didn't die in vain.
In 1978, the elementary school I went to underwent renovations that were a direct result of the disaster. What they did was to enclose the stairwells, that weren't enclosed at the time. They also put in sprinklers in the boiler room. They also took out the transums. They changed the windows to be more of an egress window in each classroom and office. this building is of cindar block, brick. and concrete construction. It was financed by W. K. Kellogg in 1928 and opened in 1930.
I'm glad that changed codes because of this disaster. In 1982, we experienced two small fires in two days that were put out quickly. I wasn't in for the second one but was returning from a roller skating event in Marshall, MI.

Posted by: Patricia (Guzzi) Hund On: 9/25/2023 ID: 710
Enrolled on 12/1/58? Present on 12/1/58? Injured? Age Grade Classroom Teacher
Yes No No 5 K 800 Hamlin Sr. Mary Remi
I was in Kindergarten at the Queen of the Angels school that day. Our classroom was nearby on the 800 block of Hamlin Ave., on the first floor. Iíll never forget that day. I was in the afternoon class. Suddenly we all heard the fire engines, and all the noise coming from the Queen of Angels school nearby. Our teacher, Sr. Mary Remi, had us go underneath our desks. We were so terrified. I lived on Iowa St. at that time with my paternal grandparents living just below us. My mother and younger brother were visiting my aunt, who lived nearby on Hamlin that day. In the afternoon they heard all the sirens, Horrified, they hurriedly ran down to pick me up. It was just horrible seeing the burning building and we just watched in horror. My mother and aunt were shocked to see what was happening. Later upon arriving home, my grandmother who lived just below us was screaming out the front door, ďwhereís Patti, whereís PattiĒ, she didnít see me at first because I was walking slowly behind my mother.

The very next day we walked over to the building to see it. I still canít believe what I saw. Horrible! My fatherís cousin died in the fire. Her name was Carol Gazzola. I will never forget seeing a picture of her at my grandmotherís house afterwards. I always think of this event and wonder if I had been born a year earlier I may have been in that building that day. May God bless all of the victims of that horrible fire at our Lady of the Angels school.

Posted by: Bob Langer On: 9/22/2023 ID: 709
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before Island Lake, Illinois
A friend of the family Joseph Casale arrived at the school at 2:43 pm to pick up his children. He then went into the school trying to help but was forced out by the fire. He then was catching children who were jumping out of the 2nd floor windows. He did pick up 4 children that had jumped from the 2nd floor and took them to the hospital..I am looking for anyone who currently knows the Casale family so I can reconnect.His son John Casale might be the one I'm looking to contact. his daughter Jennifer has passed..Any help? bob 480-221-8664

Posted by: Mary Cahill On: 6/29/2023 ID: 708
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before Philadelphia, PA
I was in 7th grade at Most Blessed Sacrament School in southwest Philadelphia, PA. I don't specifically remember the day of the fire, but someone, a nun, a relative, told us about it. My impression for years was that it happened at a 'Holy Angels' school somewhere in Philadelphia. I never forgot the detail of the nun who rolled the children down the stairs. My school was very old, with wood floors and stairways and wooden door frames and window sills. I could picture it happening. Now, with the internet, I've found this site and think back to the horror I and my classmates felt hearing about all those children who died. I'm sure a generation of Catholic schoolchildren across the country still remember.

Posted by: Matthew Frawley On: 5/29/2023 ID: 707
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No After n/a
My mother's sister is Michele McBride. Michele wrote a book titled The Fire That Will Not Die. She was severely burned and suffered broken bones on that day. I was born about a year and a half after the fire. As a boy 5 or 6, I remember she would be in her bedroom whenever we visited. My mother would explain to me that she was embarrassed by her scars. But as I had never seen her before the fire, her looks were all I had ever known her by. I remember being confused. I just knew that I enjoyed being in her presence as she always made me feel special. Because isnít that what good aunts do, make their nephews and nieces feel special?

As a side story, I was baptized by Fr Joe Ognibene. In the late 90s, I flew in to Chicago from Washington DC for luncheon in honor of certain patrons of the O'hare Airport chapel. Fr. Joe was seated between my youngest brother and my mother. When I stopped by the table to greet the good father and my mother, she insisted that my brother give up his seat for me, which he did. Fr. Joe, my mother and I, along with my dad, shared stories and good cheer. My brother found a table with some young women who were employees of the Airport. My brother eventually married one of those women. They have been married since about 2003.

Posted by: K On: 3/21/2023 ID: 706
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before In Chicago the next Parish Our Lady Helo of Christians
I was attending a Girl Scout meeting in the basement of our school Our Lady of Helo of Christians which had the same order of Sisters the BVMs. Someone interrupted our meeting to tell us that a fire was at Our Lady of Angels a neighboring parish . We were told to go home. After a couple of weeks our school day was divided . We attended during the morning and O L A children during the afternoon. I volunteered in the office for a very short time . I heard and saw both kids and nuns crying .Sharing our day was a temporary solution arrangements were being made for their school to be moved to a local public school. My uncle was a young Chicago Policeman at the time he answered the call shortly afterwards he quit his job . Father Sam Ognibene the brother of Father Joseph who served at OLA and was a hero during the fire, was at our Parish. Eventually I went to Siena High School with many of the survivors of the fire. We never talked about it much as a student the sadness was overwhelming for the survivors. Itís a memory you never forget,

Posted by: Debi Kopis Rollinson On: 12/3/2022 ID: 705
At OLA on 12/1/58? Born before or after 12/1/58? Where Lived on 12/1/58?
No Before 932 N. Hamlin Ave.
We lived about 1/2 block from the school. On the day of the fire, I was 4 1/2 years old and was playing on our back porch when I saw the smoke. I told my mom and in a panic, she rushed with me down to the school to find my brother. It took awhile to find him because of the crowds and mass confusion. Fortunately, he was on the first floor and escaped without injury. Sadly, a friend and neighbor Mark Stachura, died in the fire.
Blessings to all the victims, families and friends of OLA.