A Most Awful Inferno, 50 Years Ago This Week





Last Monday was a 50th anniversary that you have absolutely no reason to know about. Unless, perhaps, you were living in Chicago on Dec. 1, 1958.

Unless, perhaps, you happened to be in that city on Tuesday and were visiting an exhibition on “Catholic Chicago” at the Chicago History Museum when the switchboard of your memory lit up at the words on a wall placard: “Our Lady of the Angels School Fire.”

Or unless, of course, you were among the families and friends of the 92 children and 3 nuns killed in one of the deadliest school fires in American history.

No one knows how long the fire had smoldered in a trash container in the Our Lady of the Angels school basement before it snaked up a pipe shaft and then inside walls, finally ascending a stairwell to the second floor. The fire fed on the wooden stairs covered with asphalt tiles, belched thick black smoke into the open corridor and turned the space between the classroom ceilings and the roof into an oven of deadly hot gases and flame.

The school day was almost ending when the heat, smoke and flame suddenly erupted. Nuns and pupils crawled down stairs beneath the smoke. Children jumped out windows, cowered against walls or succumbed to the fumes....


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