Encyclopedia ofChicago
Entries : Our Lady of the Angels Fire
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Our Lady of the Angels Fire

 

 

 

Our Lady of the Angels Fire

On December 1, 1958, a parochial school fire killed 92 students and 3 nuns. The fire began in the basement of the 48-year-old building and billowed up an open stairway before fanning out into the second floor, trapping most victims in their classrooms and forcing others to jump from second-story windows.

No grand jury was convened despite a scathing report issued in 1959 by the National Fire Protection Association blaming the city and officials of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago for educating children in “firetraps.” Nor was the fire's cause officially determined. A 13-year-old former student's 1962 confession to arson was dismissed by a family court judge who ruled it was obtained improperly.

The tragedy's aftermath led to nationwide overhaul of fire safety codes for schools, including calls for automatic sprinkler systems, noncombustible construction, and fire alarms linked directly to the fire department. The fire was the nation's third-worst school disaster and Chicago's third-deadliest fire, trailing the Iroquois Theater fire (602 killed) and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 (250–300 dead).

Bibliography
Cowan, David, and John Kuenster. To Sleep with the Angels: The Story of a Fire. 1996.