To Sleep with the Angels
August 9, 2003 10:20 PM   Subscribe

The fire that will not die. In December 1958, 92 children and three nuns died in the Our Lady of the Angels school fire. Only one fire escape, no sprinklers, layers of petroleum-based paint, no alarm connected to the fire department - in retrospect, it was a disaster waiting to happen. How many of us ever took school fire drills seriously?
posted by Oriole Adams (15 comments total)
I assume by your question that you didn't. Why you didn't just say that I don't know.
posted by HTuttle at 10:32 PM on August 9, 2003

The fire drills I was involved in wouldn't have made more fire escapes appear, nor would they have created sprinklers where none existed. I'm pretty sure they would have been equally as inneffective on the painr & fire dept issues. They mostly involved walking out in a calm & orderly fashion, a manner which in no way resembled what would actually occur were there to be flames anywhere near us.
posted by jonson at 11:23 PM on August 9, 2003

Uh, I suppose because he's asking for our experiences, HTuttle. It's called a "gambit," which is a way of opening discussion. What I'm doing now by overexplaining, and what you did, is called being "pedantic."
posted by planetkyoto at 11:24 PM on August 9, 2003

Coming from the suburban fringes of Southern California, I have a lot of experience with fires, so I often size up the safety situation when I go to a restaurant/hotel shopping center for the first time.
Last summer we stayed in a seaside ryokan (Japanese inn) for a few days, and my wife chuckled at me when I scoped out the exits and extinguisher locations immediately after we checked in. The last time I checked, the leading gaijin nightclub in Osaka was on the second floor of a buiding that was not designed for it, with a single-file spiral staircase serving as entrance and exit, serving a capacity of 500 or so. I fully expect it to come to tragedy someday. Also, I recently imported a case of Kidde smoke/fire alarms for my house and my kinfolk's houses, because they simply aren't availabe in the home center for what reason I know not.
posted by planetkyoto at 11:50 PM on August 9, 2003

My sister was a Catholic school kid at the time of this fire. She remembered hearing (according to the book, this is not true) that the nuns told the children to put their heads down on the desk, pray and wait to be saved, and that the kids all died because of it. She said it was one of the things that made her decide then and there that she was never going to be afraid to defy the nuns.
posted by GaelFC at 11:57 PM on August 9, 2003

GaelFC: OMFG... Is that for real?
I hope the nuns died as well. It would've been fair.
posted by VeGiTo at 12:04 AM on August 10, 2003

I mean "good thing the nuns died as well"
posted by VeGiTo at 12:07 AM on August 10, 2003

GaelFC: OMFG... Is that for real?

She remembered hearing (according to the book, this is not true)

come again
posted by angry modem at 12:24 AM on August 10, 2003

A gay, a pedophile and a priest walked into a bar.
Then, he ordered a beer.
Any evidence that the fire was set by a father?
posted by mischief at 1:21 AM on August 10, 2003

Any evidence that the fire was set by a father?

No. It was set by a ten-year old student at the school. The whole thing was pretty bad.

A very good documentary, based on the book mentioned in the site, was recently made about the fire. Part of the doc was created with archival footage of the fire and rescue itself, which was captured by a ride-along reporter for the fire department who had no idea he was about to capture this event.

The footage is stunning--as eerily beautiful in black and white as the subject matter is horrible. It's reminiscent of the documentarians who rode along on September 11th, who also had no idea what they were about to capture.
posted by macadamiaranch at 9:32 AM on August 10, 2003

I've seen many similar situations to what planetkyoto mentioned except in Korea. Deathtraps waiting to happen. Of course, you just as likely to have the building fall down on you as you are to have it burn up there!
posted by Plunge at 9:39 AM on August 10, 2003

I was reading through the message boards at this site, many of which were posted by folks who were students at OLA at the time of the fire. There were a couple who mentioned their teacher told them to sit down at their desks and pray the rosary. One post mentioned that when the nun told them this, a boy in the class said "I'm getting the hell out of here" and ran to the windows. The poster said she was momentarily shocked that someone would swear at a nun.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:07 AM on August 10, 2003

Actually, I remember my mother telling me that one of the reasons the death toll was so high was that the nuns refused to dismiss the students when it first became apparent there was a fire. If I understand correctly (and I may be wrong), her grandfather had helped design and build a large turntable stage for the auditorium, facilitating fast scene changes for various productions. Since I can't find any such space listed, I am guessing that was in the south wing "annex."

This incident is exhibit A of why every classroom in this whole dang country should have at least one window that can be easily opened.
posted by ilsa at 1:04 PM on August 10, 2003

two of my mother's cousins survived the our lady of angels fire (one because she was home sick, the other because he got out in time). the chicago public libraries has some information on the fire, and chicago stories did a great show on the fire.

according to most survivors (and of fire investigators who retrieved the bodies), the stories that nuns made the children stay in their chairs and pray rather than attempt to escape are spurious at best. there was only one exit from the upper floors, which fireman did not even attempt to enter while the fire was still burning. chicago stroeis devoted a good deal of the program to this charge.
posted by crush-onastick at 8:23 AM on August 11, 2003

How many of us ever took school fire drills seriously?

Or, indeed, any fire drills. I certainly take them seriously ever since September 11, 2001. Like you'd-better-not-be-between-me-and-that-goddamned-exit-door seriously.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:47 PM on August 11, 2003

« Older Documented Life   |   can ya dig it? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments