my son sent me a news article this morning, reminding me of what happened 50 years ago.
50 years ago my Dad was home and got a call on his radio for a fire. He jumped in the car, put his light on the dash and away he went. He was responding to the call to the Our Lady of Angels fire. OLA was a Catholic school in Chicago. It burned that day. 3 nuns and 92 children lost their lives.
I was 5 years old at the time. I remember my Mom being worried that Dad hadnt returned home yet. He had been gone all day….. and all night…… and finally the next day he returned home. When he saw me, he cried. He hugged my so tight that it hurt. He smelled smoky. He was dirty. He was glad to see me. I was scared. But glad he was home.
It was the first time I remember Daddy crying. It may have been the only time. It was upsetting to me. He or Mom later explained why he cried…. and that made me feel better. And worse. I was lucky to be safe and well. But I could never get those children out of my mind.
My Dad was a photographer, not a fire fighter. He was instrumental in starting the photo division of the Chicago Fire Dept. and helped train some of their photographers. We had firemen in our house often, usually helping Daddy develop pictures in the basement darkroom.
Several days after the OLA fire, Dad came out of the darkroom to wash and dry the photos. I normally got to help wash them and put them on the dryers. This time he made me go back upstairs until he was done. He didnt want to expose me to such horrors that would haunt him until he died 2 years later.
The most important legacy left by the OLA fire was the significant changes in school safety and fire codes. We can all be thankful for that.
The AP article Neil sent me is here: I wonder if Dad took some of those pictures?
THIS is what haunts me…… the front page of the newspaper. I have never forgotten it. All those kids… that could have been from MY school. They werent, but they could have been. They all looked like my friends. And me.
And if you are interested in an in depth look at this historic fire and the way it affected so many lives, you can read this excellent book: