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To Sleep with the Angels: The Story of a Fire (1998)

por David Cowan, John Kuenster (Autor)

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23512116,782 (4.43)54
History. Sociology. Nonfiction. If burying a child has a special poignancy, the tragedy at a Catholic elementary school in Chicago almost fifty years ago was an extraordinary moment of grief. One of the deadliest fires in American history, it took the lives of ninety-two children and three nuns at Our Lady of the Angels School, left many families physically and psychologically scarred for life, and destroyed a close-knit working-class neighborhood. This is the moving story of that fire and its consequences, written by two journalists who have been obsessed with the events of that terrible day in December 1958. It is a story of ordinary people caught up in a disaster that shocked the nation. In gripping detail, those who were there-children, teachers, firefighters-describe the fear, desperation, and panic that prevailed in and around the stricken school building on that cold Monday afternoon. But beyond the flames, the story of the fire at Our Lady of the Angels became an enigma whose mystery has deepened with time: its cause was never officially explained despite evidence that it had been intentionally set by a troubled student at the school.… (mais)
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Mostrando 1-5 de 12 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
The tragic non-fiction read of the fire at Our Lady of Angels school in Chicago in 1958. Excellent! ( )
  Tess_W | Jul 31, 2021 |
The 1958 Our Lady of the Angels Catholic school fire traumatized a generation of Catholic schoolchildren. To Sleep with the Angels: The Story of a Fire, by David Cowan and John Kuenster, brings this long-forgotten tragedy to life.

The authors tell the story as it unfolds, from the viewpoints of the participants, letting the victims of the tragedy – schoolchildren, parents, nurses, and clergy – speak for themselves. It’s a harrowing book that doesn’t sugarcoat. The fire took place in Chicago on December 1st, 1958 at the Our Lady of the Angels parochial school. The two buildings comprising the school were old and not up to the city’s 1958 fire code; however, a grandfather provision made them legal. The fire started near a basement stairwell in a trash can and quickly raced upstairs to the roof, ironically only minutes before the school was to let out for the day. The classrooms on the first floor were able to be evacuated, but the nuns and students upstairs were trapped as the fire filled the halls and stairways with thick black smoke before spreading to the roof. Many of the children were forced to jump from the windows onto the gravel and tarmac below.

Ninety children and three nuns died in the fire that day, which was most likely started by a student’s arson (the book makes a case that there was a cover-up by the city, the fire department, and the Catholic Church in not bringing charges against that student, who is not mentioned by name in the book.) The fire was made more deadly by a delayed response in sending the fire alarm, and afterwards it led to revisions in the fire code for all schools across the US.

The authors took a journalistic approach, which I liked… there was no bias and no agenda. The idea conveyed was that it was a tragedy all around with shared blame. The authors debunked a number of urban legends about the fire, such as the one where the nuns ordered the children to pray at their desks instead of trying to escape (not true, most of the children’s bodies were found by the windows) and another that fire department’s ladders were too short to reach the second story (also not true, the FD’s ladders were adequate.)

The most terrible aspect of all about the fire was that, in those times, it was earased. Those affected by it, no matter what their losses, and were expected to “get over it”… move on with their lives instead of dwelling, or as we say now, processing, their trauma. Despite the horrors of WWII, little more than a decade in the past, grief counseling did not exist, and neither did acknowledgement of PTSD. Only in the late 1980s did the event begin to be discussed openly as long-buried grief came to light. And the fire did more than scar survivors. It was the first step in the ruination of an entire close-knit neighborhood, as white flight out of the city and urban decay set in.

As a child in a Catholic school in New Jersey this fire was recounted to us by one of the nuns. I remember then thinking of how horrible it was and eying the distance from my school’s windows to the ground, imagining what it was like to land on the hard, gravel-studded asphalt that was used both as playground and church parking lot. These days, with many parishes on the decline or being consolidated, and Catholic schools suffering declining enrollment too, it’s hard to understand how so many children were packed into so unsafe a structure, filled with open stairwells, flammable wood and varnish, and tar paper roofs. But many Catholic schools, including the one I was in, really were built that way, though mine had been retrofitted with metal fire doors and alarms and extinguishers in easy reach. Fire drills were taken very seriously.

A very good peek into the past of a terrible event. ( )
  Cobalt-Jade | Mar 19, 2020 |
In 1958, the Our Lady of Angels school on the west side of Chicago caught on fire. and quickly spread throughout the school killing 92 children and three nuns. It was not the biggest school disaster in America's history. That distinction belongs to the gas explosion of the Consolidated School in New London, Texas in 1937. However, the Our Lady of Angels fire had a profound effect on how schools were built, and how fire codes written and maintained all over the United States.

I was 10 years old when this fire occurred and I vividly remember the news footage of the event and the mass funeral afterwards. I remained terrified of fires for years afterwards.

Cowan and Kuenster did a great deal of research; not only searching the news archives, but also interviewing survivors, parents, firefighters and priests and nuns who were part of the rescue effort. The result is a riveting page turner that is hard to put down. ( )
  etxgardener | Jan 3, 2020 |
(Excellent narrator for the audiobook). Book seems well-researched, though a bit melodramatic; not sure this story can be told without the drama but, I admit, the author did play on the emotional aspects. It would be a difficult, probably unreadable, book without the extra human interest aspect so I can't fault that. ( )
  marshapetry | Nov 20, 2019 |
4.5 stars

On Dec. 1, 1958, a fire started in the basement of the overcrowded Our Lady of the Angels Catholic school in Chicago. The building was old and more recent fire regulations did not apply to the older buildings, as they were grandfathered in. The building had only one fire escape; it was two stories, but the only fire door was on the first floor. Because of that, the fire crept past the first floor, then exploded on to the 2nd floor. By the time the kids and nuns realized there was a fire, they couldn’t go out the hallways. Kids started jumping out the windows, while others – too scared to do so – waited and hoped to be helped to safety. Ninety-two kids, ages 8 to 14, died as a result of that fire, along with three nuns.

The book takes us through the lead-up to the end of the school day when the fire started, and some of the kids and families involved. It continues to describe the fire and the rescue efforts, and the aftermath, including those kids who got out alive, but had to recover in hospital. It continued still, with the investigation into what caused the fire and through the aftermath years later, as people remembered (or tried not to). The book also has a map of the school, and it shows the number of fatalities and injured in each room. There are also photos. Devastating story, but a fascinating read (and it always feels so weird to describe these real-life disaster books this way). But, they can be (and this one is) so compelling. ( )
  LibraryCin | Apr 29, 2019 |
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History. Sociology. Nonfiction. If burying a child has a special poignancy, the tragedy at a Catholic elementary school in Chicago almost fifty years ago was an extraordinary moment of grief. One of the deadliest fires in American history, it took the lives of ninety-two children and three nuns at Our Lady of the Angels School, left many families physically and psychologically scarred for life, and destroyed a close-knit working-class neighborhood. This is the moving story of that fire and its consequences, written by two journalists who have been obsessed with the events of that terrible day in December 1958. It is a story of ordinary people caught up in a disaster that shocked the nation. In gripping detail, those who were there-children, teachers, firefighters-describe the fear, desperation, and panic that prevailed in and around the stricken school building on that cold Monday afternoon. But beyond the flames, the story of the fire at Our Lady of the Angels became an enigma whose mystery has deepened with time: its cause was never officially explained despite evidence that it had been intentionally set by a troubled student at the school.

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