Tuesday, September 02, 2014 - 75°F

Chicago Stories Header
Angels Too Soon Banner

Angels Too Soon

"It was 45 years ago, its really five minutes to me. I can hear the sounds. I can hear every sound. I heard voices, but yet it was quiet. I heard people yelling, I heard noises from people falling and jumping, but yet it was quiet. I heard fire trucks, but yet it was quiet. That's the way I hear it now." -John Raymond

On December 1, 1958, it was a cold and clear day as 1,600 students walked to Our Lady of the Angels school on Chicago's West Side. At the end of the day, as students waited for the final bell, a fire raged unnoticed in the northeast stairwell. By the time they become aware of it, the second floor hallway was filled with smoke, and six classrooms of fourth through eighth graders were trapped. Within minutes, 92 students and three nuns were dead. WTTW11’s Emmy-winning Chicago Stories series launches its 2003 season with Angels Too Soon, an unforgettable story of ordinary people caught up in a mind-numbing disaster. Told through vivid first-hand accounts and stunning archival footage, Angels Too Soon is also the story of a mystery that remains unsolved, despite the detailed confession of a 10-year-old student in the school.

Angels Too Soon

Angels Too Soon DVD

WTTW’s Emmy award-winning program about the fire at Our Lady of the Angels school is now available on DVD. Add it to your collection now.

Angels Too Soon

Preview Angels Too Soon

 Small | Large

Angels Too Soon, narrated by John Callaway and produced by Jay Shefsky, also seeks to answer some painful questions: How did this terrible catastrophe happen? How could it have been averted? And who should bear responsibility for unsafe conditions in the school?

The story of the fire itself is told through the recollections of those who survived it, those who fought it and those who reported on it. Angels Too Soon includes 16mm movie footage of the fire as well as poignant home movies and unforgettable still photos. By sheer coincidence, a film cameraman happened to be riding along with a Chicago fire truck when they were called to the school to fight the blaze. The result was crystal clear color footage, most of which has never been broadcast.

Every year on December 1st, local news remembers the tragedy with brief tributes. Angels Too Soon is the first full-length documentary to tell this important story.

Viewers will learn that while the Cook County Coroner’s Inquest investigated the fire without assigning blame, the report of the National Fire Protection Association was harshly critical of “those in authority.” The program also explores the stunning confession of a ten-year-old student at the school, and the judge’s decision to find the boy innocent. We learn of the fire’s lasting effect on survivors and their families in this close-knit community. Many of those students who escaped faced a long and painful recovery from their injuries in the hospital; we hear their courageous and inspiring stories, and how they dealt with the emotional trauma.

Angels Too Soon calls into question one of the most persistent stories of the fire: the charge that nuns endangered their students by insisting that they pray, rather than escape.

Also addressed is the responsibility for conditions at the school that may have worsened the outcome of the fire. Hal Bruno, later a prominent political journalist with ABC News, was one of the first reporters on the scene. “We went down to the basement. And it was like a textbook version of how a fire spreads,” Bruno remembered. “And up at the top of the second floor, there was the killer -- an open stairwell. So regardless of what caused the fire, if there had been a fire door at the top of those stairs, nobody would have died.” We learn that a shocking number of other schools – both public and parochial – were similarly ill-equipped. We also hear about the improvements that were made to fire safety in wake of the tragedy.

Monthly fire drills became a fact of life for Chicago schoolchildren. Many schools were fitted with sprinklers, and all schools were given fire alarms directly connected to the fire department.

Two years later, a new Our Lady of the Angels school was built on the site of the old one, and this new structure had all the state of the art fire safety features that were missing in the old building.

Soon after the fire, the head of the National Fire Protection Association was asked what had been learned from the tragedy at Our Lady of the Angels. He responded that there were no new lessons to be learned. Only old lessons that tragically went unheeded.

Additional Resources - Our Lady of the Angels fire
Olafire.com - Based in Colorado, this site offers a wealth of information and resources related to the fire, including maps, photos, newspaper clippings and personal stories.

Angels of Fire - A CD of music inspired by the Our Lady of Angels fire. Michael Mason, himself a survivor of Our Lady of the Angels school fire and now a Downers Grove Firefighter/Paramedic, has assembled an international band of jazz musicians for the production of this CD, which is dedicated to his classmates who perished in the tragedy. All profits go to the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance and the IFSA Burn Camp for Children.

Friends of Our Lady of the Angels – This organization has sponsored support groups and memorial masses for members of the OLA community. For more information, lorraineking47@aol.com or write to:

Friends of OLA
c/o M. Krauss
3712 N. Nora Avenue
Chicago, IL 60634

Fire Safety
Sparky the Firedog - Great fire safety site for kids and families. Created by the National Fire Protection Association.

National Fire Protection Association - A wealth of information and resources.

Illinois Fire Safety Alliance - Created to bring together persons or groups with a common interest in fire safety, burn prevention, and public education, and to promote programs and disseminate information related to fire safety and burn prevention.

Illinois State Fire Marshall

Burn Recovery
Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation - nonprofit organization dedicated to burn prevention and survivor assistance.

Burn Children Recovery Foundation - supports child burn victims, runs a camp for burn survivors, and teaches children about fire prevention.

Burn Survivor Resource Center - information resource for burn victims and families, includes a medical care guide, legal advice and information, discussion forum, and burn resource locator.

International Society for Burn Injuries (ISBI) - disseminates knowledge and stimulates prevention in the field of burns.

Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors - international, nonprofit self-help organization helping burn survivors and their families return to happy and productive lives following injury. .

Post Traumatic Stress
The Sidran Institute - a national non-profit organization dedicated to supporting people with traumatic stress conditions

David Baldwin's Trauma Information Page - This site is primarily for clinicians and researchers in the traumatic-stress field. It focuses on emotional trauma and traumatic stress, including PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder), whether following individual traumatic experience(s) or a large-scale disaster.

Emotional Freedom Techniques - A site devoted to one technique used for treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In Memoriam... Our Lady of Angels fire Victims
Sister Mary Clare Therese Champagne, BVM
Sister Mary Seraphica Kelley, BVM
Sister Mary St. Canice Lyng, BMV

Altobell, Michele
Anglim, Robert
Baroni, Karen
Biscan, David
Bobrowicz, Richard
Burda, Beverly Ann
Buziak, Helen
Cangelosi, Peter
Cannella, George
Carr, Kathleen
Chambers, Margaret
Chiapetta, Aurelius
Chiappetta, Joanne
Chrzas, Joan
Cichocki, Bernice
Ciminello, Rosalie
Ciochon, Roseanna
Ciolino, Jo Ann
Corsiglia, Millicent
Culp, Karne Ann
DeGiulio, Maria
DeSanto, Nancy Mary
Drzymala, Patricia
Dunn, Lawrence J.
Edington, William R. Jr.
Fanale, Mary Ann
Filipponio, Lucile
Finnigan, Nancy Rae
Fox, Ronald
Gasteier, Janet
Gazzola, Carol Ann
Grasso, Lawrence
Guzaldo, Frances
Hagerty, Kathleen
Hardy, Richard
Hobik, Karen
Hosking, Barbara
Jacobellis, Victor
Jajkowski, John
Kalinowski, Angeline
Karwacki, Diane
King, Joseph Anthony
Kompanowski, Kenneth
Kompanowski, Richard
Kucan, Margaret
Kuzma, Patricia
LaMantia, Annette
LaPlaca, Rose Ann
Maffiola, Joseph
Makowski, Raymond
Malinski, Linda
Manganello, John
Mele, John Joseph
Modica, Joseph
Moravec, James
Moretti, Mary Ellen
Neubert, Charles
Nieri, Lorraine
Olechowski, Janet
Pacini, Yvonne
Patrasso, Antoinette
Pawlik, Eileen
Perry, Carolyn Marie
Pesoli, Elaine
Pettenon, Mary Ellen
Pikinski, Edward
Pilas, Nancy
Piscopo, Frank
Profita, James Joseph
Ragona, James
Ramlow, Roger Alan
Reeb, Marilyn
Riche, Nancy
Sansonetti, Margaret
Santangelo, Diane Marie
Sarno, Joane
Sarno, William
Secco, Antoinette
Schutt, Kurt
Sickel, James
Silvio, Paul
Smaldone, Susan
Smid, Nancy
Stabile, Linda
Stachura, Mark
Tamburrino, Mary Louise
Tampone, Philip
Thoma, Valerie Ann
Trotta, John David
Virgilio, Mary
Vitacco, Christina Marie
Wisz, Wayne

Angels Too Soon

"It was 45 years ago, its really five minutes to me. I can hear the sounds. I can hear every sound. I heard voices, but yet it was quiet. I heard people yelling, I heard noises from people falling and jumping, but yet it was quiet. I heard fire trucks, but yet it was quiet. That's the way I hear it now." -John Raymond

On December 1, 1958, it was a cold and clear day as 1,600 students walked to Our Lady of the Angels school on Chicago's West Side. At the end of the day, as students waited for the final bell, a fire raged unnoticed in the northeast stairwell. By the time they become aware of it, the second floor hallway was filled with smoke, and six classrooms of fourth through eighth graders were trapped. Within minutes, 92 students and three nuns were dead. WTTW11’s Emmy-winning Chicago Stories series launches its 2003 season with Angels Too Soon, an unforgettable story of ordinary people caught up in a mind-numbing disaster. Told through vivid first-hand accounts and stunning archival footage, Angels Too Soon is also the story of a mystery that remains unsolved, despite the detailed confession of a 10-year-old student in the school.

Angels Too Soon

Angels Too Soon DVD

WTTW’s Emmy award-winning program about the fire at Our Lady of the Angels school is now available on DVD. Add it to your collection now.

Angels Too Soon

Preview Angels Too Soon

 Small | Large

Angels Too Soon, narrated by John Callaway and produced by Jay Shefsky, also seeks to answer some painful questions: How did this terrible catastrophe happen? How could it have been averted? And who should bear responsibility for unsafe conditions in the school?

The story of the fire itself is told through the recollections of those who survived it, those who fought it and those who reported on it. Angels Too Soon includes 16mm movie footage of the fire as well as poignant home movies and unforgettable still photos. By sheer coincidence, a film cameraman happened to be riding along with a Chicago fire truck when they were called to the school to fight the blaze. The result was crystal clear color footage, most of which has never been broadcast.

Every year on December 1st, local news remembers the tragedy with brief tributes. Angels Too Soon is the first full-length documentary to tell this important story.

Viewers will learn that while the Cook County Coroner’s Inquest investigated the fire without assigning blame, the report of the National Fire Protection Association was harshly critical of “those in authority.” The program also explores the stunning confession of a ten-year-old student at the school, and the judge’s decision to find the boy innocent. We learn of the fire’s lasting effect on survivors and their families in this close-knit community. Many of those students who escaped faced a long and painful recovery from their injuries in the hospital; we hear their courageous and inspiring stories, and how they dealt with the emotional trauma.

Angels Too Soon calls into question one of the most persistent stories of the fire: the charge that nuns endangered their students by insisting that they pray, rather than escape.

Also addressed is the responsibility for conditions at the school that may have worsened the outcome of the fire. Hal Bruno, later a prominent political journalist with ABC News, was one of the first reporters on the scene. “We went down to the basement. And it was like a textbook version of how a fire spreads,” Bruno remembered. “And up at the top of the second floor, there was the killer -- an open stairwell. So regardless of what caused the fire, if there had been a fire door at the top of those stairs, nobody would have died.” We learn that a shocking number of other schools – both public and parochial – were similarly ill-equipped. We also hear about the improvements that were made to fire safety in wake of the tragedy.

Monthly fire drills became a fact of life for Chicago schoolchildren. Many schools were fitted with sprinklers, and all schools were given fire alarms directly connected to the fire department.

Two years later, a new Our Lady of the Angels school was built on the site of the old one, and this new structure had all the state of the art fire safety features that were missing in the old building.

Soon after the fire, the head of the National Fire Protection Association was asked what had been learned from the tragedy at Our Lady of the Angels. He responded that there were no new lessons to be learned. Only old lessons that tragically went unheeded.

Additional Resources - Our Lady of the Angels fire
Olafire.com - Based in Colorado, this site offers a wealth of information and resources related to the fire, including maps, photos, newspaper clippings and personal stories.

Angels of Fire - A CD of music inspired by the Our Lady of Angels fire. Michael Mason, himself a survivor of Our Lady of the Angels school fire and now a Downers Grove Firefighter/Paramedic, has assembled an international band of jazz musicians for the production of this CD, which is dedicated to his classmates who perished in the tragedy. All profits go to the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance and the IFSA Burn Camp for Children.

Friends of Our Lady of the Angels – This organization has sponsored support groups and memorial masses for members of the OLA community. For more information, lorraineking47@aol.com or write to:

Friends of OLA
c/o M. Krauss
3712 N. Nora Avenue
Chicago, IL 60634

Fire Safety
Sparky the Firedog - Great fire safety site for kids and families. Created by the National Fire Protection Association.

National Fire Protection Association - A wealth of information and resources.

Illinois Fire Safety Alliance - Created to bring together persons or groups with a common interest in fire safety, burn prevention, and public education, and to promote programs and disseminate information related to fire safety and burn prevention.

Illinois State Fire Marshall

Burn Recovery
Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation - nonprofit organization dedicated to burn prevention and survivor assistance.

Burn Children Recovery Foundation - supports child burn victims, runs a camp for burn survivors, and teaches children about fire prevention.

Burn Survivor Resource Center - information resource for burn victims and families, includes a medical care guide, legal advice and information, discussion forum, and burn resource locator.

International Society for Burn Injuries (ISBI) - disseminates knowledge and stimulates prevention in the field of burns.

Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors - international, nonprofit self-help organization helping burn survivors and their families return to happy and productive lives following injury. .

Post Traumatic Stress
The Sidran Institute - a national non-profit organization dedicated to supporting people with traumatic stress conditions

David Baldwin's Trauma Information Page - This site is primarily for clinicians and researchers in the traumatic-stress field. It focuses on emotional trauma and traumatic stress, including PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder), whether following individual traumatic experience(s) or a large-scale disaster.

Emotional Freedom Techniques - A site devoted to one technique used for treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In Memoriam... Our Lady of Angels fire Victims
Sister Mary Clare Therese Champagne, BVM
Sister Mary Seraphica Kelley, BVM
Sister Mary St. Canice Lyng, BMV

Altobell, Michele
Anglim, Robert
Baroni, Karen
Biscan, David
Bobrowicz, Richard
Burda, Beverly Ann
Buziak, Helen
Cangelosi, Peter
Cannella, George
Carr, Kathleen
Chambers, Margaret
Chiapetta, Aurelius
Chiappetta, Joanne
Chrzas, Joan
Cichocki, Bernice
Ciminello, Rosalie
Ciochon, Roseanna
Ciolino, Jo Ann
Corsiglia, Millicent
Culp, Karne Ann
DeGiulio, Maria
DeSanto, Nancy Mary
Drzymala, Patricia
Dunn, Lawrence J.
Edington, William R. Jr.
Fanale, Mary Ann
Filipponio, Lucile
Finnigan, Nancy Rae
Fox, Ronald
Gasteier, Janet
Gazzola, Carol Ann
Grasso, Lawrence
Guzaldo, Frances
Hagerty, Kathleen
Hardy, Richard
Hobik, Karen
Hosking, Barbara
Jacobellis, Victor
Jajkowski, John
Kalinowski, Angeline
Karwacki, Diane
King, Joseph Anthony
Kompanowski, Kenneth
Kompanowski, Richard
Kucan, Margaret
Kuzma, Patricia
LaMantia, Annette
LaPlaca, Rose Ann
Maffiola, Joseph
Makowski, Raymond
Malinski, Linda
Manganello, John
Mele, John Joseph
Modica, Joseph
Moravec, James
Moretti, Mary Ellen
Neubert, Charles
Nieri, Lorraine
Olechowski, Janet
Pacini, Yvonne
Patrasso, Antoinette
Pawlik, Eileen
Perry, Carolyn Marie
Pesoli, Elaine
Pettenon, Mary Ellen
Pikinski, Edward
Pilas, Nancy
Piscopo, Frank
Profita, James Joseph
Ragona, James
Ramlow, Roger Alan
Reeb, Marilyn
Riche, Nancy
Sansonetti, Margaret
Santangelo, Diane Marie
Sarno, Joane
Sarno, William
Secco, Antoinette
Schutt, Kurt
Sickel, James
Silvio, Paul
Smaldone, Susan
Smid, Nancy
Stabile, Linda
Stachura, Mark
Tamburrino, Mary Louise
Tampone, Philip
Thoma, Valerie Ann
Trotta, John David
Virgilio, Mary
Vitacco, Christina Marie
Wisz, Wayne

Angels Too Soon DVD

Angels Too Soon
WTTW’s Emmy award-winning program about the fire at Our Lady of the Angels school is now available on DVD. This program tells the unforgettable story of ordinary people caught up in a mind-numbing disaster. Add it to your collection now.

Angels Too Soon

Angels Too Soon preview clip

 Small | Large

Explore Stories