Effingham, IL St. Anthony's Hospital Fire, Apr 1949

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St. Anthony's Hospital, about 1908, photo from familyoldphotos.com St. Anthony's Hospital After the Fire St. Anthony's Hospital, 1940s St. Anthony's Hospital Fire St. Anthony's Hospital, about 1908, photo from familyoldphotos.com

OFFICIAL HOSPITAL DEATH TOLL ESTIMATED AT 66.

FRESH VARNISH, PAINT ARE BLAMED FOR FEEDING FIRE.

53 Bodies Recovered, Eight Are Still Buried In Basement.

Effingham, Ill., (UP) -- The death toll in the St. Anthony's hospital fire, which investigators believed may have been fed by fresh paint and varnish, was set at 66 today by the Catholic Chancery office.
The known dead totaled 58, including 53 bodies recovered from the debris, and five persons who died of injuries outside the hospital.
According to chancery estimates there were eight bodies still buried in the basement of the blackened shell of the three-story brick building.
The latest person to die of injuries, the chancery said, was MRS. LOUIS MASCHER, who died at Louisville, Ill.  Earlier, the chancery had announced that 64 or 65 persons were dead.  The office said a complete re-check established the figure at 65, which, with MRS. MASCHER'S death, made the total 66.
Thirty-six hours after the fire flashed up a laundry chute and swept through the building, firemen still were digging through the debris in search for other bodies.
Firechief FRANK WILKINS said the fireman had only one more pile of rubble to explore.
Gov. ADLAI STEVENSON and aides arrived by plane from Springfield today and made a personal inspection of the ruins.  He and public health officials discussed plans for rebuilding the hospital.
State and local investigations of the fire were underway, but the origin had not yet been determined.
State fire Marshal PAT KELLY and other public safety officials deemed a report that they were investigating a tip from the Federal Bureau of Investigation that a firebug might have started the fire.  KELLY said his investigation had turned up nothing "to indicate any firebug at work there."
The first funeral, for a woman victim, was scheduled for this afternoon.  A group funeral of four of the victims was expected to be held tomorrow.
The Chancery earlier had denied a report that the death toll would reach 80.
The Rev. JOHN J. GOFF, pastor of St. Anthony's church connected with the hospital, said: "I'm sure there aren't 80 dead."
Mayor H. B. RINEHART and ARCH JONES, American Red Cross representative agreed.  The Red Cross figured there were 61 fatalities, based on a lower estimate of the number of persons in the hospital when the fire broke out.
"The figure is between 60 and 65," Mayor RINEHART said.  "It definitely will not exceed 65."
Gov. ADLAI STEVENSON flew from Springfield today to check on relief work and to make sure that "all assistance possible" was being rendered.
State Fire Marshal PAT KELLY, who conducted a preliminary investigation yesterday, said there was "evidence that the hospital had been freshly painted."  He said there was inconclusive evidence that paints and varnish had been stored in the basement, where the fire started.
The flames leaped upward said, and turned the haven of said, and turned the Haven of mercy into a blazing death trap before bedridden patients on the upper floors could make their escape.
"If the fire began in the basement with the doors in the corridors thrown open and the windows open,"  KELLY said.  "A flash fire of this type could happen in five or 10 minutes."
KELLY said a thorough investigation would be made "after the confusion and hysteria have abated."
He said persons closely connected with the fire were too stunned to give coherent accounts.
KELLY returned to the State Capital at Springfield and left Deputy A. P. APPAITIS here to continue the investigation.

Edwardsville Intelligencer Illinois  1949-04-06

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Effingham IL Hospital FIre - Life Magazine Cover, Apr 1949

Read the Life Magazine Article on line

On April 5, 1949, St. Anthony's hospital caught fire and burned to the ground, killing 74 people. As a result, fire codes nationwide were improved. Due to extensive media coverage, including a "Life Magazine" cover story, donations for rebuilding the hospital came from all 48 states and several foreign countries. - wikipedia.org

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st anthony hospital fire 1949

I am interested in finding out more information about the fire. My grandmother lived in Effingham and witnessed the fire.
My grandfather went to help at the hospital during the fire.

St Anthony's Hospital Fire

On April 5, 1949, St. Anthony's hospital caught fire and burned to the ground, killing 70 people. As a result, fire codes nationwide were improved. Due to extensive media coverage, including a LIFE magazine cover story, donations for rebuilding the hospital came from all 48 states and several foreign countries.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effingham,_Illinois

Just before midnight on April 4, 1949, a fire erupted at St. Anthony's Hospital being the second worst disaster in the United States in such an occupancy of its time claiming the lives of 75 persons, 14 of them infants. The [Effingham] fire department consisted of twenty-six men, including the Chief, with all but one, who was in Chicago at the time, engaged in fighting the fire. The equipment at the time included two 500 gpm pumpers, and a 750 gpm pumper. There was no ladder truck or other apparatus. The department had a limited amount of good hose and fittings but had no life net and was deficient in heavy duty appliances. . . . The nearest aerial ladder at the time belonged to a department twenty-seven miles away. Mutual-aid was received from 11 area departments, the furthest being sixty-six miles away. Witnesses said that the fire spread like a ball of fire and a majority spoke of its rapid spread. Within three hours, floors, roofs, and part of the walls had fallen, leaving little but a rubble-filled skeleton, in which were buried the bodies of many victims. The hospital consisted of a basement and three floors.

In the aftermath of the St. Anthony's Hospital fire, many states and municipal governments set about overhauling their regulatory measures designed to prevent duplication of such disasters. Governor Adlai Stevenson directed the Illinois State Fire Marshal to reexamine at once the fire protection of all state and private hospitals.

The City of Effingham, Illinois Fire Department History
http://www.effinghamil.com/content/1/11/2

St. Anthony Hospital fire, Effingham, Illinois; April 4, 1949

My mother was a patient in the hospital the night of this disaster. She was awakened about midnight by a woman's scream and went to the door of her room to investigate. As she peered into the corridor, a wall of flame exploded around the corner at the far end of the hallway and rushed toward her. She barely managed to slam her door before the fire reached the doorway.

Without even realizing she'd done so, Mom grabbed her purse from the bedside table as she hurried to the window, which she opened to call for help. Though she was only on the "first" floor, the old building's partial basement and high ceilings meant that her windowsill was about 15 feet above the pavement below. Smoke very quickly filled the room, causing her to sit on the windowsill and lean out so that she could breathe.

After the fire burned through her closed door, she soon was hanging from the windowsill by her fingers (with the varnish melting beneath them and her purse still dangling from the crook of her arm) as a man who lived near the hospital called to her that he was on his way to help her down safely. He had carried a kitchen chair from his home and was methodically moving from window to window where patients were calling for help, standing on the chair and reaching up to ease people down the side of the building one at a time so that they would not fall onto the hard surface below. As he was helping Mom, the flames billowed out through her window and they both fell part of the way to the ground. (I read in one news account that at least one man who was helping people from those windows suffered burns on his face and hands in the process.) Upon her escape, Mom realized that her rescuer was Benny Harker, a childhood friend from rural Coles County, Illinois.

Neighbors from all around the hospital were rushing to the building with their own step ladders to try to help people out the lower windows and many, awakened by the midnight cries for help, dragged the mattresses from their own beds in hopes of cushioning the fall of people poised to leap from the upper floors.

An elderly nun brought her own bathrobe and slippers to Mom (who was wearing a short split-at-the-back hospital gown) and took her to the neighboring sisters' residence, where she tucked her into her own bed. The nun returned almost immediately to say that because the fire was in danger of spreading to the sisters' building, they needed to move farther away. They then proceeded to a nearby garage where bedding had been spread on the floor so that evacuees could be placed there while awaiting first aid. As they triaged patients, the medical attendants were able to use a lipstick from Mom's ever-present purse to mark a red X on the forehead of each person needing urgent attention. I believe this same garage to which the patients were evacuated was later used as a makeshift morgue when the first bodies were recovered from the ruins.

Before dawn the morning of the fire, someone telephoned our farmhouse in Cumberland County to say, "Your patient is safe, but St. Anthony Hospital has burned to the ground." Mother herself phoned soon afterward to tell Dad, "Come and get me!"

Due to the chaos immediately after the fire, my mother's younger brother was mistakenly telephoned and told that his sister had died of injuries suffered in the fire. He was already grieving before he learned of the mistake, and said that he did not believe Mom was safe until he had heard her own voice over the telephone.

From various articles (which echo theories Mom heard and read during the ensuing investigations of the fire) I have the impression that the cause was eventually suspected of being spontaneous combustion in cleaning rags piled in the basement. What may have happened was that they smoldered for hours (undiscovered because this was late at night) causing explosive gasses to fill the network of laundry chutes which honeycombed the walls and to accumulate along the high ceilings of the upper corridors before they became detectable by the few people who were awake and moving about the building at that hour. When such smoldering eventually erupted into flame, it would have caused the sort of explosion and fast-moving fire which was described by witnesses.

hospital fire

My grandmother, Agnes (Sur) Schmitz, was a nurse at the hospital. She was not on duty at the time of the fire, but she lived not far away at 900 North Merchant. (It's near the Equity complex, and the Sur farmhouse sat in the middle of the the parking lot to the North of the Equity. My grandfather, Lawrence, bought the corner lot on Merchant from his inlaws and constructed the house at the address.) My father has told me that my grandmother rushed to the hospital and participated in rescue/recovery work. She was given a small statue (the Infant of Prague) by one of the nuns who worked at the hospital as a gesture of thanks for her efforts. (It is in my office now.) My grandmother was employed by the hospital from 1929-1949. She died in 1977. My grandfather died in 2005.

St. Anthony's Memorial Hospital Fire

My mom, Mary Richards, worked there in the laundry room and took all the sheets in baskets up to the rooms to help people get out the windows who could. My mother-in-law, Suzanne Warren, worked there, too, and she said she will never forget the smell of burning flesh and bodies... It's a smell she never got out of her mind... So Claye, my hubby, was born in Shelbyville, IL due to the fire. Then my dad, Joe Richards, was a foremanof the electrical layouts on the construction crew for the expansions of the first and second time onto the hospital. How's that for some info! That's when I rode to school with him while he went to work - it was great times!

I am extremely interested in

I am extremely interested in knowing what property the garage used as a triage and morgue was located.I live across from the hospital and have had many strange experiences in my home and have seen figures wondering about my yard.Including whispers my daughter and I hear and my young son also sees figures.My Grandma lived in this house since the 60's and I am curious if the happenings could be associated with the tragic fire of the hospital.If anyone knows any information please contact me at haylex73@yahoo.com.Thank You

You need to contact Paul

You need to contact Paul Doedtman.Paul and his wife worked at the hospital.

Fire 1949 St.Anthony's

Please keep an open mind. I have clear memories of being a nurse in a building that looks like this one. I am certain I perished in a fire. I was a nurse. i was on a lower level and often chanted as a child I was in the basement when I became ash and all went black. I know i passed patients out windows but I did not make it out. I was young and had the stiff nursing cap they wore during this time period. I am searching for details on those that passed.
Maria
Thank you!

Fire 1949 St. Anthony's

I was six years old and living in Effingham when the hospital burned down. In fact, I was released from the hospital (after having had my tonsils removed) only two days before the fire. I have three very strong memories of that time - being given ice cream after my surgery by one of the nurses while I was still in the hospital, hearing all of the sirens outside my bedroom window at home two days later and not knowing what was happening, and being told by my mother the next day that the hospital had burned down and that everyone on the children's floor (where I was two days before) had died, including all of the babies, children and nurses. Needless to say, I have never forgotten those memories or my shock and disbelief upon hearing that terrible news.

hospital fire

My mother and a friend have compiled two books full of articles and photos from the fire. She has them for sale. You can contact her at elpobo@consolidated.net or me at billiefarris2000@gmail.com