Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Collinwood School Fire

To-day, a century ago 175 people died in a school fire, Lakeview school in Collinwood (annexed to Cleveland in 1910), Ohio on Ash Wednesday. A few minutes walk east is interstate highway 90, which runs from Boston to Seattle.

I was told, by at least one grade school teacher, that the children died because the doors opened in, and the crush of kids inhibited the doors. I was told incorrectly. This was not the case. Though doors were, later, nationally redesigned, so that a push against a bar latch would open the door quickly in a panic.

It had been a multi-storey building, some children died from jumping, others died because they did not jump. Some died because the floors were oiled and the flames flew up the stairwell onto higher floors. The front entrance was burning and the children that approached, tried to retreat upwards, while those above tried to descend. A back entrance was locked. People came and tried to save children and saw them die as the fire grew. The fire department arrived too late.

The new century, the school's capstone read 1901, had heavy new immigration and the warehouse consolidation that gave pride of place to efficiency and concentration with little, if any, safety and building code interference were the combined causes for disaster, with the natural panic that children, or anyone, experience with rapid and engulfing flames. Children trampled each other, breathed deadly smoke and were incinerated. Some were never identified, some families had no money, and these children were buried in a common grave.

Afterwards, a memorial garden was built on the original site. During the 1970s, and beyond, the site greatly deteriorated, along with the city. A committee made a partial restoration of the site. The Memorial School that was built behind the site, also deteriorated and was razed. A new, replacement school has been recently completed further back on the site. It is of one storey. The children of the newest school have, perhaps universally, no connection or interest concerning the original school. To-day, the church bell of nearby, St. Jerome's tolled for the dead, and a brief ceremony was held, at the school, with the local councilman in attendance. The Cleveland Public Library has recently found, and is displaying, photographs, and a news reel is playing on an internet video site. An exhibit will tour five branches, with the documents and other material on Collinwood.

Cleveland was to have two more epically disastrous fires.
Fire generated from nitro-cellulose x-ray film would kill 123 at the Cleveland Clinic in 1929. During world war II, an East Ohio Gas fire and explosion would kill 130, in 1944.

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