St John's Catholic School Fire
October 29, 1915
21 CHILDREN DIE IN SCHOOL FIRE
Flames Sweep Parochial School at Peabody, Mass.
CAUSE OF DISASTER UNKNOWN
Boy and Girl Pupils Burned or Crushed to Death
and Heap of Bodies Blocked Firemen.
Peabody, Mass., Oct. 29.-While 700 boys
and girls were at their morning prayers in the
parochial school of St. Johnís Catholic church
fire, starting in the basement, swept through
the three stories of the brick and wooden
building in less than five minutes.
Twenty-one children, none out of their teens,
were burned or crushed to death while attempting
to escape. Nine are missing, a score of others
were injured, several seriously.
The bodies of the dead were frightfully
burned and of the nineteen at the morgue only
two, Elizabeth Nolan,
seventeen years old, and
sixteen years old, members of the senior class,
had been identified.
Wilfred Mead, also sixteen, died on
the way to the hospital.
The origin of the fire is in doubt.
of the state police, believes it originated in a
closet near the stairway and was caused by a hot
Aldegon, who was in charge of the
sisters who taught in the school, heard an
explosion and detecting smoke, sounded the
alarm. There were no fire escapes on the outside
of the building, but wide stairways at either
end of the interior led down to the front exit.
Under fire drill, the children were marched
through constantly thickening clouds of smoke to
the ground floor, when the leaders lost their
Instead of passing out the rear exit,
according to rule, they made a dash for the
front door, and became jammed in the vestibule.
Meantime the fire had eaten its way upward from
directly under the front entrance and the
vestibule crowded with pupils presently was
enveloped in flames.
Their exit thus blocked, scores of the
children clambered through the windows of the
first floor or jumped from those on the second
and third floors. The sisters worked heroically
to save their charges. Two of the nuns were
injured, but the loss of life would have been
appalling had not the sisters taken places at
windows and passed or thrown the little children
to the street.
Firemen with two lines of hose made a rush at
the doorway and tried to fight their way in. A
sudden sweep of draft sent the flames so fairly
in their faces that they were beaten back. They
made a second try, this time throwing over the
tangle of small bodies a number of heavy rubber
blankets. Then from outside the door and as near
as they could get, they directed a stream of
water upon the blankets in a desperate hope of
keeping off the flames till rescue could be
But in a short time, so desperately swift was
the progress of the fire, efforts of the firemen
we needed elsewhere. They turned over one of the
hoses to Timothy
OíConnor, a policeman. He forced his
way to the doorway and there stood, spraying the
water over the blanket-covered heap.
The walls above the policeman trembled and
threatened to fall, but he stood his ground, his
face blistered by the heat. The steady work of
the hose in OíConnorís hand kept back the flames
that crept along the floor toward the bodies and
made possible the saving of life.
The Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, PA 29
PEABODY, Mass., Oct 29.-The bodies of
the 21 girl pupils of St. Johnís parochial
school, who lost their lives yesterday in a fire
which swept through the building before they had
time to escape, were claimed by their parents
today. Five bodies remained overnight in an
undertaking establishment while relatives
endeavored to identify them. Four of these had
been identified at noon and there remained the
charred form of a little girl, burned beyond
When the fourth had been taken away,
Mrs. John Ahearn,
mother of Agnes
Ahearn, eight years old, who was
unaccounted for, went to the morgue and finally
accepted the body as that of her child. It was
placed in a coffin and sent to her home.
Reno Evening Gazette, Reno, NV 29 Oct 1915
Of the nineteen bodies at an undertaking ship
tonight, thirteen had been identified, as
NELLIE BURNS, 7.
FLORENCE BOURKE, 12.
ELIZABETH COMEAU, 10.
HELEN BRESNAHAN, 17.
ANNIE BOLESKY, 14.
IDA ESSIAMBRE, 6.
MILDRED FAY, 13.
HELEN H. KEEFE, 11.
ANNIE M. OíBRIEN, 11.
PATRONI CHEBATOR, 6
FLORENCE DOHERTY, 11.
MARY MEAD, 16.
All of the sisters escaped, but
Mother Superior Marie
Carmelita was burned seriously. At
the convent house tonight it was said her
injuries probably were not fatal, although she
is prostrated by the disaster and the suffering
of her charges.
The Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis, IN 29
Articles transcribed by
Stephanie. Thank you, Stephanie!
Search for more information on the
Peabody School Fire and other disasters in the Historical Newspapers on line at genealogybank.com.
Search over 1300 different newspapers.
Search for ancestors in
Peabody, MA among billions of names at ancestry.com.
Find birth records, census images, immigration
lists and genealogy other databases for your
surnames. Use this
Free trial to search for your ancestors.
Massachusetts Census, 1790-1890
database online at ancestry.com. Use this
Free trial to search for your ancestors.