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Peabody, Massachusetts

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 Mary Sullivan, 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. Angus McDonald, of the state police, believes it originated in a closet near the stairway and was caused by a hot air explosion.

Mother Superior 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 heads.

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 made.

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 Oct 1915.

       

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 recognition.

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

       

Thirteen Bodies Identified

Of the nineteen bodies at an undertaking ship tonight, thirteen had been identified, as follows:

MABEL BEAUCHAMP, 11.
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 Oct 1915

Articles transcribed by Stephanie.  Thank you, Stephanie!

       

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