To Sleep With The Angels

( 17 )

Overview

If burying a child has a special poignancy, the tragedy at a Catholic elementary school in Chicago almost forty years ago was an extraordinary moment of grief. One of the deadliest fires in American history, it took the lives of ninety-two children and three nuns at Our Lady of the Angels School, left many families physically and psychologically scarred for life, and destroyed a close-knit working-class neighborhood. This is the moving story of that fire and its consequences written by two journalists who have ...

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Overview

If burying a child has a special poignancy, the tragedy at a Catholic elementary school in Chicago almost forty years ago was an extraordinary moment of grief. One of the deadliest fires in American history, it took the lives of ninety-two children and three nuns at Our Lady of the Angels School, left many families physically and psychologically scarred for life, and destroyed a close-knit working-class neighborhood. This is the moving story of that fire and its consequences written by two journalists who have been obsessed with the events of that terrible day in December 1958. It is a story of ordinary people caught up in a disaster that shocked the nation. In gripping detail, those who were there—children, teachers, firefighters—describe the fear, desperation, and panic that prevailed in and around the stricken school building on that cold Monday afternoon. But beyond the flames, the story of the fire at Our Lady of the Angels became an enigma whose mystery has deepened with time: its cause was never officially explained despite evidence that it had been intentionally set by a troubled student at the school. The fire led to a complete overhaul of fire safety standards for American schools, but it left a community torn apart by grief and anger, and accusations that the Catholic church and city fathers had shielded the truth. Messrs. Cowan and Kuenster have recreated this tragedy in a powerful narrative with all the elements of a first-rate detective story.

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of American History - Dominic A. Pacyga
A journalistic account of tragedy...haunting and honest.
Georgie Anne Geyer
Gripping...even today there stands no memorial to those who died, perhaps this beautiful remembrance can be that memorial.
Chicago Tribune - Mike Royko
A fascinating read about an American tragedy that never should be forgotten.
The New York Times - Peggy Constantine
Detailed reporting and straightforward writing...an absorbing account.
ABC News - Hal Bruno
Every parent, teacher, and school administrator should read this story of a tragic loss of life.
From The Critics
A journalistic account of tragedy...haunting and honest.
Journal of American History
Cleveland Plain Dealer
A harrowing depiction of carnage, hysteria, fear, faith, heroism, and heartbreak.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
On December 1, 1958, a fire at Our Lady of the Angels School in Chicago killed 92 pupils, most between the ages of nine and 12, and three nuns. This deeply affecting account of that tragedy by two Illinois journalists recreates the horror that destroyed a school and parish. The causes of the tragedy were manifold: outdated fire laws that permitted an edifice built before 1908 to escape a code passed in 1949 to insure safer schools; severe overcrowding; delay in reporting the fire; nuns ordering their pupils to pray rather than try to escape. Nor did municipal and archdiocesan officials help matters, their philosophy being that the fire was best forgotten; when a former student admitted to setting the blaze, they tried to conceal his confession. One positive result of the fire were the safety improvements made in 16,500 U.S. school buildings within a year. Photos not seen by PW. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Cowan, an independent journalist in the Chicago area, and Kuenster, a former reporter and columnist for the Chicago Daily News, fashion a gripping story from the events surrounding the tragic 1958 fire that swept through Chicago's Our Lady of the Angels elementary school. The fire, which left 92 elementary school children and three nuns dead, had profound effects on surviving students, parents, the surrounding neighborhood, and the city of Chicago. The tragedy spawned a nationwide school fire-safety program that is now often taken for granted. Cowan and Kuenster piece together a moving narrative based on the eyewitness accounts of surviving children, parents, firemen, doctors, nurses, and arson investigators. Although appropriate for any collection that serves general readers, this book is particularly recommended for Chicago-area libraries.-Robert J. Favini, Bentley Coll. Lib., Waltham, Mass.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781566632171
  • Publisher: Dee, Ivan R. Publisher
  • Publication date: 10/28/1998
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 234,600
  • Product dimensions: 6.11 (w) x 9.29 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

David Cowan has been a newspaper reporter in Illinois and is now a fireman and independent journalist who lives in the Chicago area. John Kuenster is executive editor of Century Publishing Company in Evanston, Illinois, and a former staff writer and columnist for the Chicago Daily News.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 17 )
Rating Distribution

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(14)

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Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 30, 2009

    To Sleep With the Angels

    An excellent book. Even though it was a tragic event, it was a story that honored the victims and survivors. Thoroughly researched and well written, the book was hard to put down. Not too many people have heard of this tragic event outside the city of Chicago. The story needed to be told.
    I strongly recommend this book, a great read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2003

    One of the most tragically moving books I have ever read!

    I had heard of the fire (being a Chicago native), but didn't know anything about the story behind it. It was one of the most moving books I have ever read. I couldn't put it down, and ended up finishing it in 2 days. It is a shame that something so tragic like the death of children had to help change the rules for better fire safety at schools. Truly a written masterpiece, with tragic imagery. I could literally picture myself at the scene trying the help the children escape from the burning school. A must have for anyone interested in the little known history of Chicago, or someone who loves to read in general. I would have given it ten stars if it was at all possible.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2003

    A Tragic Masterpiece

    The authors relate the tale of the tragedy that rocked the world brutally and honestly, each detail another punch to the gut. This book has had an enormously profound effect on my life and is a must-read for every history or Chicago-buff out there. Even if you aren't into that stuff it is still a very important book to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2002

    A tragic but necessary story.

    This well written, insightful book tells the true story of a deadly fire at OLA Catholic School in 1958. I couldn't put this book down. While the story is sad and tragic, it needs to be told to prevent anything like this from happening again. I highly recommend this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2000

    Read a life-changing book that will change the way you feel about fires!

    This book is one that you can' put down once you've started. It is compelling, graphic and terrifying, yet somehow knowing that this tragedy changed the fire codes in schools forever makes it seem as though these people did not die entirely in vain. It is well-written and entirely true!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2000

    AWESOME BOOK

    IT WAS AN AWESOME BOOK!!!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2000

    Unbelievably Touching!

    I could not put this book down. It is a eye-opening story about a fire at a Catholic school in Chicago. It set the precedence of developing fire safety rules/procedures at schools nationwide. A MUST read!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2000

    Everyone With Children Should Read!!!

    This is a true story that will bring tears to your eyes with every chapter. 95 school children and nuns died in a School fire in Chacago. Still today this this could happen again if basic fire codes are ignored by schools, theators, night clubs, restraunts etc.. After you read this you will have a differnt out-look on life. A 'REAL' out-look, that will linger in your mind each time you walk into a crowded building.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2013

    I have a personal connection with this tragedy.  My cousin, a BV

    I have a personal connection with this tragedy.  My cousin, a BVM nun, taught at Our Lady of the Angels school several years before the fire.
    She told me how sad she felt about the nuns who died, whom she knew, and the children who died or were injured and burned, some of
     the older ones whom she had taught.  I found it very gripping and, at times, difficult to read the details of this horrible tragedy. I am grateful 
    that we now have stringent fire codes for our schools that grew out of this.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2012

    This is a super book about a tragedy that should not be forgotte

    This is a super book about a tragedy that should not be forgotten. i would love to have this on my Nook but can only find the e book addition on Kindle. Please get this for Nook

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  • Posted November 22, 2011

    You will never forget this story

    As a Chicago kid growing up I' ll never forget the local news coverage about this story. What I didn't realize was the national implications this tragedy had for local fire regulations around the country. I had an opportunity to talk to one of the authors about the book and he told me after talking to the first parents of one of the kids killed in the fire, he didn't think he could go on with the book. Thankfully he decided to persevere.

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  • Posted October 16, 2010

    A Stunning Recount of a Horrible Tragedy!

    I was six years old and going to a public school when the fire of Our Lady of the Angels occurred. I don't remember anything about it. This book is beautifully written. The images that the authors conjure up our painfully real. No one can imagine any one going through any of this much less a child. This tragedy is part of Chicago's darker history, but I believe much was learned from it. It is a difficult read, but I highly recommend it.

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  • Posted June 23, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A tragic tale of loss, a historical tale of fire. I couldn't put it down.

    I would not recommend this for the feint of heart although the tragic story had me roped in from the second I started reading. First, I love the way the book is set up. Each chapter tells of a different piece of the tragedy. Second, it happened. As saddened as you may be by the loss of the Chicago fire that claimed the lives of over 100 students/teachers at Our Lady of Angels school, the story reels you in. The story had it's highlights although too few to mention because you'll need all you can get if you decide to read this book. If you enjoy non-fiction, if you enjoy a good cry, if you can find the motivation, it is a must read.

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  • Posted February 24, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Haunting.

    The fire at Our Lady of Angels occured while my sister was finishing grade school, and before I started school. Without knowing why, I saw my mother worry as I went off to first grade in an old schoold building, where to exit some classrooms we had to walk through another classroom and down a wooden fire escape. She impressed upon us to be aware of our surroundings, and to always trust our instincts. When I later learned of this story, her worries suddently made sense.

    Later still, as a firefighter, I looked at the story with different eyes. Anger at those who dismissed the fire at first, sorrow for the loss of the innocent lives, and a deep heartache for the firefighters who couldn't reach everyone.

    Unfortunately, children and adults died in this tragedy. Fortunately, as often rises from tragedies of this magnitude, there was a change in fire codes - but it is still wrenching that innocents must die to bring about these changes.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 2, 2010

    A Sad and Inspiring Story

    I remember the nuns telling us of the importance of fire drills after this terrible tragedy happened and it is a story that has stuck with me since 1958 when I was 7 yrs old.
    On a recent trip to Chicago, my family visited the memorial at Queen of Heaven Cemetery and I felt a closeness to all those innocent victims. Reading this book brought back a lot of memories about the good nuns and how they only did what they thought was best for us.
    I can't imagine the panic and fear the children, nuns and families felt at the time and for years to come. The Archdiocese of Chicago should not have skirted around the issue but stepped forward to see that the boy who started it was punished. The police, fire department and private investigators did all they could to bring a closing to the story, but the judge dropped the ball when he let the boy go. Even after being sent to a facility in Michigan for setting other fires and after receiving years of psychiatric treatment the boy would not admit what he did. That is the real tragedy of this story, but hopefully he will make amends to God when his time comes.
    If you are looking for a book to read that will leave a haunting impression with you, this is the one. This is a story like "The Shack" that makes us wonder about what God has planned for us.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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