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To Sleep with the Angels


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About 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.


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.

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 The causes of the tragedy were manifold: outdated fire laws that permitted an edifice built before 1908 to escape a code passed in 1949 to insure safer schools; severe overcrowding; delay in reporting the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.)

A journalistic account of tragedy...haunting and honest. -- Dominic A. Pacyga * Journal of American History *
Gripping...even today there stands no memorial to those who died, perhaps this beautiful remembrance can be that memorial. -- Georgie Anne Geyer, author and syndicated columnist
A fascinating read about an American tragedy that never should be forgotten. -- Mike Royko * Chicago Tribune *
Detailed reporting and straightforward writing...an absorbing account. -- Peggy Constantine * The New York Times *
Every parent, teacher, and school administrator should read this story of a tragic loss of life. -- Hal Bruno * ABC News *

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