Survivors remember horror of Our Lady of the Angels fire
BY MITCH DUDEK Staff Reporter December 1, 2013 9:48PM
Updated: January 3, 2014 6:26AM
On the first day of every December, Laura Dini detects a whiff of smoke in the air.
The smell transports her back in time to that day in 1958 — and to the smoke-filled window she jumped from to escape the fire that killed 92 students and three nuns at Our Lady of the Angels School.
“Every December first, no matter where I am, I smell smoke. It’s strange, but it’s true,” Dini said Sunday evening outside Holy Family Church in the Little Italy neighborhood, where a mass commemorated the 55th anniversary of the fire.
Dini was in seventh grade when the fire, which started in the school’s basement, swept through parts of the building at 909 N. Avers in Humboldt Park, trapping scores of children in their upper-floor classrooms.
“I was covered in blood from the heat, the window sill was burning, and then your nose bleeds and it was all over me,” said Dini, 67, who remembers trying to coax a friend who died in the fire, Lorraine Nieri, to jump out the window with her.
“I tried to grab her with me to go out the window, and she wouldn’t move,” said Dini, whose life was deeply affected by that day.
“I think about it all the time, really . . . Every time I had grandchildren and they went to school, I’d tell my daughter: ‘Make sure it’s a one-floor school.’ ”
Dini attended mass with her classmate Linda Meyer, who was pushed from a window in the smoky chaos and panic.
“I had a fractured pelvis and fractured cheek bones,” Meyer said. “This is a big part of our lives. It’s something we’ll always remember.”
James Anglim, a Southwest Side pipe fitter, also attended the service. His brother, Bobby, died in the fire at age 9.
“I wish I knew him. He had passed away before I was born. I heard a lot of things about him: great athlete, just a great kid,” said Anglim, 53.
“I feel this is my time to reach him and talk to him,” he said.
If Bobby had survived, he would turn 65 on Dec. 11.
About 150 people, many with personal connections to the event, attended Sunday night’s service.
The fire was “a tragedy that shook the very foundations of our city,” the Rev. Jerry Boland said during the service. “Faith helps us deal with some of the things we can’t explain or understand.”