Today is the 57th Anniversary of this tragedy
For five decades after the deadly blaze that killed 92 of his classmates at Our Lady of the Angels School, John Raymond rarely spoke about it. But in his mind, he relived the classroom growing hotter and hotter with no escape, Sister Therese Champagne telling students to kneel and pray, the panic as he clawed his way to a window. He remembers the release of diving out, free falling and landing on his side in a street strewed with other children’s broken bodies.
But recently, Raymond, of Mount Prospect, started talking to groups of students about the fire in Chicago 57 years ago on Tuesday. Speaking about his experiences and how the disaster changed fire codes across the nation has been healing, says Raymond, who recently visited Loyola Academy in Wilmette, St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights and Maine South High School in Park Ridge, among others.
“When you can talk to 300 kids and you can hear a pin drop, you’re doing a pretty good job,” he says.
The Elk Grove Public Library will host history enthusiast Jim Gibbons in a program about the fire at 7 p.m. today. Raymond was invited but says he’ll wait to see how his mood is before he decides whether to go.
Raymond says he’s luckier than his father, Jim Raymond, the school’s janitor who initially was blamed for “sloppy housekeeping” causing the blaze. Years later, a student confessed to setting the fire, and the cause was never officially determined. But Jim Raymond’s reputation suffered. “It really took a lot out of him,” John Raymond said.